The Los Angeles Lakers’ offseason will be pivotal in determining their status as contenders. As it stands, only five players from the 15 man roster are on guaranteed deals for next season. This season was a giant letdown for the NBA champs.
The Lakers are only the seventh reigning champion in NBA history to lose in the first round the next year. It also marks the first time LeBron James has ever lost in the first round. With an aging James, time is ticking for the Lakers to win another ring. Here’s how the Los Angeles Lakers offseason could play out and why it’s pivotal.
The 2021 Los Angeles Lakers Offseason Will Be Pivotal
Lakers Set To Return
As mentioned before, only five players have guaranteed contracts for 2021. James and his co-star Anthony Davis will be back to carry the load. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope shot a career-high 41 percent from three and will earn 13 million dollars along with Kyle Kuzma who’s getting paid the same amount.
Between these four alone, they take up 100 million dollars of the Lakers cap. Kuzma is a trade candidate due to inconsistency and two straight subpar years after a breakout 2018-19 campaign. He has value as a bench scorer and could net a decent return. His departure could free up room to bring back restricted free agent Talen Horton-Tucker.
When James said in May, “I don’t think I will ever get back to 100 percent in my career”, that changed everything. James has fought off father time better than any athlete in pro sports not named Tom Brady. And to hear one of the best athletes of all time admit his peak has to change the Los Angeles Lakers offseason plan. This means Davis should pick up the slack and be the true number one for the offense. Injuries decimated L.A. this year, so health will be crucial.
Lakers Big Man Problem
The biggest positions of need in the Los Angeles Lakers offseason will be point guard and center. Marc Gasol is the fifth Laker who’s signed for next year but is 36 and unsure about his future. If Gasol leaves and the Lakers get younger, Andre Drummond is the first possible target. Drummond had an up-and-down 26 games with the Lakers. At times he was a fit at center next to Davis. But his inability to switch onto smaller players earned him a DNP in their final game against the Phoenix Suns. He may have to accept the vet minimum to return, however.
Montrezl Harrell could find himself as the only true five on the roster if he opts into his 9.7 million dollar deal. Davis could start at center if needed but has always preferred playing power forward. With the 22nd pick in the draft, I expect them to pick a point guard, as that position is much deeper than at the center. So the Lakers could have to trade for a big or sign a free agent. A Robin Lopez-type signing would make sense.
The Lakers were the number one defensive-rated team this season despite the injuries to their superstars. Not to mention, their size was one of their most intimidating factors. Depending on how the big man rotation looks next year, this strength could be taken away.
Who Runs Point Guard?
Dennis Schroder may not be the long-term answer fans anticipated at the start of the year. The Los Angeles Lakers offseason will revolve heavily around Schroder and if he returns. Schroder is likely to demand more than the 15 million dollars he’s played for since 2017-18. If that’s the case, the Lakers should let him walk.
With the 22nd pick in the draft, I love the fit of Ayo Dosunmu from Illinois. Dosunmu reminds me of Jalen Brunson coming out of college but with less shooting and more playmaking and size. That said, the Lakers are the odds-on favorite to retain Schroder. Meaning this will be the biggest story to watch for the Los Angeles Lakers offseason.
Another viable option is letting James run point guard as he did two years ago where he led the NBA in assists with 10.2 per game. This could help James with his injuries as he’d be matched up with smaller players. This all hinges on what personnel is added or retained. Alex Caruso is capable of running point guard in spot minutes but isn’t your prototypical point guard. He’s been vocal about wanting to return and the Lakers should retain him for his defensive and competitive nature.
Lakers Can Use Veteran Minimum
Because of how little salary cap is available for their needs, the veterans minimum is likely to come into play. There are a few veterans who are candidates to re-sign on the minimum. Markieef Morris, Wesley Matthews, and Ben McLemore are the current Lakers who could sign for cheap. All three play at wing or forward, but another wing to watch out for is Carmelo Anthony.
Anthony and James’s friendship is well documented. And the chances left for them to play together is dwindling. Anthony is a free agent and could accept the minimum for a chance at his first ring. It’s going to be interesting to see how much of the roster remains intact when it’s said and done.
The Los Angeles Lakers Have To Have A Good Offseason
In the grand scheme of things, the NBA landscape is changing. The Philadelphia 76ers, Denver Nuggets, Utah Jazz, and more young teams are ascending into top contenders. The Brooklyn Nets and Phoenix Suns are loaded with talent for the foreseeable future as well. The Lakers had the older roster in the NBA in 2020.
So, if possible, the Los Angeles Lakers offseason should be about getting younger where possible. Their title chances still rest on James and Davis, but the supporting cast needs to be tweaked to help offset James who will turn 37 in December. The Los Angeles Lakers offseason has to have a good one to be spoken in the same breathe as the teams mentioned above.