This season has been a huge disappointment to say the least, but I would like to refrain from calling it a failure just yet. The reason that this is not a failure is that there is now a clear blueprint for what the Lakers need to contend for a title in LeBron’s last 3 years of his contract, and I’m going to spell that out below. Magic and Rob, stay tuned because I’m about to make your jobs a whole lot easier.
First, we need to retool the supporting cast. Players that are currently on 1 year ‘mercenary’ deals are Kentavious Caldwell-Pope ($12M), Rajon Rondo ($9M), Mike Muscala ($5M), Lance Stephenson ($4.5M), Reggie Bullock ($2.5M), Tyson Chandler ($2.4M), and Javale McGee ($2.4M).
Of those players, there are 5 that have some use in re-signing if they can be brought back at the right price. I have called KCP “awful” and “the worst player I have ever seen”, but he has some upside which has been showing recently. If LA can resign him for somewhere in the $3-5M range then he could prove himself a solid role player on a championship caliber team.
Rajon Rondo signing for the minimum is the only way to logically bring him back. Also, he would need to accept that playing time will be minimal and veteran leadership and expertise would be his new job with the team. Otherwise, his lack of shooting and elevated age is too much for the team to handle while trying to contend.
Lance Stephenson is someone that I would love to see on next year’s squad. He is a microwave off the bench, and gives full effort 100% of the time. That often gets him into trouble, but someone with Lance’s ability to be a spark-plug is huge for a team looking to compete for a championship. For the right price, I think that the Lance experiment should continue, for the benefit of the team.
I am much less sold on Reggie Bullock that pretty much anyone on this list other than Rondo. He was brought in via trade mid-season to be the 3-point presence that the Lakers had been missing. Unfortunately, Bullock is not the guy. LA may want to consider bringing him back for a minimum deal or close to it, but anything more than that and you’ve gotta let him walk.
I saved my favorite re-signing for last, and that is Javale McGee. Mcgee has been one of the biggest surprises in the NBA this season and is a key contributor to the team’s overall success. This move becomes even more important when you look at the fact that the Lakers traded their young center, Ivica Zubac, to the Clippers at the deadline. Javale is playing at one of the highest levels of his career, offensively and defensively, and I hope that he sees the bigger picture and resigns on a team friendly deal. This is the player that I would be willing to pay the most out of these 5, but there does need to be some substantial room left under the cap for phase 2 of my plan.
Alright, now that we have re-signed all of the necessary pieces to the team we will move to phase 2; getting the Co-Star(s). Okay, I know that most fans want to see the home run swing of going for Kevin Durant or Kyrie Irving paired with an AD trade. I would also love to see LA bring in a star like Kyrie, and think that a LeBron-Kyrie-AD big 3 would result in multiple titles, but we have to be smart with our money. Kemba Walker is a phenomenal fit with LeBron, and would also allow for another mid to high tier player to come to LA. Jimmy Butler has the option to become a free-agent, and is a true competitor. If Jimmy wants to cement his legacy by winning a championship for the city of Los Angeles then I can see him taking less in order to play with someone like LeBron. I believe that this is likely the best option for the team in terms of free-agents, barring a reconstruction of the young core via trade.
Speaking of trades, the question still looms of where Anthony Davis will call home next season. The Pelicans turned down a major offer from the Lakers prior to the deadline, and may have hurt Davis’ trade value in the process. Personally, I don’t see an AD trade to the Lakers, but there are other prospects that the team could look for. My favorite of these is Wizards SG Bradley Beal. Beal has been incredible for Washington in John Wall’s absence, and could be a huge player for the Lakers next season. This move would likely require LA to trade Lonzo and another one of the young core but could prove to be huge in generating starpower.
Finally, the Lakers need a coach. Luke Walton was a disaster this season and it was plain to see. He never had a set rotation which met that standards of a decent head coach. Even accounting for injuries, Walton had little to no set agenda for anything and did not put any thought into substitutions. The most important part of the puzzle is that on top of all this, the players don’t respect Luke. Bottom line, stars don’t respect him, benchwarmers don’t respect him and he should have been fired at the All-Star break. Potential candidates, I think that Tyronn Lue is the #1 contender, but rumors of Jason Kidd returning to coaching are starting to heat up. In the end, the coach just needs to be two things, competent and respected. If these two things are checked off then it really doesn’t matter who the coach is.
As I said before, this season has been a disappointment, not a failure. Failure would have been seeing no improvement from any of the young players, and a severe injury or recession from LeBron. I look forward to seeing how closely Magic and Rob Pelinka follow this clear blueprint, and I am confident that we will see the Lakers in the Finals next year if they adhere.