The Los Angeles Lakers, in their current form, are an absolute mess. The organization has weathered more drama in the last month and a half than any franchise should in a lifetime.
First, President of Basketball Operations and franchise legend Magic Johnson abruptly resigned in an impromptu press conference without alerting ownership first. Then, of course, the Lakers fired head coach Luke Walton. Somehow, while trying to replace Walton, the franchise then alienated Ty Lue so egregiously in the hiring process that the former Cleveland Cavalier coach — who is unemployed — withdrew his own name from consideration.
Never mind that. The Lakers found themselves a head coach in Frank Vogel. But things still got worse.
LeBron James, the unquestioned face of the franchise, remained quietly concerned that Los Angeles’ soap opera season would deter free agents. Oh, and instead of replacing Magic Johnson, the Lakers have decided to move forward into free agency without a president of basketball operations. General Manager Rob, who has apparently been spending his time making up bizarre Kobe Bryan stories, is now calling the shots.
So what will the roster look like this fall? We’re not really here to talk about L.A.’s favorite dysfunctional front office. Instead, we want to talk about players. It’s fair to wonder if the Lakers have any idea what their roster is going to look like this fall. Intuition says they do not. But we’re going to give it our best shot.
Who’s staying and who’s going? After limping to a 37-45 record last season, the 10th-place Lakers are bound to make some changes. Magic Johnson’s ill-fated, stopgap roster design — one that didn’t fit well with LeBron’s playstyle — was mostly thrown together on one-year deals. Some guys just didn’t fit, though some played well enough to be worth resigning.
- About LeBron: Despite the reports that say otherwise, LeBron James is staying. He’s arguably the greatest player of all time. Even the Lakers should know to keep him.
- Also staying: Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart all played well enough to stay another year, and are all under contract for the 2019-20 season, too. Barring a trade (more on that later), they should all see significant minutes next season. Mortiz Wagner and Isaac Bonga are under contract as well.
- Definitely leaving: Rajon Rondo was never a good fit and his contract is up. The same is true for Lance Stephenson. Expect Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to sign elsewhere. JaVale McGee, who signed for the veteran’s minimum last offseason, is the loan misfit that may end up staying.
About that fourth overall pick: The Lakers did better than they probably should have in the NBA Draft lottery when they secured a No. 4 pick. But in modern-day Lakers fashion, they did so when the most obvious, transcendental talents will be off the board after the first three picks — Zion Williamson, Ja Morant and RJ Barrett are expected to go early. Still, the Lakers have options.
- Trading down: The No. 4 pick is still plenty high enough for the Lakers to grab an immediate difference maker. But trading using that pick in a trade package for Anthony Davis may be a better move. AD still wants to be traded, and if L.A. packaged the No. 4 pick with some combination of Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram and literally anyone else, it would improve the lineup immediately.
- A Vanderbilt Commodore: If the Lakers choose to hold on to their pick, former Vandy star Darius Garland will likely be their top target. The guard averaged 16.2 points per game and 53.7% from the field last season and was spotted with LeBron at his son Bronny’s basketball game last week.
- Still hunting: On the off chance the Lakers both keep their pick and don’t draft Garland, former Virginia Cavaliers standout guard De’Andre Hunter could be the reason why. He averaged 15.2 points per game last year in his sophomore campaign and his name, along with Garland’s, has been linked to L.A.
The big names: The Lakers have reported ties to some of the most sought-after free agents heading into this offseason and the franchise has been linked to trade rumors that — shockingly — don’t involve Anthony Davis. In any case, this offseason will be make-or-break for Los Angeles as it tries to win now with three more guaranteed seasons of LeBron.
- Trade route: Los Angeles is reportedly looking at two All-Star guards, Kyle Lowry and Bradley Beal, as trade targets heading into the offseason. The Lakers certainly have the assets to pull of a trade for one of the guards, possessing the aforementioned fourth overall pick as well as Ball, Kuzma, Hart and Ingram. A trade for Lowry or Beal may be more of a contingency plan if talks with the New Orleans Pelicans for Davis continue to stall.
- Reunited: It’s no secret that LeBron is at this best with a slick handler and solid shooter running the point. Kyrie Irving checks those boxes and, of course, paired with James in Cleveland to win the 2016 NBA title. What’s more, Irving has reportedly shortened his destination list to three teams and L.A. made the cut.
- Swingmen: All-star free agent Jimmy Butler has been linked to the Lakers after bouncing from Minnesota to Philadelphia this season, leading the 76ers to the Eastern Conference semifinals. Kawhi Leonard, who knocked Butler’s 6ers out of the playoffs, is an All-NBA free agent who the Lakers have been targetting for a while now.
Second-tier targets to build with: Even if, in a dream scenario, the Lakers manage to trade for Anthony Davis and sign a Kyrie Irving-caliber player, they’re going to have to fill in some remaining holes in the roster. Not every guy they sign can be a bona fide All-NBA talent. They’re going to have to make some additional savvy signings if they want to catch the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets atop the Western Conference standings.
- Mid-level: Okay, it’s probably unfair to call Khris Middleton a savvy singing, or even “mid-level,” but he’s no Kawhi Leonard. Middleton averaged 18.3 points per game last season while helping the Milwaukee Bucks to the Eastern Conference finals, and the Lakers have reported interest in him.
- Going Green: Even though he’s in the midst of a brutal playoff slump, Toronto Raptors swingman Danny Green could be the perfect three-and-D to compliment LeBron and the Lakers. He averaged just over 10 points per game this regular season while shooting 45% from three.
- Splash brother: Stephen Curry isn’t a free agent and Klay Thompson is most likely staying put. But the Lakers could sign the next best thing: Seth Curry. The younger brother of Steph, Seth Curry averaged just under 8 points per game this season while helping the Portland Trailblazers to the Western Conference finals. With the Lakers, he could be a lights-out shooter off the bench the Lakers desperately need.
Final thoughts, opening night: The Los Angeles Lakers’ front office has been nothing short of a dumpster fire the last month and a half, but it doesn’t have to be this offseason. It probably will, but it doesn’t have to be.
An ideal opening night lineup might look something like this:
- Kyrie Irving running the point
- Kyle Kuzma at shooting guard
- LeBron James at the three
- Brandon Ingram at power forward
- Anthony Davis holding it down at center.
They’re the Lakers. With a free agency market as deep as this one and a number of stars available via trade, they should have no problem putting a winner on the floor next season. Then again, they shouldn’t have had an issue doing so this season, either. Maybe they’ll be a top seed in the West next year.
Or, maybe they’ll continue to drop the ball this offseason. Maybe they have a 50/50 shot at either one of those outcomes, because, well, they’re the Lakers. And that doesn’t mean what it used to.