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3 moves to bring Los Angeles Lakers back into playoff contention next season

Andrew Buller-Russ

The Los Angeles Lakers were far from a competitive team on a nightly basis during the 2021-22 season. So much so that they’re already eliminated from having a chance at the play-in tournament, being that they have no shot to reach the 10th and final seed needed to qualify.

We know how they got here, but what are the Lakers going to do to fix the roster? How can they build a championship contender once again? After all, it’s been just two seasons since they won the NBA Finals, how could they really be so bad now?

Sure, a Frank Vogel firing is probably around the corner, but what else can the Lakers do to win more games going forward? Here are three moves to help make the Lakers into contenders again in 2022-23.

Trade Russell Westbrook for anything

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Cleveland Cavaliers
David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Improving the Lakers actually begins with addition by subtraction, which is another way of saying they need to get Russell Westbrook off the roster. Doing so is much easier said than done, but finding a trade partner this offseason should be easier with just one year remaining on his contract (assuming he picks up his player option)

  • Russell Westbrook contract: $47 million player option in 2022-23

It’s not that Westbrook has suddenly become a terrible player, he is still a starting point guard in the NBA, but at over $40 million per season, his contract blatantly misrepresents his actual on-court production at this stage in his career. It would be like Carmelo Anthony still getting a $40 million per year salary. While good, he’s no longer worth that amount.

The same goes for Westbrook. As he continues to age (33-years-old now), Westbrook’s skills are only going to deteriorate further, which is scary to think of considering he’s currently having the worst statistical season in his NBA career, 14 years in.

Typically a scorer who averages anywhere between 22-31 points per game, Westbrook is currently averaging just 18.5 points per game. Some might say, well he’s on the Lakers, but that doesn’t hold merit either. With Anthony Davis missing 39 games this season, there should have been plenty of scoring opportunities to go around. While Westbrook still has a usage rate ranking 19th in the league, he’s averaging fewer points and assists per game than last season.

  • Russell Westbrook stats 2020-21: 22.2 PPG, 11.7 AST, 11.5 RPG, 29.5% USG
  • Westbrook stats from 2021-22: 18.5 PPG, 7.1 AST, 7.4 RPG, 26.4% USG

This isn’t to suggest Westbrook has suddenly fallen off a cliff, I still believe he can be effective in the right system, surrounded by the right players. But pairing him with LeBron James and Anthony Davis isn’t the answer when they too want the ball in their hands. Instead, removing Westbrook’s salary from their books, even if that means including their 2022 first-round pick in the deal just might be worth it.

Related: 5 Los Angeles Lakers head coach candidates to replace Frank Vogel

Bring Buddy Hield to L.A.

NBA: Detroit Pistons at Indiana Pacers
Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

With just seven players currently under contract for the 2022-23 season, the Lakers have a lot of work to do, just to fill out their depth chart.

Here are all the players the Lakers will enter the offseason with:

  • Russell Westbrook
  • LeBron James
  • Anthony Davis
  • Talen Horton-Tucker
  • Kendrick Nunn
  • Stanley Johnson
  • Austin Reaves

Aside from LeBron and Davis, it’s a pretty uninspiring bunch. They need just about everything again. Maybe they can start by seeing if the Indiana Pacers are willing to deal Buddy Hield, who actually has a declining salary each of the next two seasons at $21M, then $19M the following year. The Lakers showed interest in the shooting guard last year, before deciding to go forward with the Westbrook trade instead.

Hield would give the Lakers one of the best high-volume three-point shooters in basketball to help with spacing, offering an explosive third option behind James and Davis in the offense. Hopefully they can retain a few of their complementary pieces set for free agency such as Malik Monk, Carmelo Anthony, Avery Bradley and Wayne Ellington, but Hield would be the best of the bunch.

Related: Los Angeles Lakers legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar blasts LeBron James

Sign Tyus Jones to run point

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at San Antonio Spurs
Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

It’s true, as of now the Lakers don’t have any cap space, or at least they won’t this offseason. Yet, how they handle the Westbrook situation could change things. It’s unlikely for them to waive and stretch Westbrook’s contract, just as it’s even more unlikely for the point guard to deny his $47M player option, but crazier things have happened.

If the Lakers can find a way to create some cap space this offseason, they should be in on signing a veteran point guard who can distribute, take care of the basketball, while playing effective defense.

At the top of the wish list should be Tyus Jones of the Memphis Grizzlies. Of course, after leading the Grizzlies to a 19-3 record when Jones starts, he will likely have many suitors vying for his services.

Despite not needing the ball to be effective, Jones ranks seventh in the NBA in offensive rating at 125.9, 15th in steal percentage, and 16th in turnover rate. Oh and Laker fans will like this one, Jones rarely misses a game, having played 71 out of a possible 79 games this season thus far.

There are many moves the Lakers could make, and inevitably will make this offseason. The biggest domino to fall is how they want to handle Westbrook, but Vogel’s coaching status will have just as big of an impact as any roster decision made.

They’re in a tricky spot, needing to add young talent to the roster while trying to maximize the limited championship window that comes along with having a 37–year-old King James lurching in the shadows. It should be a frenetic offseason in L.A. once again, but will they emerge as a contender?

Related: 2022 NBA Draft prospects: A look at the top 50 set to enter the Association