Where Did it Go Wrong For the Lakers? I can’t say I have liked many of the moves Rob Pelinka and the Lakers have made in the last few years. Even before they were able to swing the Anthony Davis trade I thought waiving Thomas Bryant and trading Ivica Zubac for Mike Muscula were two of the most boneheaded moves on the fringes made that season. I remember thinking why would you throw away young guys who were that productive per possession for nothing or a player like Muscuala. It made zero sense at the time.
Magic exited after that season and Pelinka was given full control and at least early on there a few positive moves over the next year. Moves that certainly changed the course of the franchise and allowed them to contend and eventually win the title. Trading Nance and Clarkson to the Cavs which helped the Lakers open the space and actually sign Lebron from the Cavs was the first shoe to drop when Magic was still there. Anthony Davis forced his way there but Pelinka was the one that followed through. I thought hiring Frank Vogel and sticking by him early on was solid. Getting Danny Green and K. Cladwell-Pope were about as good of 3 and D complements to Lebron and AD as you could reasonably expect to land in that salary range that offseason. Those were probably the most important complementary free agent signings they made in winning the title.
When they decided to trade Green after winning the title with their 1st Round pick for Dennis Schroder I thought that was the first big mistake they made at the time. Trading Cladwell-Pope, Montrez Harrell, and Kyle Kuzma the following year for Westbrook was an even bigger disaster. I didn’t believe he was a good fit at all, but I did find that trade at least more defensible to essentially package role players and get one player who had an averaged 22.5ppg, 11.5rpg, 11.7apg leading the NBA in assists. Westbrook was at least still a star level player at the time but the fit was horrible and you traded all your depth away. Had Westbrook evolved to play more of a role and been willing to set a screen once and a while, try to defend, and at least try to play within a team concept it’s one that possibly could have worked better than it did. Clearly it’s been a disaster though and Westbrooks game has even fallen off regardless like one could expect regardless if he was even willing to adapt.
Of course, the biggest disaster was not trading for Kyle Lowry when they had the chance, and all the costly Westbrook drama and getting rid of him wouldn’t even have been a thing. Lowry himself has fallen off now, but he at least would fit and would be a team player. The entire hold up on the Lowry trade reportedly was for some reason they didn’t’ want to part with Talen Horton-Tucker and would even keep him and choose not to pay Alex Caruso in doing so. This as Horton-Tucker had shown zero ability to make a three point shot. They wanted to protect the 46th pick in the draft for what reason I still do not understand. Horton Tucker was the entire hold-up apparently too which even at the time I thought was insane.
The deal would have been Cladwell-Pope, Schroder, Horton-Tucker and a 1st rounder for Lowry. Instead, now they will have to pay at least a 1st just to get off Westbrook. The Lakers didn’t want to trade a young player for a 35 year old Lowry at the time. This offseason Horton-Tucker has finally been moved for 34 year old Patrick Beverly instead, which was a good move IMO all things considered. I would have certainly moved Horton-Tucker this offseason. He’s a terrible fit in every way and Beverly is probably the best reasonable return possible, looking over the other guys that moved this offseason like Brogdon and Cladwell-Pope. I think it would have likely taken a pick to make those deals work, and in Brogdon’s case more salary and someone like Nunn probably.
So What Would I Have Done Differently This Offseason?
The recent history is pretty rough, but how would I have gone about repairing this team this past offseason with limited avenues to get better and a pretty sparse free agent market? For one, there is no way I sign Lonnie Walker for the taxpayers mid-level exception. I thought they actually did ok getting what they did for Horton-Tucker. He’s not Kyle Lowry or even Alex Caruso but Patrick Beverly can be a good fit IMO. I thought Horton Tucker had no value on this team with his shooting. Lonnie Walker was almost just as bad last season but has shown a little more over the course of his career. I still wouldn’t trust him though. It’s also not like if he does hit you get to keep him, it’s a one year deal and he’s going to get paid like M. Monk. It just seems like Clutch/Lebron are making some of the calls which is part of the problem.
As I mentioned before, I do actually like Thomas Bryant a lot. I was baffled when they cut him years ago. I think that signing for the money they got him on for 1 year 2.1 million value this time was incredible. Unfortunately what made that possible is he tore his ACL and wasn’t productive when he came back. I still think it’s a great signing you have to do, but by the playoffs when AD and Lebron are playing Center and PF it will probably be hard to keep him on the court. I also thought Troy Brown Jr was a good signing on the fringes as well, Juan Toscano-Anderson less so.
When the Lakers won the title, if you can believe it less than 2 years ago in October 2020, Lebron and AD were playing most of their minutes in the post in the finals. Dwight Howard was the only center to play in the series and he played 11.8 minutes a game. Markieff Morris was the only other player to play in the post and he logged 21.3 a game. In the two years since Lebron and AD have both aged and with injuries and I think will need to play in those positions, even more, to be effective in the playoffs. Especially with teams like the Clippers and Warriors that will go small in the playoffs they will need to try to get through. Bryant should help a lot in the regular season but by the playoffs Lebron and AD will need to be playing in the post to be at maximum effectiveness IMO and that makes him the odd man out. It’s also why I don’t like the reported trade for Myles Turner. Bryant seems like enough of a poorman’s version of him anyway for me.
Here is the list of players that signed this offseason the Lakers realistically could have signed. One with the exception Walker signed and the others veteran minimums.
|Bruce Brown Jr.||25.8>||DEN||2||$6,640,975|
|Lonnie Walker IV||23.5>||LAL||1||$6,479,000|
|Otto Porter Jr.||29.1>||TOR||2||$6,150,000|
|Danuel House Jr.||29.0>||PHI||2||$4,207,625|
|Derrick Jones Jr.||25.3>||CHI||2||$3,280,000|
|Troy Brown Jr.||22.9>||LAL||1||$1,968,185|
My Taxpayer Exception
I would have spent this 6 million dollar exception on Otto Porter. I really believe for the money he was not only the best choice but pretty much the only choice for what they really needed come playoff time. Between Toronto or LA, I think he’s coming to the Lakers if they targeted him and made him a priority. PF is loaded with PF/SF tweener wings already and he would have had a bigger role on the Lakers. At 29 years old you gladly give him the player option he got as well with the Raptors too which is the only difference in the deals he and Walker got.
I think Porter would have been the best fit alongside of Lebron and AD in the playoffs after just having won a championship with the Warriors. He has the playoff experience and being a quality players in the NBA unlike Walker. As I mentioned earlier, I expect to see AD and Lebron at Center and PF in the playoffs. They will need a bigger wing who can guard some of the bigger wins and switch on to PF. He’s a career 40% three point shooter who doesn’t need to handle the ball on offense as well which fits perfectly spotting up to give Lebron and AD space. He played mostly at PF for the Warriors but he’s still capable of playing some SF I believe, especially if he was beside of Lebron who could still do some switching. 2 seasons ago he was still playing nearly 50% of his minutes at SF.
If for some reason had Porter not come to the Lakers instead(which I find unlikely). Daniel House would have been my plan B and the Lakers could have paid him nearly 2 million dollars more at 6 instead of 4 million, so he would have been a likely get if Porter wasn’t.
Smaller Contracts and Minimums.
He went to the Bulls, but I believe he would have been a nice fit with the Lakers with this ability to play some on and off the ball. He didn’t shoot the ball well last year, but I think that was an aberration. He would give them some decent size at guard and a little bit of play making off the bench.
He went to the Pistons and at 31 he makes little sense for them other than a valuable contract they might can move at the deadline to a contender. For the Lakers he’s one of the better bargain bin 3 and D guys you can get IMO. He shot nearly 40% last year on real volume which is better than Walker . He’s also rugged enough at 6-4 to play 41% of his minutes last year at SF. Los Angeles or Detroit, I think LA wins this easy.
I certainly sign him to the exact same contract. Good job on this one and he should be very helpful in the regular season.
Troy Brown Jr
I don’t mind this signing either as a 23 year old. He shot decent enough at 35% last year (although little volume) and still is improving at his age just turning 23. The thinking was correct on this one IMO. He’s young, he’s had good size at 6-6 and you can at least envision the three point shooting being scaled up. I see he and Walker as similar kind of prospects. The difference is he cost under 2 million dollars and you had to spend your only non minimum of 6.4 million on Walker. Brown is a much better value IMO and has more size and is 9 months younger.
Centers Montrez Harrell or Andre Drummond.
These guys would have likely been available to the Lakers at the minimum. I think both would have been good signings on those deals for the regulars season. I would have signed either of them over Jones but I think there is a good chance having been on the Lakers those bridges might just be burned at this point. If they wouldn’t come my fall back would have been Hassan Whiteside then Damian Jones who I think was a pretty good signing. I would probably have signed him over Dwight Howard. Pretty much those centers in that order. I’m guess Whiteside who is currently unsigned would have been what I ended up with. I would have also signed LaMarcus Aldridge who is unsigned over Damian Jones as well if he still wants to play. He played all his minutes at Center last year but he is different than all of these other centers because he can shoot a three. That has value IMO.
I actually think there are some pretty good minimum guys still left unsigned that could certainly help the Lakers even right now at this very moment. If I were given control of the team today, I’d certainly call Schröder and offer him a minimum as well as Jeremy Lamb for depth purposes. They are more playable than Austin Reeves to me when injuries inevitably happen. Whiteside still has value as well at the minimum and even bringing back Carmelo and Bazemore isn’t even the worst if they are just added as depth minimums and waive towels. I think the bench could still be improved but it’s mainly guys that Lakers have already churned through like Markieff, Bazemore, Wayne Ellington etc.
The Westbrook Elephant In the Clubhouse
What to do with Westbrook now that it appears a Kyrie trade is off the table (at least for now). If Kyrie became available again by the deadline I would absolutely trade the 2 picks in 2027 and 2029 with Westbrook for him that has been speculated on. I think with Lebron at 38 years old and AD kind of breaking down this is your chance, especially while the NBA is kind of in a gap year with an aging Warriors, aging Bucks around Giannis, aging Heat etc, and before the Celtics really hit their peak or teams like Memphis or Dallas figure it out. Kyrie at least gives you a chance to win this year. I think you got to do it. Sure it would be better to just wait until next off season and sign him with all the cap space you get from Westbrook expiring, but the clock is certainly ticking on Lebron and AD being good enough to take you to the championship, even Kyrie for that matter now as well.
Myles Tuner and Buddy Heild
The other two trades that have come up as possibilities are Westbrook for Myles Turner and Buddy Hield. They are going to have to put at least one of the 1st in, probably 2 to get off Westbrook and get both. I would consider it for 1 pick but no way for two. I don’t think I would even do it for one pick that far out when the Lakers could be very bad, it would have to be protected. I don’t think either Turner or Hield are that much of an upgrade at what you have to pay them. For the same reasons I see AD and Lebron needing to play more C/PF in the postseason I think Turner would have diminishing returns. Thomas Bryant for the minimum is a reasonable facsimile for chump change. 17 PER for Turner and he’s and expiring that you’d have to pay 18+ million again or let walk. Hield is nearly 30 years old and didn’t even shoot well last year at 36% and a 13 PER. I think you can find players that are probably 80% of him for the minimum. Are Thomas Bryant and Wayne Ellington really that much worse for the minimum? To me they aren’t worth the price and locking into and giving up picks.
Conley and Bogdanovic
The other deal mentioned is for Conley and Bogdanović which are certainly going to be traded. Conley is still pretty good but you are locked into 24 million dollars for the next two years (15 million guarantee on year 2) for a soon to be 35 year old. Bogdanović played 94% of his minutes at PF last season. Unlike Porter I think his days of playing SF are almost completely gone at 33+. If you believe Lebron needs to be playing most of his minutes at PF in the playoffs Bojan doesn’t really make sense to me for the price of his contract or fit.
I think you have to keep the ink dry and hope things go sideways again in Brooklyn and you can get Kyrie at some point sooner than later. Especially to help the Lakers try to get out of the play in. I’d do the deal for Kyrie, and if he never became available I’d keep the cap space clean (and not lock in a Conley or Hield) and he’d be the target next off season. For all his issues he’s still close to the best talent that will be available and the best fit. Lebron should have some ability to keep him inline as well with the preexisting relationship. It’s beyond just wanting to get out of his shadow now.
Going for it this season is worth the 2 picks though given the time table and ticking clock all three of Lebron, AD, and Kyrie are are on. If you can’t move Westbrook this year I guess you have to hope Darvin Ham can get to Westbrook to change his ways. I think if he would he could still be helpful. What wasn’t helpful was the summer league drama. The Lakers needed to keep the path open for him to come around and to admit he was wrong, that probably just caused him to double down.
My Lakers Roster
These are the 15 I would have tried to sign (could still sign a couple 2 ways), and honestly all of them are realistic as they signed with less glamorous teams for the same money or are currently unsigned. Perhaps some of them are looking for better situations with more minutes but I think the pitch for basically all of the back ups could be you will get a chance to win the job.
Also when we sent Westbrook home like will probably happen there will be a much bigger role and a lot of minutes to fill. Plus Lebron and AD will need to be managed some as well and likely miss time. I think you could have gotten all of these players. That bench is much better than the 15 they currently have. By playoff time I think there would be more Lebron and AD in the post with Porter at SF with McGruder or McLemore backing him up and a bigger guard rotation.
Likely Playoff Core Projection (if when they got to the Clippers/Warriors)
I’d make the overall roster more about proven vets than young players like Walker, Austin Reeves, Cole Swider’s, and journeymen like Toscano-Anderson. I’ve seen these washed up vets have too many hero moments in the playoffs when people thought they were done. It seems more like if you were a big time player at some point like say a LaMarcus Aldridge or even a Dragic you are still capable of doing it for a game or two. Have enough guys like that and I think you can find the right one for the right time and insulate the team from injuries.
The moment usually isn’t to big for them like it maybe could be for a young unproven guy like a Lonnie Walker. We just don’t know about the young guys and that’s way to big of an investment with the only resource you had. That’s why I would keep more of the older vets around who have been in those moments. Developing young guys you can’t even keep makes little sense on the Lakers or even using the minimums on them when you can’t realistically keep them anyway given where they are as a franchise right now.
There wasn’t much the Lakers could really do unless Kyrie becomes available and the Nets are serious about trading him. This is kind of the best I think they could have done with their money IMO this offseason and just sit on Westbrook and hope he has a come to Jesus moment before it gets bad in the locker room or after they send him home and he doesn’t have basketball.