Last summer, the Los Angeles Lakers took the risk of trading a pair of former No. 2 overall picks in Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram, a draft day steal in Josh Hart and three first-round picks for Anthony Davis, a disgruntled superstar with the option to test free agency in 2020. That risk paid off in the form of the team’s first championship in 10 years.
Davis, who led the Lakers in points, offensive rebounds and blocks per game in the postseason, will test free agency this offseason, but the overwhelming expectation around the league is that he’s going to sign a new, multi-year contract with Los Angeles. In addition to Davis, the Lakers are expected to have a handful of players from their championship-winning roster test the market, including, but not limited to Rajon Rondo, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Markieff Morris and Dwight Howard.
The safe move for the Lakers would be to use their cap room and salary cap exceptions to bring back the roster they had this past season, and that wouldn’t be such a bad thing. After all, they did finish the regular season with the best record in the Western Conference, and by a pretty substantial margin. However, they could also be aggressive in the trade market again.
Unlike last year, the Lakers won’t have to package six players together just to make salaries work in a trade. Danny Green is owed $15.3 million for the 2020-21 season, and a contract of that size is big enough to put the Lakers in the conversation for almost any player in the league. Let’s use Victor Oladipo as an example.
If the Pacers made Oladipo, a a 28-year-old, two-time All-Star, available for trade this offseason, the Lakers would be able to get their foot in the door with Green’s $15.3 million contract. Now, the Pacers obviously aren’t going to trade Oladipo for Green straight up, but they might consider a package built around Green, Kyle Kuzma and the No. 28 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft.
Whether or not the Pacers would accept that package isn’t what’s important; what’s important is that the Lakers have the contracts and assets to acquire a player that could move the needle for them in a meaningful way, even if that player isn’t an All-Star like Oladipo. The same won’t be true next offseason, when Green’s contract will come off of the books, Kuzma will be eligible a restricted free agent and the Pelicans will be picking for the Lakers in the 2021 NBA Draft.
The Lakers enjoyed a great deal of success with their roster this past season, but to say they’re perfect just the way they are would be dishonest — just think back to the postseason. It took a historic postseason stretch from Rajon Rondo for the Lakers to survive without a guard on the roster that could handle the ball, create their own shot or make 3-pointers regularly. They can’t afford to roll the dice like that again — no team can.
The Lakers also can’t wait for Green’s shooting to come back around any longer than they have already. Green lived up to his reputation on the defensive end in his first season in Los Angeles, but he was unrecognizable from behind the 3-point line, shooting 36.7% from behind the arc in the regular season and 33.9% in the postseason. Suffice to say, they could use a guard that’s more of a sure-thing.
That might mean parting ways with Kuzma, but at this point, Kuzma might be more valuable to the Lakers as an asset than he is to them on the floor. Despite the growth he made on both ends of the court this past season, Kuzma never quite settled into his role alongside James and Davis. If there are teams that are willing to give up something of value for Kuzma this offseason, the Lakers should listen, something they weren’t willing to do last summer.
Again, running it back is an option. A good option, even. But it’s not the Lakers’ only option, nor is it without a doubt their best option. For that reason, the Lakers should go into the offseason with the same mindset that they did last summer: get better by any means necessary. Sticking with the same plan doesn’t mean sticking with the same roster.