There's a lot of criticism directed at Rob Pelinka. I share most of that criticism but actually wanted to look what he did wrong in the offseason and what can be done at the trade deadline in order to improve the roster under the current circumstances.
One of the biggest qualms with Pelinka's roster building seems to be the lack of serviceable wings/forwards on the roster while having an abundance of guards. Another aspect is the signing of DeAndre Jordan whom many consider as a fringe NBA player at this stage of his career. What was Pelinka thinking?
Let's start with the forwards: there are 96 forward minutes in a game, 7.872 forward minutes in a season. LeBron has played 2.316 minutes in 19/20, a season cut short. It translates to 67% of possible minutes, close to the 75% he would reach if playing 36 minutes every single game. So if Pelinka was optimistic, that's pretty much on the high side of expectations (I also assume Pelinka didn't account for LeBron-at-the-5 minutes). 67% for a full season would equate to 2.637 minutes for LeBron, far exceeding the amount of minutes he played at age 34 and 36. Same exercise for AD: AD last played 2.700 minutes in 17/18. His best value since are 2.131 minutes in 19/20, 61.7% of possible minutes. As he's younger and has played significantly more in the past, I'd take the most optimistic approach and ignore his injury history to some degree, 65% of available minutes, that's 2.558 minutes. AD has played 49% of his career minutes at the 4, with 60% at the 4 in the championship season. Let's give him those, 1.535 minutes at the 4 covered by AD.
Melo: He's coming off the bench and was projected to back up AD mostly. The 27 minutes he averages now are pretty much on the high side. Let's give him 72 games at that rate, 1.944 minutes, just exceeding the maximum minutes he's played over the last four seasons.
Ariza: joined Miami late in the season, then played all but one game for them, averaging 28 minutes. He played 1.500 minutes at age 34. Given age and injuries, I think 1.200 minutes is an optimistic number. His projected role: backing up LeBron or starting next to him if AD plays the 5.
THT: 1.300 minutes last season, 63% of minutes played at small forward. Assuming the same number, that would equate to 819 minutes at the 3.
Reaves: similar to THT but he's nominally a shooting guard and Pelinka didn't really count on a rookie before he ever played an NBA game, did he? Better not...
Based on this, you get the 3.936 minutes at small forward from LeBron and THT with Ariza playing 500 minutes at the 3. 700 minutes for Ariza at the 4, 1.500 minutes from AD and the rest from Melo. Pelinka, in theory, got the minutes covered. Here's what went wrong:
1) The numbers for all guys are pretty much the optimal scenarios, except for THT. He can't just randomly fill in the remaining minutes though because he's too inconsistent at his young age.
2) You got no injury insurance, no other playable guy who could take minutes at the forward positions. This gets worse once either LeBron or Ariza, the two guys who can play both positions, is out.
3) Pelinka didn't account for guys potentially getting Covid or being in health-and-safety protocols. Any GM should have though going into the season. Pelinka did when it comes to guards but not for forwards.
4) He took too much of a risk with two of his 5 forwards being injury-prone, two others playing their age 37 seasons and the last guy not really being a forward to begin with, let alone being able to play both positions.
5) Pelinka didn't see the bigger picture: LeBron and Russ need shooters around to be maximised. Some guards can shoot but not a single center can, THT can't and AD can't reliably shoot nor are his percentages good enough. When AD's percentages plummeted (he could be at 27% instead of 19 from 3, the issue wouldn't change), lineups with him at the 4 lost that much on offense that it simply wasn't viable to play him at the 4 for 60% of his minutes. More realistic seems 20% or less which means you got an additional 1.000 minutes at power forward that need to be covered. By whom?
How about center minutes? 3.936 minutes to cover. 1.200 from Dwight seems reasonable. If we apply the 40% of AD's minutes that could originally have been planned, that's 1.023 minutes. You're still a whopping 1.700 minutes short in which you don't get quality minutes at the 5. You count on 1.700 minutes from DJ? Well, apparently they did starting him. After DJ last played that many minutes in 18/19, let alone quality minutes. Not to talk about spacing issues next to LeBron and Russ. Naive.
This is what I think we can rightfully criticise Pelinka for. But looking back only helps to recognise mistakes, let's move on, what has changed?
A) AD is out. Realistically, he doesn't come back before the last days of January, if at all before the all-star break. He won't average as many minutes either. For the team, it makes more sense that he plays center. Can he physically? Factoring everything in, it seems certain to me that he won't play hefty minutes during the regular season and probably won't play 80% of minutes at center either. If he comes back for the first game in February, then he's available for at most 29 games. He's unlikely to play back-to-backs. I think something in the vicinity of 20 games at 25 minutes each, ergo 500 minutes total is realistic, counting from February onwards.
B) You need a deeper roster at all positions due to the Covid situation. It becomes more and more clear that availability/not being ravished by Covid/not having half your roster in protocols makes a major difference in the standings. And with regards to the difficult schedule the Lakers can't afford to NOT care about this or they may miss the playoffs altogether.
Covid protocols could very well take 50% of your regular minutes away. But you can't cover for those completely, just keep it in mind that you don't end up with just two centers and four forwards. I think a GM who does a good job could reasonably cover an additional 20% of minutes without fielding a G-League team. Some (like Memphis) more than that. I'm gonna take it easy on Pelinka running with 20%.
C) On a positive note, Ariza has looked good in his first games and despite being in the autumn of his career, he should at least play more minutes than he has over the first 33 games. Austin Reaves can feasibly play minutes at the 3 and has looked particularly good sharing the court with LeBron.
D) Getting some flexibility (another 3&D guy who can play both forward positions like Ariza, a stretch 5 or a guy who can play both the 4 as well as the 5) would go a long way.
E) Rebounding has proven to be one of the biggest needs. Maybe not per se individual rebounding numbers rather than solid box outs and good defensive positioning.
F) There's not too many guys left and the Lakers don't have too much to throw into a trade.
How many minutes are to cover at center? Assuming a full season of 82 games (unlikely but let's run with it), there's 49 games left, that's 2.352 minutes at center. Count on 20% of those minutes breaking away due to protocols etc, that makes for a need of 2.822 minutes. I'm expecting maybe 75% of AD's minutes at center, 3/4 of 500 minutes translates to 375 minutes covered, roughly 2.450 left. Dwight has barely ever exceeded 20 minutes a night, not even with AD out but he's usually available. 45 games at 20 minutes, 900 total. 1.550 left. Some LeBron or Melo at the 5 while AD is out. Vs the Spurs they played 6:30 minutes without traditional center in the first half. 12 minutes a game maybe, but after a trade they should have a different option. 12 minutes for 10 games, 5 for the remaining 39 to make an estimation. 315 minutes total. 1.235 left. Maybe 12 minutes for DJ for another 10 games, roughly 1.100 minutes left. DJ or Huff can be the emergency center due to protocols but they probably need another center who can give them 20 decent minutes a night, a stretch 5 would be great for versatility.
Forwards, another 2.822 minutes to cover twice. Assuming LeBron plays 42 of the remaining 49 games, averaging 36 minutes, that's 1.764 minutes. 250-300 minutes at center, let's say 264. Remaining 1.500 minutes. So far he has spent more time at the 4 than the 3, 650 minutes at small forward would be in line with that, 850 at power forward. Ariza should feature heavily in the rotation, I guess he'll start in the long run at the 3 with LeBron at the 4 but short-term he probably comes off the bench. 24 minutes a night for 35 games seems optimistic with regards to minutes but a little more cautious on the amount of games played. 840 minutes, to be split as needed. Melo 42 games at the 27 minutes he averages currently, 1.134 minutes, the vast majority at the 4. 125 minutes of AD at the 4. Reaves and THT to take the rest of the minutes at the 3.
Power forward: LeBron 850, AD 125, Melo 1.025, Ariza 822. That barely covers it if Ariza plays no 3 at all. The issue: it seems reasonable to have quite some games where two of those guys aren't available. In my opinion they absolutely need another guy who can play the 4, only way this works is being healthier than should be assumed or finding a stretch 5 that gives AD the option to play the 4 without having horrible spacing.
Small forward minutes: LeBron 650, THT probably shouldn't see as many minutes given his inconsistency but let's go with 1.000 minutes (about 20 per game) while assuming he stays healthy AND plays all of his minutes at the 3 which is already a stretch; Reaves 15 minutes a night (he's missed half of the games so far, let's say 40 games out of the remaining 49) - 600 minutes; that's 600 minutes short while relying on young players a lot. Sure, there's the small ball option but given their rebounding issues I don't view that as a viable option for that many minutes. I'd change the call and say they need at minimum one guy who can play both forward spots or a small forward plus a combo stretch 4/5.
What can they give up? Unless they want to add another player to the need list, they gotta keep THT and Reaves. Basically only guards and picks. I'd even keep DJ as an emergency center, he won't fetch anything anyway. Bradley has been one of the few two-way options. Not sure he keeps the shooting up. He wouldn't be the first to offer but for significant help I wouldn't hold onto him, either. Rondo is a question of 'do you believe playoff Rondo is still there or not'. He doesn't seem to help them in the regular season. Monk's skillset is needed on the team. Bazemore is easily expendable. Ellington's shooting is probably needed, I'd prefer to keep him but you gotta give some to get some. Nunn? No idea what he can do, if he's good you could part with Monk. At this point I'd give up Nunn though, Bazemore and would be willing to discuss Ellington, Bradley and Rondo. Lakers got their '23 first-rounder but Pelicans have the right to swap, correct? Wouldn't hold onto that pick as long as people think AD can come back and be close to the player he was (or the one he was two years ago). 2nd rounders, who cares, throw them in.
Mike Muscala: stretch 5 who shoots 42% from 3 on good volume for a center, 37% for his career. Solid pro with good fundamentals who always gives effort. Limited yet total team player and great locker room presence. The Thunder rebound a little better when he's on the court but he needs a lot of help on the defensive boards. Very solid box outs, however, you can't afford a lack of size or effort at the 3 and I'm not sure Muscala can be similarly productive if he were too play extended minutes. Salary 3.5 million, team option for next year. OKC needs: picks and youngsters. Nunn would certainly be interesting. A second-rounder may or may not get it done. Two second-rounders would in my opinion.
PJ Washington: 43% from 3 on good volume, 39% for his career. Power forward and small ball stretch 5 at a bulky 6'7''. Plays mostly center this season. Last season, those small-ball lineups with him at the 5 were incredibly successful, he can obviously play the 4 as well.This season results are mixed, though mostly positive. Washington can rebound and doesn't shy away from physicality. Shot profile looks highly efficient. Contract: 4.2 million, team option of 5.8 million next year. Charlotte would need significant assets to part with him, including a (good) center in return. Unfortunately unrealistic.
Mo Wagner: guess you're familiar with his game. Energy player off the bench who takes pleasure in instigating shit/making opponents lose their cool. Physical but limited skillset, fundamentals meh, he fouls way too much. Would need to be supported by good defensive players like Ariza and THT or a locked in LeBron. Positives: consistent high energy, very competitive, since getting more shots he has improved his 3-ball to 37%, still young, team rebounds okay with him. Contract: 1.7 million, 1.8 next season. Magic could use a draft pick or a young player, maybe even a vet. Problem: his brother Franz is a core piece in their rebuild and the front office ain't likely to trade away his brother.
Maxi Kleber: a 7 footer who's a very solid defender and can switch to a reasonable degree, shoots almost 37% on 3s (this season and career average) on good volume, one of my favourite options. Limited offensively, rather low-usage but that ain't the need for the Lakers, his spacing ability would absolutely suffice. Can play both the 4 and the 5. Contract: 8.75 million, 9 next season. Mavs may be able to do without him and use some guard depth (better wing but guard doesn't look great either, especially with Bullock not panning out for them). Thinking Kendrick Nunn plus x here. Only slightly unrealistic, not completely ruling it out ;-)
Anybody you'd like at the 5?
Unless they can get Kleber or Washington, I'm looking for a guy who can play both the 3 and the 4, with an emphasis at the 4 where the Lakers are old as hell.
Dean Wade: no more than an injury insurance but he can play both spots and is cheap. Should be expendable for the Cavs. Contract: 1.7 million, team option for 1.9 next season. Matching salary and a second-rounder?
Lamar Stevens: another Cav, another injury insurance option. Shoots 41% from 3 on low volume. Don't know much else about him. Contract: 1.5 million, signed for 3 years.
Derrick Jones jr.: severely undersized at 6'5'' but dude got hops, long arms and surprisingly plays mostly power forward. Solid rebounder, defense not too shabby, would add a ton of athleticism to the roster. Contract: expiring 9.7 million. Problems: Bulls may need him after the injury of Patrick Williams, what they don't need is more guards, his salary is steep and he isn't much of a shooter.
Kyle Anderson: versatile, good defender, good decision-maker, glue guy, 3-ball improved to 37.7% on mediocre volume (pretty similar to Bradley). Solid to good rebounder, experienced vet. Contract: 9.9 million, expiring. Memphis would look at young players with upside. After a second look at him, I might be willing to part with THT for him. That would necessitate another signing of a case-of-emergency small forward. Depending how much Memphis values him compared to THT, I could very well see this happen but you'd have to re-sign Anderson to make it worthwhile, regardless of how he'd boost the odds for this season.
Keita Bates-Diop: saw that one coming, didn't you? But this ain't no case of 'he had one great game against the Lakers, let's sign him', the numbers look pretty intriguing: the team has a better offense, a better defense and a much better rebounding percentage when he plays, with the difference coming mostly on offensive rebounds. Still, that's an area where the team could also use help. In my opinion the numbers look great because he plays a lot vs opposing second units. Nonetheless, he cuts well, crashes the boards, can play both forward spots, got good size, strength and athleticism. Shot is a work in progress and he doesn't do much offensively. He finishes efficiently though.Overall I wouldn't give up much for him but if a deal could be struck, at the very least the depth chart would look less worrisome. Contract: 1.7 million this season, 1.9 next year.
Kenrich Williams: hustle player who can do a little bit of everything. Another glue guy. Shoots 39% from 3 on mediocre volume, good to very good defender. A bit undersized for the 4 but he makes up for it. Not sure about his rebounding, everything else are positives to me, one of the guys who can become an instant fan favourite. Contract: 2 million, this season and next. Don't know whether OKC is interested in Nunn. Alternatively, I'd offer the first rounder in '23. It's a bit of an overpay. However, if you believe this team could contend, why bother? Time to act is now.
The deals I'd prefer:
1a) Kendrick Nunn and Kent Bazemore for Maxi Kleber. 1b) Pick(s) for Kenrich Williams or Kyle Anderson.
2) Kendrick Nunn plus a 2nd rounder for Mike Muscala and Kenrich Williams, can negotiate around the margins.
If available I'd do the PJ Washington or Kyle Anderson deal as well but I deem these two more realistic.
Lakers after the deal:
Guards: Westbrook, Bradley, Monk, Ellington, Rondo, IT
Wings: LeBron, Ariza, Reaves, THT, Williams (Anderson)
Power forwards: Melo
Versatile bigs: Kleber, AD
Centers: Howard, Jordan
Still a tad thin at the 4 and 5 but you got guys who can shift up a position, gain lineup versatility, depth, a stretch 5 and picked up another forward who can defend, shoot and bring consistent energy.