There was an enormous amount of pressure on the Lakers brass to turn the franchise around after enduring the trainwreck season that was the 2021-22 Los Angeles Lakers. This offseason was a test. How would the franchise respond to missing not only the playoffs, but the play-in tournament? This past offseason would test not only their character, but how determined they were to getting LeBron James and Anthony Davis back to competing for a title.
The endless trade rumors throughout the summer eventually led to Russell Westbrook starting the season in a Lakers uniform. Going into training camp, preseason and eventually the regular season, Laker fans remained skeptical that this guard-heavy roster would be enough to get the Lakers back to the top. Yet head coach Darvin Ham seems to have sparked optimism, many hoping that he would be the guy to get the very best out of this ball club.
The first three games are in the books and the Lakers have yet to slide into the win column. An 0-3 start is enough to worry the fanbase that this may be heading towards a repeat of last season. However, for the moment, things may not be as bleak as they may seem. But that tiny bit of hope desperately relies on the small sample of elite defense they've displayed and also what the front office ultimately decides to do with Westbrook.
To start the season, there is one glaring issue that has single handedly been responsible for the Lakers' shortcomings: 3-point shooting. Through three games they rank dead last in 3-point shooting and last in overall offensive rating (97.2). The other side of the ball is a completely different story. The Lakers currently have the second-best defensive rating (103.4), are first in steals at 11.3 per game, and first in OPP TOVs (20.0).
It took the Lakers shooting historically poorly from the perimeter to lose by six to the Clippers and two to the Blazers. 36 missed threes against LAC and 27 against POR. You don't win in this league shooting at or below 20% from three. But their discipline on defense has kept the games competitive. They forced 21 Clippers turnovers while limiting themselves to 9. This isn't a moral victory, but a sign that adding competent shooting can do wonders for a team that has the tools to be an elite defensive team. They've shown that they can create extra possessions for themselves with their scrappy defense. What's holding them back is their inability to capitalize on those added possessions. Forcing turnovers is great, but when you can't turn all of those steals into points, it ultimately leads to nothing.
But where do the Lakers find the shooting and scoring that they so desperately need? Shams Charania of The Athletic has reported that the Lakers are keeping their eyes on Terry Rozier (CHA) and Josh Richardson (SAS). For reference, Rozier shot the three at a 37% clip last season and is a career 37% perimeter shooter. Richardson shot the three at 41% last season and is a career 36% 3-point shooter. The Hornets, Pacers, and Spurs have been linked to the Lakers for months, all with attractive packages fitting LAL's needs one way or the other. It all comes back to who is willing to take on Russell Westbrook's expiring $47 million contract in a trade and if the Lakers be willing to part with one of or both of their 2027 and 2029 picks.
Much-needed offensive upgrades will allow them to convert turnovers to points on a consistent basis. Shams has also reported that the Lakers may wait until the 20-25 game mark to make their full assessment of the team's needs. The Lakers would have to keep their heads above water in the time being considering they're already off to a 0-3 start and a quarter of their season would be gone by then. There is no indication the Lakers will dramatically improve their shooting, and if it continues to get ugly, game 20 may be too late to salvage the season.
Whether it's Hayward, Rozier and Washington from CHA, Hield and Turner from IND, or Richardson, McDermott and Poeltl from SAS, the Lakers have to decide soon whether or not they prioritize the future over a fighting chance to win now. Any one of these deals would be an improvement for LA. The defense is there and there is still a path to success, but will they make the necessary changes to put themselves in the best position to compete this year?