The Lakers’ current situation feels something pretty close to dire. Even after an encouraging performance against the Timberwolves on Friday, the team sits winless with its highest-paid player struggling to be productive no matter his role.
But peering forward, things don’t look quite as grim as they did earlier this year. Russell Westbrook is on an expiring contract, LeBron James has signed an extension and the Lakers owe one fewer draft pick to the Pelicans in the future of this June’s draft.
Those factors likely, then, played into the Lakers actually moving up in ESPN’s latest future power rankings, jumping two spots from 18th in March of this year to 16th. Here’s the explanation from ESPN’s Andre Snellings:
The Lakers are the most talked about franchise in the NBA, due to the misfit supporting cast around aging MVP LeBron James and Anthony Davis. However, Russell Westbrook’s massive, expiring deal could hold the key to reconfiguring the roster as soon as this season. That potential flexibility and upside, in addition to the remarkable sustainability of LeBron’s run at the top of the league (and the precipitous fall of a few teams ahead of them) was enough to raise the Lakers a couple of spots since the last ranking.
ESPN breaks down their overall rankings into five subsections: players, management, money, market and draft. The biggest change from their March ranking to their October ranking is the money section, which is described as “projected salary-cap situation; ability and willingness to exceed cap and pay luxury tax.”
In the spring, the Lakers ranked 22nd in the league in money while they jumped all the way to ninth in the latest rankings. That is likely entirely explained by Westbrook’s contract becoming an expiring one between the two rankings.
The Lakers also jumped six spots in draft rankings from 29th to 23rd, another change linked to the one less draft pick they owe the Pelicans and the 2029 draft pick they own (and can trade). The Lakers also had marginal improvements in players (18th to tied for 16th) and management (24th to tied for 20th), and no I’m not joking about that latter one.
It does underscore the Lakers are in a better position in the future now than they were even earlier this year. Even if it doesn’t, and shouldn’t feel like it right now.