Big changes are coming for the Los Angeles Lakers this offseason after having one of the most disappointing season in franchise history. There will be a new coach after Frank Vogel was fired but also the roster is a complete mess. By opening night, they will have a brand new head coach and, for the fourth straight season, a brand-new supporting cast around LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Get more information on the latest NBA tips to see what the Lakers might do next year.
Beyond that is anyone's guess. With over half their roster hitting free agency, the Lakers will have between 7 to 12 free agents on the roster. They have many important decisions to make about the team’s direction and identity.
Let’s take stock of which Lakers players are under contract for next season, which players should return, which players could be back, which players the team should move on from and where the roster’s holes are.
James, Davis and Talen Horton-Tucker are the only Lakers officially under contract for next season. There are some player options such as Russell Westbrook's $47.1 million and he will very likely accept that offer. Kendrick Nunn said during his exit interview he was planning on using his $5.3 million player option after missing the entire season. Expect those two players to be Lakers at the beginning of free agency.
Los Angeles also hold team options for Austin Reaves, Stanley Johnson and Wenyen Gabriel. Given each player’s contributions last season and the Lakers’ limited means of improving their roster, Los Angeles will likely retain all three.
Who should return?
James, Davis, Reaves, Johnson, Gabriel
The only two untouchable players for the Lakers are James and Davis, everyone else is fair game. They can move any other player in an attempt to upgrade this roster. Everything the Lakers do from a roster construction perspective should be about maximizing the fit around their two superstars.
Reaves’, Johnson’s and Gabriel’s contracts are team-friendly. It would be foolish not to keep them along. Ideally, the Lakers can better their depth and feature those three players less than they did last season (though Reaves and Johnson have the potential to grow into more valuable roles if they can progress as spot-up shooters and secondary playmakers.
Who shouldn’t return?
Westbrook, Avery Bradley, Wayne Ellington, Kent Bazemore
The Westbrook dilemma is simple and easy to understand. He has regressed and hasn’t accepted and of his limitations. His fit alongside James and Davis was always off.
It’s unclear how Westbrook’s style of play can translate to winning basketball for this next year. He can put up triple-double stats on a lottery or low-level East playoff team, but even that might be too high of goals after the way he looked as a struggling Laker.
Bradley was one of the scapegoats of the season. He’s passable in a limited role, but Vogel’s insistence on starting and closing games with him exposed the defensive-minded guard’s weaknesses. Opposing defenses treat him like a non-threat. His on-ball defense is solid but overrated, and he’s a minus elsewhere defensively.
He’s a shooting guard who’s the size of a point guard, making him a bad fit for some backcourt mates. The Lakers need more size, length and athleticism, anyway.
Ellington and Bazemore, the two original candidates to start at shooting guard, were largely ineffective and are nearing the ends of their careers. The Lakers could fill out the back end of their roster with better players.
We will see what the Lakers do and look like once free agency starts later this summer.