Few exercises can more effectively bring a smile to a sports fan’s face the way remembering popular role players of yesteryear can. We can spend hours merely mentioning names of former Lakers whose names do not hang in Crypto Dot Com Arena (still weird), and whose numbers have since been repurposed. Yet still, names like Derek Fisher, Michael Cooper and the like will live on forever in their own way.
Somewhere along the line with Rob Pelinka at the helm, the Lakers have stopped caring about effective role players — a repeated mistake that has crippled the organization. Now, with a couple different paths laid out in from of them, they’ll have to break that bad habit.
Behind door number one this offseason sits Kyrie Irving. As talented as he is maddening, he would immediately inject star power that fits exponentially better than the last all-time great point guard Pelinka acquired.
Behind door number two is a trade package for Myles Turner and Buddy Hield, two players who will never reach the heights that Russell Westbrook and Irving already have in their careers, but are very capable NBA players who fit incredibly well with LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
Oh, and there aren’t nearly as many questions about their interest in showing up to work every day.
There’s technically a couple other doors representing some other options but for right now, these are the focus of this week’s episode of “The Anthony Irwin Show.” Also, acknowledging that the Lakers can technically just run last year’s core back is pretty depressing and I’d rather pretend that door is forever padlocked.
Let’s look back on that championship team from 2020. Yes, James and Davis were unquestionably the engine and rotor to that boat, but the crew tasked with helping ensure it ran at optimal levels was pretty damn important. Since then, that battle-tested group has been stripped down and replaced by an unrecognizable and uninspiring collection of guys we aren’t positive can steer any boat in the right direction.
The maddening part of all this is Rob Pelinka, who was essentially a role player on a championship team, has played a central part in stripping a championship roster of its valuable role players. The message at every step: If you aren’t a star, you’re fungible. The lesson at every turn: That’s an incredibly stupid message!
Yes, James almost undoubtedly prefers the Irving route even after acquiring a superstar point guard blew up hilariously in his face only a year ago. Yes, Pelinka is now fighting for his job and appeasing James is probably the surest way to keep it. And yes, Irving committing to basketball in ways he hasn’t these last couple years probably offers the highest ceiling.
But if the Lakers really want to show they’ve learned from the disaster that was the 2021-22 campaign, the choice here is actually relatively easy: Execute the trade that brings in multiple NBA-caliber players. Return to the approach that won them a championship only a couple seasons ago.
Role players don’t win headlines and they won’t individually sell tickets. But guys like Turner and Hield have a greater chance helping win basketball games. Somewhere along the line, the Lakers forgot that’s kind of the whole point, and it’s well past time to remember.
This week, I brought back old friend Adam Mares of DNVR to discuss this, Tim Connelly’s giant swing for the fences and Kobe Bryant’s admiration for Nikola Jokic.
And for a short-form recap pod, check out Lakers Lowdown, in which Anthony Irwin recaps the previous day’s news and gets you ready for the day ahead in LakerLand, every weekday morning on the Silver Screen & Roll Podcast feed.