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Why the Lakers should finally prioritize continuity this offseason

While there are several paths the Lakers can take this summer, embracing a more traditional roster building approach may be their best option.

2023 NBA Playoffs - Los Angeles Lakers v Denver Nuggets Photo by Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images

As what seems like tradition, the Lakers will once again face an inflection point this summer. After exceeding expectations with their Western Conference appearance, the team was immediately swept once there, leaving behind a pile of questions in the process.

There are several salary cap machinations and decisions the team must contemplate in the offseason. The most simplified roadmap to constructing next season’s roster lies within two paths: retain the depth that helped spearhead their deep playoff run, or empty the cupboard for a chance at another star.

History suggests the latter option is the one the franchise would prefer to take. But, given the success of their post trade-deadline acquisitions and the financial hurdles that come with a three-star approach under the new collective bargaining agreement, the Lakers may be forced into taking a more sensible and sustainable route.

The sting that comes with a playoff exit (and a sweep at that) is tough to simply brush off. That said, the momentary ache shouldn't cloud the promise that was shown along the way.

There is no shame in the Lakers losing to a better opponent, but there is danger in overreacting to defeat if they scrap the entirety of what worked over the larger sample size.

Thanks to their successful flurry of moves at the trade deadline, the Lakers remade their flawed roster into one that was both younger and more complementary around their star players. Rob Pelinka referred to the makeover as a form of “pre-agency,” as it created “optionality” and a chance to keep their acquisitions if they chose to ahead of July.

Outside of LeBron James, the Lakers’ 14-man roster that finished the regular season featured no players over the age of 31. And in terms of flexibility, only James, Anthony Davis, and Max Christie are under contract going forward (Jarred Vanderbilt’s deal will likely be fully-guaranteed as well).

The infusion of youth and depth was successful enough that the decision to carry it over into next season should be an easy one. This chance at settling into roster continuity is something the franchise has not pursued over the past several seasons but may be on the verge of finally doing so.

“We’re incredibly proud of this group getting to the Western Conference Finals,” Pelinka recently said. “After the trade deadline, we had one of the top records in the league. I think keeping that continuity is going to be very important. We ultimately got knocked out by a team that has great continuity.”


As the chart and amount of red above outlines, Los Angeles has routinely shuffled their deck in search of answers instead of building from within.

According to Basketball-Reference, the 2021-22 season saw just 25% of the Lakers’ regular season minutes filled by players from the previous campaign’s roster which was easily the lowest mark in the league.

This past season saw that number jump to 41% but was still well below other organizations as only Utah (who blew up their roster) had a lower continuity percentage.

While it remains to be seen how truthful Pelinka is in terms of running it back this go- around, the Denver Nuggets showed firsthand how much value there is in familiarity and supplementary additions.

The Lakers’ front office fortunately holds the cards when it comes to locking down their young building blocks if they opt to do so.

NBA: Playoffs-Los Angeles Lakers at Memphis Grizzlies Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

“I would say this resoundingly clear, our intentions are to keep our core of young guys together,” Pelinka added. “We have a lot of great young players and we want to do our best to fit the puzzle together...Again, without talking specific players, we’ll do our best to keep this group intact and growing and getting better each year.”

Keeping postseason standouts Austin Reaves and Rui Hachimura will be at the top of the team’s priority list as they enter the offseason as restricted free agents.

In Reaves’ case, due to the Arenas provision the Lakers can match any offer sheet he may sign (if backloaded) even if the terms exceeds the estimated maximum four-year, $53 million contract they have at their disposal.

By obtaining Hachimura’s Bird Rights, the Lakers have the ability to both go over the cap to re-sign him and match any max offer sheet thrown his way.

While it seems like a safe bet both Reaves and Hachimura will be back next season, D’Angelo Russell’s future with the team is a bit murkier.

After making his return to Los Angeles, Russell flourished in his role as a floor-spacer and secondary ball-handler. According to Cleaning the Glass, the Lakers were 12.1 points better per 100 possessions with the guard on the floor during the regular season.

Unfortunately, Russell’s poor series against the Nuggets shined a light on his limitations and will likely overshadow his initial production in helping the team make the postseason, and even his strong moments in the earlier rounds.

Russell is eligible to sign up to a two-year, $67.6 million extension prior to June 30th before entering free-agency. According to ESPN’s Dave McMenamin, the Lakers will not pursue the 27-year-old at that max number.

It will likely behoove both sides to find some form of a middle ground as Russell’s market likely has dried up and the team may not be able to effectively fill his cap slot otherwise.

If the Lakers choose not to follow the path of continuity and instead target a rumored player like Kyrie Irving, yet another teardown will likely need to transpire to do so.

Although Irving is an exponentially better on-court fit next to James and Davis than Russell Westbrook was, there still lies the inherent issues that come with a top-heavy roster. Not only do the Lakers have to trust all three of their stars will be available, but also that they can once again flesh out the roster with minimum contracts.

The team could completely clear their books in an attempt to sign Irving outright this summer. As Bobby Marks recently pointed out in his article, the Lakers would still fall short in creating enough room to offer the guard the max salary he will pursue.

The Lakers could create up to $30.5 million by waiving Jarred Vanderbilt, Mo Bamba, not exercising Malik Beasley’s team option and renouncing free agents D’Angelo Russell, Lonnie Walker IV and Rui Hachimura. The cap space would increase to $35 million if they trade Max Christie and their first-round pick. However, the starting number on Irving’s max salary is $47 million. In the scenario that the Lakers do utilize their $30.5 million in room, the resources to build the roster around LeBron James and Anthony Davis include restricted free agent Austin Reaves, Christie, the $7.6 million room exception and two draft picks. The rest of the roster would be filled out with players signed to the veteran minimum exception, leaving the Lakers’ depth vulnerable.

There is another potential avenue where the Lakers and Mavericks agree to a sign-and-trade for Irving, but recent reports have suggested that Dallas has “no interest” in a deal centered around Russell or helping their Western Conference rival.

While a splashier name is always intriguing, the Lakers’ best route then likely comes in banking on internal growth and adding some key players around the margins as improvements still need to be made.

Exemplified in their guards having to check the likes of 6’9” Aaron Gordon and 6’10” Michael Porter Jr, the Lakers will need to add size regardless of who is and isn't back next season.

Their offense also simply needs to find some more consistency as the team shot just 33.5% from behind the arc and had an offRTG of only 95.2 in the half court during the postseason. For context, Denver has ranked first in both 3-point shooting (39.8%) and half-court offense (105.6) during their path to the Finals.

With summer right around the corner, we will soon get answers on which direction the Lakers ultimately take.

Can they resist the temptation of once again pursuing a multi-star oriented roster? Or do they finally embrace continuity and invest in the young crop of players that helped fuel their improbable turnaround?

The franchise’s history tells us that sizzle is more likely. But for once, hopefully they opt for substance.

You can follow Alex on Twitter at @AlexmRegla.

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