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Projecting the Post-LeBron Lakers’ Future

With a new core of role players and rising stars locked in for the foreseeable future beside Anthony Davis, the Lakers have built in some optionality to how they go about building a team over then next few seasons.

2023 NBA Playoffs - Denver Nuggets v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

After trading for Russell Westbrook in the summer of 2021, the Lakers’ roster was built of three max contracts, a half-dozen veteran’s minimums, Kendrick Nunn on the taxpayer mid-level extension, and Talen Horton Tucker on a $10 million extension. By razing their formerly robust middle class for the benefit of another over-the-hill one-percenter, the Lakers cost themselves a year-and-a-half of contention, only restoring their status as “veritable contenders” once they rebuilt their roster with credible mid-tier contributors at this past trade deadline.

Doubling down on their balanced build after a postseason run that took them into the Western Conference Finals, the Lakers began this offseason by signing free agents Austin Reaves, Rui Hachimura, and Gabe Vincent to guaranteed three-year deals. Further, rookie second-rounder Maxwell Lewis has already agreed to a four-year deal, and both Max Christie and Jalen Hood-Schifino will be restricted free agents when their rookie deals expire (2024 and 2027, respectively)— meaning the only way they leave the franchise is if the Lakers refuse to match another team’s offer.

Now, especially after Friday’s news of Anthony Davis agreeing to add three years onto his current contract to stay with the Lakers for the next five years, the Lakers have sketched out an image of stability beyond LeBron’s eventual departure, via retirement or otherwise. Barring any self-inflicted player movement, like the long-rumored point guard swap involving D’Angelo Russell and Kyrie Irving, the Lakers have a group that they can build out the edges of a roster onto for the foreseeable future:

2024-25 Lakers Roster

Guaranteed Deals: AD, Austin, Rui, Vincent, Max Lewis, JHS

Options: LeBron ($51M player option), D’lo ($19M player option), Jaxson Hayes (minimum player option), Cam Reddish (minimum player option)

Restricted Free Agents: Max Christie

Draft Picks: Pelicans have the right to choose between the Lakers’ 2024 and 2025 first round picks, second round pick

In all likelihood, the 2024-25 Lakers will look a lot like the group that starts the upcoming season. Assuming LeBron and D’Lo pick up their at-or-above market player options, the Lakers will be right around the luxury tax with eight players under contract. Also, assuming the Lakers have a strong regular season backed by the rotation that took them deep into the playoffs, the already overloaded Pelicans will probably refrain from snagging the Lakers’ draft pick, allowing the Lakers to make their own pick at the back end of the first round. That would give the team nine rostered players with five minimum deals to throw around, since they typically leave one of their 15 spots open to start the season.

Next offseason’s big question will be whether another team decides to put an offer sheet in front of Max Christie, and if they do, whether the Lakers will be willing to match it. That calculus almost entirely depends on the second-year player’s development this season and the amount of burn he earns in the Lakers’ rotation. Coming out of a strong Summer League, the Lakers seem high on the 20-year-old guard, but looking at the divergent paths between other formerly unheralded Lakers rookies who earned extensions with the team Austin Reaves and Talen Horton-Tucker, a lot can happen in a season.

2025-26 Lakers Roster

Guaranteed Deals: AD, Austin, Rui, Vincent, Max Lewis (mostly non-guaranteed), Max Christie (???)

Options: JHS ($4M team option)

Restricted Free Agents: None

Draft Picks: First round pick only if the Pelicans choose to take the Lakers’ 2024 first rounder, second round pick

Here’s where things start to get interesting. If LeBron (now 40 years old) returns on a contract towards the high-end of his earning power, the Lakers will again be capped-out to enter the season, and have to fill out the rest of the roster on minimum deals. However, if LeBron walks away, even if the Lakers decide to re-up with Max Christie, some rough tablecloth math says they’ll have more than a max contract slot to offer in free agency with five or six players already under contract and their first round pick out the door to the Pelicans.

With a solid guard corps and AD locked in at the five, the Lakers could use some help on the wing, especially if that player could guard both 3’s and 4’s. In the Summer of 2025, two notable veterans who fit the bill will be unrestricted free agents, assuming they don’t agree to extensions with their current teams before then.

Kawhi Leonard, who will be 34 and entering his 14th season, and Paul George, who will be 35 and entering his 15th season, are intriguing options given the fit next to AD and their dynamic talents. However, the age, injury concerns, and general acrimony since they’ve ducked the Lakers for the opportunity to come to play for the other L.A. franchise make them considerable risks as a second banana on a championship hopeful.

If the Pelicans can’t agree to a max extension before this summer, or simply decide to go in a different direction with their bevy of promising young talent, Brandon Ingram could find himself on the market in the summer of 2025. In a full-circle, bizarro turnaround, BI could be the perfect partner for Anthony Davis after being traded for him, giving the Lakers one of the most dynamic duos in the NBA’s somewhat near future. He’ll still be on the right side of 30 for the entire season, and if the Lakers’ other young players continue to round into shape, BI could be the perfect player to fill out the roster.

Still, no one can offer him more money than the Pelicans, even if they don’t extend him before he becomes a free agent, since they’ll retain his Bird Rights. So BI would have to take a discount to return to LA if the Pelicans want to keep him.

Other notables set to come up on the market this summer worth keeping an eye on include OG Anunoby, Jrue Holiday, Alex Caruso, Jalen Suggs, Terance Mann, KCP, and Myles Turner.

However, the following year’s free agent class is probably the one the Lakers are already eyeing even now, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see them keep the powder keg dry and try to go all in on a signing or two in 2026.

2026-27 Lakers Roster

Guaranteed Deals: AD, Max Christie (???)

Options: Max Lewis ($2M team option), JHS ($6M team option), Austin ($15M player option)

Draft Picks: First round, second round

With both draft picks in hand and Rui, Vincent, and even Austin potentially coming off the books heading into the season, the Lakers will have the opportunity to completely rebuild their roster to their liking. And since only AD is owed guaranteed money, the Lakers will have the money for almost two max salary slots. However, chances are, even if they refuse to go all-in on the previous summer, Austin Reaves is likely to opt-out of his under-market deal and seek a bigger payday. Depending on whether he’s made good on Darvin Ham’s offseason promise by then, he could command most of a maximum salary slot.

If the Lakers have only one max salary to offer a free agent, there are at least a trio players who would be worth that price-tag, including Jayson Tatum, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and an almost 38-year-old Kevin Durant. Still, the tier below those guys includes Bam Adebayo, Mikal Bridges, Donovan Mitchell, Jimmy Butler, Kyrie Irving, CJ McCollum, Khris Middleton, and Fred VanVleet. That list is still excluding players who are virtual locks to remain put with their current teams like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, De’Aaron Fox, Jaren Jackson Jr., and Jalen Brunson.

While some of these guys will age out of their prime or come off the table before the summer of 2026, there are so many viable candidates that the Lakers — the top destination franchise in the NBA — could realistically woo at least one to come join Anthony Davis and Austin Reaves in Hollywood.

Four seasons from now, it’s almost impossible to say what the Lakers will look like. There are no players who are absolutely guaranteed to be on the roster at that time. I’d bet on the Lakers extending Austin Reaves at a higher number before then, Anthony Davis re-negotiating with the team or picking up his nearly $67M player option for the 2027-28 season, and maybe Max Christie returning on some longer-term deal. However, even the outlines of those events are fuzzy at best.

Still, as the dust has settled from last season’s deadline and this summer’s activity, the Lakers have succeeded in building themselves the outlines of a contender for the foreseeable future from the embers of one of the bleaker stretches in franchise history. Of course, in a league ruled by entropy, there are no guarantees that any of this goes chalk, but the Lakers reopened the door to a bright future for the franchise.

Cooper is a lifelong Laker fan who has also covered the Yankees at SB Nation’s Pinstripe Alley — no, he’s not also a Cowboys fan. You can find him on Twitter at @cooperhalpern.

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