Let me start off by saying I love the Lakers. I am a 33-year-old man (almost 34), whose life still semi-revolves around the Lakers. I can’t spend every waking moment watching them anymore, but I can spend most of my time over-analyzing and consuming every article, tweet, and YouTube video out there. I saw the end of the Magic Johnson era, the Del Harris era, the entire Kobe/Shaq and Kobe/Pau eras, and now one year of the LeBron era. The last six years have not been kind to us Laker fans and after the signing of LeBron James in the summer, this was supposed to be the year that we finally turned things around and reached the postseason.
Side note: I said this exact sentence to my then-girlfriend (now wife) when the Lakers acquired Steve Nash and Dwight Howard.
No statement has aged WORSE than that one.
Anyways…let’s carry on!
Since the All-Star break, the Lakers are 2-6, losers of four straight, and are currently 6½ games out of a playoff spot. The Lakers just lost back-to-back home games to the Clippers on Monday, and then to the Nuggets on Wednesday night. (Shout out to LeBron James for passing Michael Jordan on the All-Time scoring list) The Clippers game ended with the Lakers fans booing the team and Clippers guard Patrick Beverly enjoying every moment of it. Every fan seems to be in overreaction mode, and that is fair behavior. The Lakers have not done anything to earn our confidence lately. In fact, they have played without any spirit or effort at times (key components of the defense they also are not playing), which is inexcusable for a team that is “in playoff mode”. “Playoff Mode” may only apply to one player, (allegedly) who also has played worse defense than James Harden’s bull fighter strategy. I never thought I would have to write this, but we are at the point in the season to quote the former Colts head coach and meme great Jim Mora:
“Ah – Playoffs? Don’t talk about – playoffs? You kidding me? Playoffs? I just hope we can win a game!”
Jim Mora in 1996 (about the 2019 Lakers, probably)
In the last few days, every water cooler conversation has been about LeBron and Magic Johnson, every article that has been written about the Lakers is either a blame-game-piece or an anti-LeBron-piece, and I’ve read/heard them all. The sky seems to be falling in Laker land … but I am here to tell you that it’s not.
I get it, losing games sucks. Being injured sucks. Not playing defense is bad and missing free throws in close games (or during the entire game!!) is even worse. While comparing previous Lakers players to current ones might be fun, it doesn’t solve any of the current issues, or really dive into what has been going on. The Lakers have 17 games left to get try and get some momentum for next season (or the postseason if they get extremely lucky) and when the season is over, there will be plenty of questions and not many available answers. Lucky for Magic and Rob, I have the solutions for the off-season below. 🙌
Step 1: The Lakers need to find their identity
As happy as that random dude is in the middle of the picture above, the Lakers have no idea what they are. At the end of last season (2017/18), the Lakers were a young and hungry group of guys that were coached by Luke Walton, a up-and-coming, intelligent head coach. In their final 44 games, the Lakers were 24-20, and players such as Brandon Ingram and Julius Randle were starting to blossom alongside the rookies Lonzo and Kuzma. Flash forward to today — 65 games in — and Luke might not even make it through the season, while the Lakers almost have the same record as the Pelicans … who are openly tanking.
When last season ended, the Lakers front office did have one goal in the off-season, get LeBron James. They succeeded in getting the 3-time NBA Champion, but LeBron is on the back-nine of his career and when you have a player like LeBron James on your team, the expectations rise, fairly or unfairly. The Lakers decided to surround LeBron with young, high-volume players like Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma, a young and oft-injured point guard in Lonzo, and then a cast of veteran players that agreed to play on one-year deals (Rondo, McGee, Lance, Beasley). Lebron teams look and play a certain way, and the Lakers decided to go against the grain on this … and so far, at least, it hasn’t panned out.
Midway through this season, the Lakers attempted to punt on the young players, all of them, in a potential trade for Pelicans superstar Anthony Davis. The trade fell through, rather publicly and in an embarrassing fashion, and now the Lakers front office is left with decision on what to do in the summer of 2019. Will they keep the young players and just add a free agent? Or will they package one, two or maybe three young players and try again for Anthony Davis?
Well, what IS the Lakers identity?
GREAT QUESTION! Since the Lakers front office is lost at the moment, let me answer it for them. When you acquire LeBron James, your window for winning titles is right now. The Lakers front office is not only tasked with building a title contender quickly, but they also have to build a team that can compete for years to come. I think the Lakers should not trade any of the young players and make a push for Kyrie Irving in free agency. Their identity needs to be “compete for titles now while building for the future”. Sure, that’s a long title, but it’s true. The Lakers have the cap space to sign a star and the young players to (potentially) sustain a title contender.
The Lakers don’t need to overreact and trade everyone for Anthony Davis. The Pelicans turned down our best offer, and every offer should be substantially worse. Anthony Davis is now an expiring contract, and the value for an expiring contract isn’t what the “Godfather offer” was at the deadline. If Boston wants to trade Jayson Tatum for AD, go right ahead. I’d offer Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart, 2019 1st Round Pick and some other shit. Make some other team beat that offer, and go from there. When it’s all said and done, I will be happy we kept Brandon Ingram & Lonzo Ball alongside LeBron James. Remember, we already did this. We already traded one of the best young players in the NBA, who is now an All-Star, for the cap-space to sign a free agent last summer (LeBron) and a free agent this summer (TBD). The plan is working, but unfortunately for us all, it’s just slower than anticipated, and the current roster doesn’t help … which leads us to step 2.
Step 2: Sign another ⭐
According to Hoops Hype, the Lakers have 8 players under contract for the 2019/20 season for only $65.8 million. The salary cap for the 2019/20 season is set at $109 million, so the Lakers have the cap space to sign one max free agent and some other players to fill out the roster.
|LeBron James, F||$37.4M|
|Lonzo Ball, PG||$8.7M|
|Brandon Ingram, G/F||$7.3M|
|Luol Deng (stretched)||$5M|
|Moritz Wagner, C/F||$2.1M|
|Kyle Kuzma, F||$1.9M|
|Josh Hart, SG||$1.9M|
|Isaac Bonga, G||$1.4M|
Currently constructed, the Lakers need another guard to play alongside Lonzo, a starting center that can actually play defense and rebound, and some more shooting and depth. Lonzo can play either the point guard or the off-guard in today’s NBA, so he will be fine either way. Ingram has played well enough to prove that he couldbe a star, so he is locked into a starting position, either at the off-guard or small forward (which seems like his true position). Kuzma is the starting power forward at the moment, but I feel his best role is 6th man. If Kuzma is the 6th man, that will provide a much needed spark, and provide the Lakers the depth they need. There are plenty of free agents out there that actually could sign and help this Lakers team. Sure, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson are free agents, but I don’t see Durant heading to the Lakers, and I currently don’t see Klay leaving the Warriors. So let’s take a look at the 2019 free agents that could help the Lakers:
2019/20 Max Free Agents
- PG, Kyrie Irving (UFA) – Priority #1a – Kyrie is the priority here. He already has an established history with LeBron and is a wizard with the ball. Kyrie can score the ball and shoot it with efficiency, and would slide Zo to the off-guard (if he’s still there).
- SG, Jimmy Butler (UFA) – Priority #1b – If Kyrie is unavailable, the option needs to be Jimmy Butler. Jimmy has a winning mentality, and this Lakers team could use all of what Jimmy brings to the table.
- C, Demarcus Cousins (UFA) – Boogie is a weird one. If he wants a max contract, he will have to prove it in the playoffs.
- SF, Kawhi Leonard (UFA) – He still could sign, though rumors are the Clippers will go after Kawhi hard. He never speaks, so until he signs it’s anyone’s guess.
- PG, Kemba Walker (UFA) – Backup plan if we miss on Kyrie and Jimmy. Kemba can get buckets and is a very nice short-term solution.
While I might be reaching on some of these, the best option is clearly Kyrie Irving. If Kyrie stays in Boston or goes elsewhere, Jimmy Butler would be a fantastic addition. His toughness, defensive ability, and intensity would be a gift for LeBron and the young Lakers. Adding a center that can play defense would be nice (Gasol or Jordan), but getting a stretch 5 that can space the floor for LBJ and BI would be ideal. DeMarcus Cousins is the one that is very intriguing because of his ability to take over games. Cousins also has the ability to take over games in a negative manner, but LeBron has always wanted to play alongside him. Would Cousins be willing to take a one-year deal to play in LA? Only time will tell…
Step 3: What About Luke?
It seems the Lakers have made up their mind on their current head coach. According to Marc Stein, the Lakers will move on from Luke Walton after the season, writing the following in a piece for the NY Times: “the prevailing assumption in league coaching circles remains that Walton will almost certainly be dismissed after the season.” Luke has always been a favorite of mine, but he was never Magic’s “guy” and LeBron really never embraced him as the head coach. LeBron has never been the most coach-able guy, as most of his coaches have the same fate. So, if Luke is gone … who’s next? The names that have been rumored are the following:
- Jason Kidd (currently not coaching)
- Ty Lue (currently not coaching)
- Phil Jackson (Ok, I’m just kidding)
- Mark Jackson (current announcer on ABC)
- Ettore Messina (current assistant for Spurs)
- Brian Shaw (current assistant for LA Lakers)
- David Fizdale (current coach for NY Knicks)
LeBron’s love for JKidd is no secret. He played on the 2008 Olympic “Redeem Team” with Kidd, and had some amazing things to say when Kidd was hired as the Nets coach in 2013:
“I think it’s amazing, honestly,” he said. “J-Kidd is unbelievable, one of the best teammates I ever played with. On the ’08 Olympic team, he was one of the best friends I would have, on and off the floor. He’s a student of the game. His basketball IQ is crazy and I think it’s going to make it an easy transition for him to be a coach. It’s a great thing for him.”
LeBron James on Jason Kidd, 2013
|13/14||BKN||44-38||R2 (L, 1-4)|
|14/15||MIL||41-14||R1 (L, 2-4)|
|16/17||MIL||42-40||R1 (L, 2-4)|
While I would prefer the team to keep Luke, it doesn’t seem to be the case. The likely name here is Jason Kidd. Magic Johnson and LeBron James have strong relationships with Kidd, and Lonzo Ball has been compared to him relentlessly, not that it means anything, but still. A long shot is here is Brian Shaw, and while I would love for him to get another shot, I think Kidd is the Lakers choice. Kidd has not coached since Jan 2018, but he’s won NBA coach of the month three times, and while his tenure with the Bucks did not end well, he seems to really connect with his players. Hopefully JKidd can bring some of the magic he had on the court to the players as a coach.
My Preference: Keep Luke Walton. He already has an established voice with the young players, and if you surround him with the right vets, it can work.
My Prediction: Luke gets fired, Lakers hire Jason Kidd to a three year coaching deal (expires when LeBron’s contract is up.)
Step 4: Stay Healthy
Truth be told, this is the most important step of them all. The Lakers were in the mix when everyone was healthy, and now that the season is all but over, it’s time to make sure all the injured players get nursed back to health.
This season, the Lakers barely got to see what this team could do … as LeBron, Lonzo, Kuzma, and Ingram were only on the court together for 23 games. In those 23 games, the Lakers were 15-8 with a +5.3 net rating in 373 minutes (shoutout to Jason Timpf on Twitter for the stats). Those are pretty damn good numbers, and for those who were watching the team, the Lakers were starting to click around Christmas, culminating in the GSW-beatdown. Injuries really played a toll on this team, as they relied on young players and an older LeBron to play heavy minutes.
Lakers Line-Up Breakdown
Looking at the numbers further, the real difference makers in the line-up were Lonzo and LeBron. I took a deep dive into the Lakers lineups on the stats page on NBA.com, and it proves how valuable Lonzo is in the line up, and how little our players got to play together.
Best 3-Player Line-ups
The Lakers best 3-player line up combination was LeBron James, Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma, and that line up only got to play 34 games together. The Lakers second best line-up was LeBron, Lonzo, and Brandon Ingram, but those three had even less time on the court, only playing 23 games together, while going 15-8 in the process. The Lakers 3rd best line-up consisted of the young players – Lonzo, Kuzma, and Ingram. The kids had a sub-.500 record, going 14-20, but had a positive net rating, which means they were in a lot of close games … which sounds about right. I’ve compared the top Lakers line-ups with the best in the league, to see where we stand. While we have a decent record, we are nowhere near the top.
#1. Lebron James, Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma
34 GAMES (20-14), 755 MINS, OFFRTG 106.6, DEFRTG 101.9, NETRTG +4.7
#2. Lebron James, Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram
23 GAMES (15-8), 395 MINS, OFFRTG 103.6, DEFRTG 99.9, NETRTG +3.7
#3. Kyle Kuzma, Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram
34 GAMES (14-20), 638 MINS, OFFRTG 102.9, DEFRTG 101.1, NETRTG +1.8
Minutes played = 300+
#1. Durant, Curry, Green (Warriors)
46 GAMES (35-11), 727 MINS, OFFRTG 123.4, DEFRTG 106.5, NETRTG +14.0
#2. Redick, Embiid, Simmons (76ers)
48 GAMES (34-14), 870 MINS, OFFRTG 111.5, DEFRTG 97.5, NETRTG +14.0
#3. Leonard, Lowry, Green (Raptors)
34 GAMES (24-10), 848 MINS, OFFRTG 118.0, DEFRTG 104.3, NETRTG +13.7
Minutes played = 700+
Best 4-Player Lineups
The Lakers best 4-player line-up was LeBron James, Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, and Josh Hart. These four only played together in 28 games (43%), and in those games, this line-up was only on the floor for an average of 10.5 minutes per game, so while this line-up looks good, they didn’t get much action. The Lakers true best line-up was LeBron, Lonzo, Ingram, and Kuzma. These four played have only played in 35% of games this year (23 games 😔), and in those games, they were on the floor for an average of 16.2 minutes per game. I’ve put the best four-man line-ups in the NBA next to the best Laker line-ups for comparison. As you can see, the Lakers need their players to stay on the court. When they do, they are a winning team.
#1. LeBron James, Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart
28 GAMES (15-13), 295 MINS, OFFRTG 108.8, DEFRTG 99.0, NETRTG +9.8
#2. Lebron James, Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma
23 GAMES (15-8), 373 MINS, OFFRTG 105.2, DEFRTG 99.9, NETRTG +5.3
#3. Lebron James, JaVale McGee, Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma
27 GAMES (18-9), 417 MINS, OFFRTG 104.1, DEFRTG 100.9, NETRTG +3.3
Minutes played = 200+
#1. George, Adams, Grant, Ferguson (Thunder)
50 GAMES (31-19), 807 MINS, OFFRTG 113.1, DEFRTG 99.5, NETRTG +13.6
#2. Durant, Curry, Thompson, Green (Warriors)
43 GAMES (34-9), 823 MINS, OFFRTG 118.9, DEFRTG 107.2, NETRTG +11.7
#3. Aminu, Lillard, McCollum, Nurkic (Blazers)
62 GAMES (36-26), 1422 MINS, OFFRTG 116.8, DEFRTG 106.7, NETRTG +10.2
Minutes played = 800+
Best 5-Player Line-ups
This is probably the most telling one of them all. The Lakers best 5-player line-up (min. of 50 mins played) only played 4 games together. FOUR. That’s a measly 6% of the season, but what a 6% it was. The line-up of LeBron, Ingram, Lonzo, Kuzma, and Ivica Zubac (now a LA Clipper, thanks Maginka) was 3-1 in their limited time together and had a net rating of +18.9, including the GSW beatdown on Christmas. Sure, these stats are limited, but the Lakers clearly had productive line-ups before their players starting getting injured. Since the Lakers had so many injuries, I have compiled the top three 5-player line-ups for the Lakers, based on the amount of minutes played together. I have also compiled a list of the best 5-player line-ups in the league, based on net rating.
#1. L. James, J. McGee, L. Ball, B. Ingram, K. Kuzma
18 GAMES (13-5), 234 MINS, OFFRTG 103.1, DEFRTG 102.9, NETRTG +0.2
#2. L. James, J. McGee, L. Ball, K. Kuzma, J. Hart
15 GAMES (8-7), 133 MINS, OFFRTG 110, DEFRTG 95.0, NETRTG +15.0
#3. J. McGee, B. Ingram, L. Ball, K. Kuzma, J. Hart
9 GAMES (5-4), 83 MINS, OFFRTG 89.9, DEFRTG 111.8, NETRTG -21.9
Minutes played = 50+
#1. Westbrook, George, Adams, Grant, Ferguson
43 GAMES (27-16), 684 MINS, OFFRTG 112.2, DEFRTG 100.1, NETRTG +12.0
#2. Rubio, Crowder, Gobert, Ingles, Mitchell (Jazz)
48 GAMES (28-20), 401 MINS, OFFRTG 112.4, DEFRTG 102.0, NETRTG +10.4
#3. Conley, Gasol, Temple, Anderson, Jackson Jr. (Grizzlies)
40 GAMES (19-21), 464 MINS, OFFRTG 102.0, DEFRTG 92.3, NETRTG +9.7
Minutes played = 400+
All stats courtesy of NBA.com.
OFFRTG – Measures a team’s points scored per 100 possessions. On a player level this statistic is team points scored per 100 possessions while he is on court.
DEFRTG– The number of points allowed per 100 possessions by a team. For a player, it is the number of points per 100 possessions that the team allows while that individual player is on the court.
NETRTG– Measures a team’s point differential per 100 possessions. On player level this statistic is the team’s point differential per 100 possessions while he is on court.
Step 5: Build a Bench
One of the biggest issues that plagued the Lakers was lack of bench production. When Lonzo missed time, the defense really took a hit, and the Lakers did not have the size on the bench once Zubac was shipped off. If the Lakers are able to sign a guard and center, the starting line-up could look something like this:
G – Lonzo Ball
G – Free Agent Signing
F – Brandon Ingram
F – LeBron James
C – Free Agent
6th – Kyle Kuzma
G – Josh Hart
C – Moritz Wagner
G – Isaac Bonga
Now, that might look underwhelming at the moment, mainly because it is. The Lakers should be looking at defenders and shooters to fill out the roster because that is how LeBron rosters succeed.
Top Bench Targets
- Trevor Ariza, 33 (UFA) – Fits the mold for both shooting and defense. The love affair between Ariza and the Lakers has remained since he helped win a title in 2009.
- Patrick Beverly, 30 (UFA) – Still fantastic defensively and would bring much needed toughness to the Lakers bench.
- Jeremy Lin, 30 (UFA) – Linsanity is a thing of the past, but he’s still a productive player off the bench.
- Danny Green, 31 (UFA) – Green is a knock-down three point shooter, and would add valuable floor spacing for the young Lakers. He also has experience with deep playoff run, and would be a locker room leader instantly.
- Terrance Ross, 28 (UFA) – Ross can explode some nights and disappear other nights, but he’s still only 28 years old.
- Reggie Bullock, 27 (UFA) – Bullock is currently employed by the Lakers, but by no means does that guarantee him a spot next season. If he plays well enough, he could be back for round two.
- Robin Lopez, 30 (UFA) – Robin Lopez is a banger, and could very well be the starting center for this team. He has proved to be a great leader this year in Chicago.
- Brook Lopez, 30 (UFA) – The Lakers blew their chance to re-sign the sharp-shooting big man last year, but he is back on the market again. Perhaps the Lakers could make the Lopez-Lopez move, which kind of makes sense.
- DeAndre Jordan, 31 (UFA) – DJ is not the super-athletic rim-runner he was in lob-city, but he can still be productive and is a massive body inside. He is still 30, but turns 31 in June. I’d keep my eye on him but it seems likely he stays in NYC.
- Mike Muscala, 27 (UFA) – Muscala did not have entrance into Laker land that he wanted, but he can still be very valuable to this team moving forward.
- Sign the Lopez brothers to team-friendly deals – Both provide exactly what we are looking for. We can use one for the mid-level exception, or perhaps we can squeeze both into the MLE.
- If I have to choose one, I’d choose Robin … mainly because Brook looks pretty comfy in Milwaukee.
- Sign Danny Green
- Sign Patrick Beverly – If Pat Bev gives us the 🖕, sign Jeremy Lin.
- Resign Reggie Bullock – The Lakers have his bird rights, so they can go over the cap to keep him, if needed.
- Resign Muscala – Just like with Bullock, the Lakers have Muscala’s bird rights as well. He can provide floor spacing and competition for Wagner.
Well, what about Anthony Davis?
Anthony Davis is the elephant in the room. It’s obvious the Lakers want AD, but what is still unclear are the Pelicans intentions. The Celtics are still very interested in Davis, but they have a Kyrie-thing on their hands, and to be honest, I don’t know if they would trade Jayson Tatum for Anthony Davis. Indications are they still might go after AD, so this is all wait-and-see mode until the summer. The plan I penned above doesn’t include Anthony Davis, and the Lakers should proceed with caution in the summer. If the Lakers decide to pull the trigger on an Anthony Davis trade, it should not include Ingram or Ball.
I know that might seem risky, but hear me out. If we are able to sign Kyrie, that essentially eliminates Boston from the Anthony Davis sweepstakes. Getting Kyrie is a long-shot, but it’s one that’s worth it. At that point, we don’t have to offer the world for Davis, because to everyone but the Lakers, he’s a one-year rental. So if the Pelicans trade him to another team, bummer, but we can just wait until 2020 to sign him. Yes, that’s another year, but that can give us the best team and deepest team to compete for titles years after LeBron leaves us.Agree with my plan? Disagree? Hit me on Twitter or comment below! Thank you for reading!
Brandon Rosenthal is a blogger, podcast host/producer, and an avid basketball fan since the early 1990s. He has been covering the NBA since 2016 for the30minutelunchbreak.com. You can view all of his posts and articles, and follow him here → Follow @rosenthalsportshttps://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js.