Here's How the Lakers Can Build a Dynasty, Win Another NBA Title
While some believe that this season's championship isn't valid, it's pretty incredible what the Lakers were able to accomplish in such a disastrous year.
Here is a list of just some of the outside forces that the team had to overcome in order to capture this year’s Larry O’Brien trophy:
- Magic Johnson claimed members of the Lakers organization betrayed him in an appearance on ESPN’s First Take, which just so happened to be the day of Frank Vogel’s introductory press conference.
- During preseason, the Lakers landed in China after Rockets general manager Daryl Morey’s social media post strained the relationship between the NBA and the Chinese government.
- Franchise legend Kobe Bryant tragically died in a helicopter crash, putting an unspeakable emotional burden on the players, organization and fans.
- The NBA was forced to suspend the season after Rudy Gobert contracted COVID-19. It was terrible timing for a team that was kicking into high gear with back-to-back wins against the Bucks and Clippers.
- The NBA created a bubble, an enclosed space at Disney’s ESPN Sports Complex, where teams would finish out the campaign, causing a big disruption in players’ lives, particularly being without their loved ones for an extended amount of time.
- The horrific deaths of innocent Black people due to police brutality left players questioning if they made the right decision to play in the bubble. The death of George Floyd and the shooting of Jacob Blake were the tipping points, as teams went on strike and players held meetings discussing whether to continue the season. They ultimately decided to continue playing.
That is a loooong and draining 17 months for a team with championship aspirations. There should be no asterisk next to this championship. After all the Lakers went through, winning the championship speaks volumes about their ability to come together and dominate. LeBron James and Anthony Davis went Super Saiyan all postseason and took their games to another level to defeat the Heat in six games. They all deserve to bask in the glory all offseason.
As sweet as the taste of victory will be, the NBA never stops churning. There are 29 other teams looking to take down the Lakers, so they’re going to need to nail their offseason moves.
This is a pivotal offseason for the defending NBA champions. If they make smart personnel decisions then the Lakers could be able to build the next NBA dynasty and win back-to-back titles.
Below we breakdown some of the critical choices the Lakers will have to make, free agents to target and potential trades that should set the Lakeshow up for another title run.
Upcoming Free Agents
Howard was one of the best signings of the season. He inked a one-year minimum with the Lakers last August that wasn’t even guaranteed for the entire season. He provided solid rebounding and defense off the bench. He was then elevated into the starting lineup. He gave Nikola Jokic trouble in the Western Conference Finals and continued to impose his will against the Heat.
After a failed run with the Lakers in 2013, Dwight went from hated to beloved by Lakers fans this year. It would be a good move for him and the organization to come to terms on a similar deal to bring him back next season.
Morris was a great addition to the Lakers' roster. He was dependable from deep, hitting nearly 42% of his 3-point attempts in the playoffs. When Morris was on the court in the postseason, Los Angeles outscored opponents by seven points per 100 possessions while defending at a high level. His ability to play both frontcourt positions gave the Lakers plenty of pliability. The Lakers should bring him back if he's willing to return on a low-level pact.
Waiters was signed the day before the season was forced to suspend, and during the play-in games, he flashed tools the Lakers could always use. While he wasn’t particularly efficient, Waiters averaged 11.9 points and 2.4 assists in just 23 minutes of action. Both numbers would rank fourth on the team in their respective categories, and that was while he was playing his way back into shape after a long layoff.
Waiters wasn’t in the rotation virtually all postseason, but his skills as a shot-creating guard are valuable in a league that prioritizes scoring. The Lakers should try to bring him back on a veteran-minimum deal.
Dudley is by all accounts an NBA chemist. He might not play a lot of minutes, but he is a fantastic presence in the locker room player who is essential in building team chemistry. His teammates love him, but at 35, he’s a shell of his former self. Dudley mostly rode the pine all year and his roster spot would probably be a better fit for a developmental player, especially since the Lakers are already a veteran-heavy team.
Smith played very sparingly in the play-in games and playoffs and looked rusty when he was on the court. Keep in mind, he hadn’t played in the NBA in nearly two seasons, so he deserves some slack. The only reason he was on the team was because of Avery Bradley’s decision to opt-out of the bubble, and with Bardley presumably returning next season, Smith's roster spot is gone. We're just happy Smith got a ring and promptly discarded his jersey.
Upcoming Player/Team Options
Davis will decline his $28.7 million player option and re-sign with the Lakers this offseason, according to The Athletic's Shams Charania. He’s going to be the Lakers’ franchise player for the next decade... if he can stay healthy.
Bradley skipped out on the bubble in order to spend time with his kid, a totally understandable decision. During his time with the Lakeshow this season, Bradley performed admirably in his role, which was to pester opposing star guards on defense, while draining 3-pointers and initiating the offense while James took a breather.
It’s difficult to say whether Bradley will opt-in or out of his $5 million player option, but all indications are the Lakers would love to bring him back. With an uncertain salary cap ahead, Bradley could look to lock in another year with the Purple and Gold, where he would compete for a title and play a valuable role.
Cook has a $3 million team option next season, but only $1 million of it is guaranteed. Cook’s situation is mildly intriguing. No, $3 million is not a lot of money in NBA terms, but his roster spot is valuable. He’s close friends with LeBron and AD, who both obviously have a ton of say in decision making, and that will absolutely be a factor in whether Quinn stays or is let go.
His on-court performance was underwhelming all season, especially since Los Angeles was starving for a ball-handler to spare LeBron when Rajon Rondo was injured. Cook just couldn’t be that guy. He averaged a measly 11 minutes in the regular season, chipping in 5.1 points and 1.1 assists per game. His best skill was actually spot-up shooting (36.5%), but LA needed him to be a facilitator, not another spot-up shooter. We'd say it's likely he'll stick around for 2021.
After transforming into the Lakers' third-best player in the NBA Finals, KCP has reportedly decided to decline his $8.5 million player option for next season.
Caldwell-Pope was fantastic in the playoffs, scoring 10.1 points per game, splashing 38% of his 3-pointers and providing stout defense on tough players. His emergence as the team’s most-trusted wing player after LBJ was a sight to behold. He is a classic 3-and-D role player, and while his performance was just what the Lakers needed, with the NBA salary cap in question due to the ramifications of COVID-19, there’s no guarantee he would receive more than his player option on the open market.
Even though he's declining his player option, we'd be surprised if the Lakers don't re-sign KCP.
Rondo, who has a $2.6 million player option for 2021, will also reportedly opt-out of his pact. After showing he's still got something in the tank, Rondo seems like a no-brainer to return to Los Angeles. He flipped the switch in the playoffs, shooting 40% from deep while dishing 6.6 assists per game.
The Lakers should put a lot of effort into making sure he’s donning a purple and gold jersey next season.
Free Agents to Target With The Mid-Level Exemption
Harris would be a perfect for the Lakers. The Lakers desperately need to add some shooting, so a dude who converts over 42% of his triples would be welcomed with open arms to any team. The Lakers, however, would be a snugger fit than most considering their lack of 3-point snipers. Over the course of the regular season, the Lakers ranked 21th in team 3-point percentage. They improved by one percentage point in the playoffs, but with James and Davis playing in hyperdrive — by the way, this is what hyperdrive looks like, Adam Gase — that was enough to win on its own.
Shooting becomes more and more important with each passing season as league-wide attempts continue to rise. It’s one thing to be efficient in small doses, but it’s even more impressive to sustain that efficiency with increased volume; Harris gives you both. This season, he attempted 5.9 threes per game, which ranked 54th in the league. With the Lakers, that number would skyrocket with LeBron and AD collapsing the defense.
Harris is no Marcus Smart-type on defense, but he knows his role and won’t compromise the defense by playing out of position. He even displayed some off-the-bounce juice, a skill that is always handy to have.
Clarkson revitalized his career after being traded to the Utah Jazz during the season. He became a valuable scoring spark off the bench and played starter minutes in their first-round series against Denver. He averaged 16.7 points on 46% shooting and stepped up big as a ball-handler when Mike Conley missed the first two games.
As a Klutch client, Clarkson has an in with Lakers management. He also played for the team not too long ago before being shipped off to Cleveland at the 2017-18 trade deadline. The mid-level exemption, which is as much as $9 million, would be a reasonable salary for Clarkson, who would probably value the move from Utah back to sunny Los Angeles and be asked to serve in a role he is comfortable with. He would probably be the Lakers' third-leading scorer, helping lead bench units while one of the stars rests.
This would be a wild one, but it's actually possible for the Lakers to pull off. First off, it would require all three of Bradley, Cook and McGee to opt into their player options, which is definitely possible, but not a given. Thunder general manager Sam Presti would have to be willing to part with Chris Paul, but in the player movement era, anything can happen. The jewels of this deal, from the Lakers’ point of view, would be Kuzma, a 25-year-old, 6-foot-8 forward who can get off his shot from anywhere, and the first-round pick, which holds more weight to a rebuilding team than a championship one.
If the Lakers are able to bring in Paul, they would finally achieve a third amigo alongside Bron and AD. Paul’s skill set of facilitating for others, playing efficiently and knowing exactly where to be on defense would be a huge help to any squad. Adding him to the Lakers, fresh off a ring, would be almost unfair. Paul may be in the twilight years of his career, but he proved during these recent playoffs that he can still be a superstar. On the Lake Show, he’d only be asked to be a star.
Buddy Hield for Kyle Kuzma, Danny Green and 2020 1st round pick
Hield is what everyone in the league should want: a young, high-scoring, efficient 3-point shooter who bombs away with insane volume. Well, apparently not everybody wants him. The Kings were reluctant to sign him to an extension before the season, benched him during the season, and now there’s a report from The Athletic’s Jason Jones that Hield is disgruntled and won't return coach Luke Walton’s phone calls.
This makes Hield ripe for a trade, and the Lakers have just enough ammo in order to pounce. They could offer Kuzma, a capable off-the-bounce scorer. The Lakers could also dangle their first-rounder, plus Danny Green’s expiring deal for salary purposes. The Kings could bite at this deal, selling themselves on the chance to ship out a disgruntled star in return for two young assets. The Lakers would probably jump at a shot to acquire Hield, who would be an excellent fit next to James and Davis and serve as a leading scorer when they rest.
Victor Oladipo for Kyle Kuzma, Danny Green and 2020 1st round pick
There are likely better offers out there for the Pacers, but it’s not a state secret that Oladipo is looking to move on from Indiana. Jared Weiss of The Athletic recently reported that Oladipo wants out this offseason. When Oladipo was asked after the report surfaced if he was looking to leave Indiana, he didn’t exactly come out with his fireman’s uniform and extinguish the idea.
Victor Oladipo says he’s ready to start winning some rings pic.twitter.com/li6SH3zjP4— NBA Central (@TheNBACentral) October 1, 2020
“I’m all about winning," Oladipo said in an Instagram Live with Fat Joe (!). "That’s what you’re defined as. I wanna be the greatest, I want to have my name amongst the greats, I wanna be able to show my kids how great of a player I was. And in order to do that, you gotta show them some hardware. … I want a lot of hardware.”
If you’re a Pacers executive or fan, that’s not the answer you wanted to hear, and as we’ve seen time and time again, teams sometimes have to settle for less when shipping out a star. If the Pacers are interested in the Lakers offer, it would provide LA with a coveted third star, presuming Oladipo has fully healed from his quadriceps injury. Oladipo provides everything you would want in a third star: ball-handling, defense, ability to be a spot-up shooter who comes in clutch.
If the Lakers can pull any of these moves off, Bron could be looking at title No. 5, and the Lakers could have the next NBA dynasty in the bright lights of Los Angeles.
Photo: Getty Images/Lines Illustration