Archives For Laker Analysis

In part III (and the last) of our Lakers’ team building series, we will look at the option I like to call the middle road. If the first option is the slow rebuild and the second option is to try to contend right away, the next logical step is to find something which satisfies both while not going too far in either direction.

The Lakers are uniquely positioned to take this path, too. Now that they have secured the #2 overall pick in the upcoming draft — to go along with the #28 pick they got from Houston — while still possessing 6 players they’ve drafted over the past 3 years in contributing roles, the team has a blend of assets and enough cap space to be players in either the FA or trade market. What we’ll do below, then, is explore what this option might look like and how the front office may go about executing such a plan.

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The off-season is a time to remake and build up a roster and as a team that has missed the playoffs four straight years the Lakers are a team that needs some improving. Some of that will come from the internal development of recently drafted players, but the rest will come from player acquisition and swaps via the draft, free agency, and trade market.

With that, we recently detailed the types of players/skill sets the Lakers should be looking to add. And we did this using a classic venn diagram:

As I wrote, the hope is to get as many players on the roster as possible who have these skills. But, I know, even this request requires a bit more clarification.

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What you see here is a venn diagram. It is a simple thing you are likely familiar with. You probably used these in elementary school to learn about all types of things.

If you’re not familiar, well, each circle represents a quality and the overlapping portions of those circles means whatever person/place/thing you’re applying the diagram to has more than one of those qualities. The sweet spot is that small triangle looking part in the middle where all three circles overlap.

Got it? Good.

Now, the venn diagram above represents player traits I think are important for any player the Lakers acquire moving forward. Again, this is pretty straight forward, but if you have questions about this, here’s why:

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You will not find a more divisive member of the Lakers today than D’Angelo Russell. Opinions of him run the spectrum of hot takes, with full throated endorsements and dissents colliding each day wherever you are. There’s not a single player who inspires as much debate, no, belief that they’ve pegged him not just for what he is, but what he will be as a player.

A quick example: This past Saturday I was checking into a hotel in the Bay Area and one of the employees who handles valet parking saw me rocking my Mitchell and Ness Lakers hat. He asked me if I was a “real” fan or not. I chuckled and said I was legit and then he peppered me with qualifiers — “Real like you’re nervous about the lottery on Tuesday?” Yes, I said. “Real like you didn’t want the Lakers to draft D’Angelo Russell?” — whoa there, buddy. “He’s got a terrible first step, doesn’t pass well…” I stopped him there.

This is how it is with Russell. Like an apparition, you either see it or you don’t. And no matter if you’re on the pro or con side, the person who doesn’t see it has instantly lost some credibility with you.

Fast forward to today and there are rumblings about Russell’s status with the Lakers. After the team retained their pick and the prospects of Lonzo Ball (or, in what would be a minor miracle, Markelle Fultz) becoming a Laker is now perfectly plausible, Russell’s name is starting to be muttered in the same sentence with words like expendable. The reasoning goes something like “who needs Russell now that you’re going to get Ball? Ball is the PG of the future, not Russell, trade him for someone better!”*

Full stop.

This is a mistake.

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Listen. No one is going to credibly argue the Lakers weren’t wildly successful at Tuesday’s draft lottery. Rather than surrendering their 2017 1st round pick to the 76ers and, by domino effect and legacy of the Dwight Howard trade, their 2019 1st round pick to the Magic, the Lakers retain both.

Just having these two picks back in hand opens up opportunities and scenarios previously closed off. If the Lakers want to patiently rebuild, they now have two more 1st rounders (including this year’s #2 overall selection) in their coffers. If they want to try to contend now, they’ve added a top asset this summer as ammunition they can leverage alongside they young players they’ve added in recent years.

Solely from this perspective, the Lakers have made out like bandits and are now staring at a wide open field to chart their path back towards competitive basketball.

That said, the Lakers still have a penance to pay for those trades for Steve Nash and Howard. So, even though they undoubtedly were a winner on Tuesday, an accounting of what they still owe is also in order.

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I’m not sure if you heard, but THE LAKERS KEPT THEIR PICK. Even more, they moved up a slot into the #2 selection, hurdling the Suns who fell to 4th while the Kings (who will send their pick to the 76ers in a pick swap) jumped into the top 3. It was a pretty amazing turn of events that opens up a multitude of team building avenues that would have been closed off if the Lakers had fallen out of the top 3.

It is in the aftermath of all this, then, that I serve up to you our latest podcast. In this episode, Pete and I discuss the ramifications of the Lakers getting the #2 pick, get into whether they should keep or trade the pick (Paul George figures heavily into this conversation), and then start to dive in on some of the players at the top of the draft.

It’s a good conversation powered by pure joy. Click through to listen to the entire convo.

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Welcome to part II of our series on Lakers team building options. The first option was laid out wonderfully by Reed, arguing the merits of a slow and steady approach to get the team back to contention. This is probably the most preferred course of action and the one which, in the big picture, makes the most sense. Watching the playoffs unfold, it’s easy to see the level the top teams are playing at and to then recognize how far away the Lakers are from that. Allowing their young assets to mature and reach their prime closer to the potential decline of the top teams while also leveraging those inexpensive rookie deals to sign players in FA down the line and build organically not only seems safe, but prudent.

That said, this is not the only viable approach. As Rob Pelinka has said many times, this front office must be prepared for multiple scenarios and, literally, have hundreds of plans and contingencies in place in order to pounce on opportunities that present avenues to improve the roster. What we’ll do today, then, is look at what steps the team might take in order to contend as quickly as possible — even as soon as next season. Now, to be clear, I don’t mean the Lakers would compete for a championship next season, but I am looking at a path to being a surefire playoff team and one that could make a run to the 2nd round or conference finals while possessing enough staying power to do so for multiple seasons.

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With a new front office entering their first offseason, and a collection of exciting but unproven young players, the Lakers’ future feels wide open. The team could literally go in dozens of different directions over the next few years, depending on the front office’s team-building philosophy, how the young core develops, and in response to countless variables (lottery luck, free agent decisions, trade opportunities). They could, for example, stick with a slow, patient rebuild, cash in their recent lottery picks for established stars in a push to quickly contend, or try something in between, and each path has its risks and benefits.

Team building is ultimately about being opportunistic and flexible, rather than having a rigid plan that you follow no matter what. Rob Pelinka has spoken several times of the need to be prepared for uncertainty by coming up with “Plans A-Z,” which account for various possible future events. In that spirit, Darius and I have thought about different ways the team can build towards a contending roster, based on how key events unfold (e.g., keeping/losing the 2017 lottery pick, using cap room on significant free agents at different points in time, trading for a star player, etc.), and have put together a series of posts that will explore different roster construction options.

One key in building a successful long term roster is having a clear vision of timing. Teams inevitably cycle in and out of contention based on the age/health of key players and various other factors. History shows that it is important to make moves based on a clear sense of when the team is trying to make the ultimate push to contend. Getting to the point of contention is very difficult in a league of 30 teams playing a zero sum game, and typically requires making sure your limited assets are all firing at the same time. In other words, contending teams don’t typically have the resources to combine developing, teenage lottery picks with an older, ready-to-contend core. And, conversely, rebuilding teams don’t typically have the ability to rebuild effectively if they have too many productive veterans taking prospect minutes, or driving too many wins… Getting stuck in the dreaded no man’s land can set a team back years (see, New York Knicks).

In thinking through the team’s future, Darius and I see three big picture paths forward, driven by the timing of when Magic/Pelinka push to contend:

  • Slow Rebuild: committing to a patient, slow rebuild, and trying to contend in 4-5 years, when the current core enters their primes.
  • Expedited Rebuild: pushing to acquire a foundation star as soon as possible to quicken the rebuild, with the goal of making the playoffs next year, and ultimately contending in 2-3 years.
  • Immediate Contention: cashing in the team’s young assets in a push to immediately become a legitimate contender.

The team could conceivably be successful under each path if they make smart decisions and things break their way, although the first two options appear more likely to succeed for obvious reasons. Darius and I will attempt to work through the pros and cons, and how the team might build towards contention under each path, considering the impact of the draft, free agency, and trades.

And, while having a clear and defined vision for the team’s timeline is critical, it is also important to recognize that team-building is inherently a fluid exercise, and sometimes your timing can become accelerated (or depressed) based on unforeseen events, which may result in a need to pivot towards a new timeline/objective. Sometimes you are Cleveland, mired in a messy rebuild, having drafted Anthony Bennett first overall, and Lebron decides to swoop into town and catapult you to instant contention… And sometimes you are Los Angeles, coming off two recent titles, and with a Kobe-Pau-Dwight-Nash core, and you suddenly find yourself in the depths of rebuilding… The best front offices always maintain some level of flexibility and understand when it is time to move from one timeline to another.

I will start this exercise by considering below how the team might approach option (1) – a slow, patient rebuild, with the hope of building a long-lasting contender when the current core enters their primes in 3-5 years. I am not necessarily advocating for this plan over others, but I do think it merits real consideration given the potential benefits.

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