Now that the Lakers have won the NBA Championship, the question on every analysts’ mind is what do they need to do to repeat. Should they stick with what worked or go back to the drawing board and try to get better?
The answer to that question is bring back the core elements that won the championship but definitely try to get better because the Heat, Warriors, Clippers, Bucks, Celtics, 76ers, and every contender are going to upgrade. Standing pat is not an option, even in the middle of a pandemic. The Lakers must find a way to improve their roster if they want a chance to repeat and keep open the opportunity to threepeat. At stake is a potential dynasty.
The challenge Rob Pelinka and the Lakers’ front office face this offseason is the classic dilemma of a team that needs improvement in multiple areas but has to prioritize since it may only possesses the resources to fix one of them. The Lakers could benefit by adding a reliable third scorer, a capable second playmaker, a 3-and-D wing to guard bigger lead scorers, and a true modern center who can stretch the floor, protect the rim, and defend the perimeter.
The question is which of these areas of need can be solved by the resources the Lakers have and which will yield the greatest benefit in terms of helping the team repeat and empower a potential threepeat as NBA champions? There’s a good argument to be made that looking back at exactly how and why the Lakers were able to win the NBA championship this past season will provide invaluable wisdom and insight to best answer those questions.
HOW DID LAKERS SOLVE THEIR NEEDS IN PLAYOFFS?
So let’s first look at how the Lakers addressed the four needs listed above and see what the team did to solve them during the playoffs as that will give us a good idea where they should prioritize their resources this offseason. As they did all season, the Lakers solved the need for a reliable third scorer by committee. In some games, it was KCP to the rescue. In others, it was Rajon Rondo. Occasionally, Markieff Morris, Kyle Kuzma, or Danny Green.
The need for a second playmaker was filled by the terrific performance by Playoff Rondo, who set a record for the most assists from a player off the bench in the playoffs despite missing the first 5 games due to back spasms. The need for a 3-and-D wing to guard bigger lead scorers was filled by Anthony Davis and LeBron James taking turns as defensive stoppers, especially against Miami’s Jimmy Butler in Games 4 and 6 in the Finals.
Finally, the need for a true modern center to stretch the floor, protect the rim, and defend the perimeter was filled by AD playing the five despite his preference to play power forward, with Markieff Morris playing the four. KCP, Rondo, and Morris were in fact the triumvirate of role players that enabled the Lakers to address their glaring needs for a third scorer, second playmaker, elite wing defender, and true multi-purpose modern center.
While the Lakers can win with their third scorer being a committee, their second playmaker being Rondo, and their elite 3-and-D wing being LeBron and AD, pairing Anthony Davis with a stretch big makes them unbeatable.
WHY PRIORITIZE ADDING A MODERN CENTER?
Aside from allowing Davis to play his preferred power forward position, adding a second big man to stretch the floor, protect the rim, and defend the perimeter is the ultimate gambit to transform the Lakers into a dynasty. It would allow the Lakers to create a super-sized version of the Golden State Warriors’ infamous Death Lineup with five players who could stretch the defense and defend the perimeter and a suffocating duo of rim protectors.
We saw glimpses of how adding a stretch big who can also protect the rim and defend the perimeter transformed the Lakers offense and defense during the playoffs when Markieff Morris played alongside Anthony Davis. Offensively, the Lakers were able to spread the defense with five-out sets to open lanes for LeBron and teammates to attack the paint for layups and dunks and demoralizing drive-and-dish and drive-and-kick assists.
The bigger impact of playing two modern bigs like Davis and Morris was on the defensive end, where the Lakers were able to rotate and recover from helping more quickly to better challenge drivers and 3-point shooters. Having five players with the size, length, speed, quickness, and mobility to defend and help at all three levels transformed the Lakers’ defense into a relentless juggernaut that shut down the Miami Heat offense in Game 6.
The Lakers proved defense wins championships so the answer to the question of how best to use their resources to improve the team should be to double down on defense and add a true modern center to play with AD.
WHICH CENTERS SHOULD LAKERS PURSUE?
Unfortunately, there aren’t many players who qualify as modern centers who can shoot the three, protect the rim, and defend the perimeter who would be good fits with LeBron and AD whom the Lakers could acquire. The top two candidates would be Indiana Pacers’ center Myles Turner, who is reportedly on the trade block, and the Detroit Pistons’ center/forward Christian Wood, who is an unrestricted free agent with great potential.
Turner is a 24-year old, 6'11,” 260 lb center who averaged 12.1 points, 6.6 rebounds,1.2 assists, and 2.1 blocks in 29.5 minutes per game last season, shooting 45.7% from the field, 34.4% from deep, and 75.1% from the line. Word is the Pacers are ready to move Turner because he doesn’t fit well with Sabonis but it would take an offer of Kuzma, Horton-Tucker, and a first round pick and maybe even Caruso plus Green as filler to interest Indiana.
Wood is a 25-year old, 6'10.” 214 lb center who averaged 13.1 points, 6.3 rebounds, 1.0 assists, and 0.9 blocks in 21.4 minutes per game last season, shooting 56.7% from the field, 38.6% from deep, and 74.4% from the line. While Christion is unproven, Pelinka would have to be aggressive and woo him with an offer close to the $18 million per year Turner makes to outbid other teams and the Pistons and convince them to sign-and-trade him.
While Turner or Wood would be expensive, their addition would also transform the Lakers at both ends of the court and give LeBron and AD the perfect front court teammate to unleash their championship potential.
WHAT IF LAKERS CAN’T LAND TURNER OR WOOD?
It’s always wise to have backup plans and the Lakers should clearly prioritize bringing back Markieff Morris, who’s proven he’s a great fit alongside Anthony Davis, regardless of whether they land Turner or Wood. Markieff may even be a higher priority and more valuable to bring back than Rajon Rondo or Dwight Howard considering how he opens the floor offensively for LeBron James and defensively for Anthony Davis.
The other backup plan for a modern center is for the Lakers to re-sign DeMarcus Cousins. While Boogie can’t defend out to the 3-point line like Turner or Wood are capable of doing, he does meet all the other criteria. He’s a proven high volume 3-point shooter with the size and length to protect the rim and an elite playmaker for his position. He’s also very affordable and Anthony Davis and Rajon Rondo love playing with him.
Other modern center candidates whom the Lakers might consider include free agents Meyers Leonard, Serge Ibaka, and Marc Gasol, all of whom lack the mobility to defend in space but can stretch the floor and protect the rim. One potential trade target the Lakers might have interest in would be Cleveland’s Kevin Love, who played with LeBron James and whom the rebuilding Cavaliers would probably be willing to move in a salary dump.
Finally, what the Lakers ultimately decide to do will depend on whether they’re willing to compromise their plan to chase Giannis and give anybody contracts for more than a year. That decision will determine their options.
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