Crafting a Championship Contender!
The challenge of surrounding LeBron James and Anthony Davis with the right pieces to transform the Lakers into a superteam
What’s the best path for the Lakers to build a championship roster if they trade three of Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, and the #4 to the New Orleans Pelicans to pair superstar Anthony Davis with LeBron James?
That’s the big question facing Rob Pelinka and the Los Angeles Lakers’ front office as they patiently close in on finally achieving their dream of acquiring the 26-year old Pelicans’ talented transcendent power forward and center. While there’s no question the Lakers need to trade for Davis, should they be willing to give in and sacrifice all four of their top assets to make the trade? And if they do trade for Davis, should they then pursue a third superstar?
I’m a firm supporter of the Lakers holding the line and refusing to give up all four of our top assets. If the Pelicans want a starter instead of the #4 pick, I’m more than happy to give them Kuzma and draft point guard Darius Garland. I’m also a strong believer that what the Lakers need to go with LeBron James and Anthony Davis is a deep, versatile roster of dead-eye shooters and lock-down defenders rather than an overpaid and underutilized third superstar.
My ideal trade for Anthony Davis would be Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, and Kyle Kuzma. I would keep the #4 pick in the draft because I think point guard Darius Garland is the kind of elite shot creator that LeBron and AD need and ultimately far more valuable to the Lakers in the long run than Kyle Kuzma. Since the $7 million salary for the #4 pick is greater than Kuzma’s $2 million salary, the swap would eliminate the Lakers’ ability to add a third superstar.
The Lakers would still have around $28 million in cap space and could up that to near $30 million by trading Isaac Bonga for second round draft pick. That $30 million along with $5 million from our room exception combined with veteran minimum exceptions should give the Lakers a big enough war chest to fill the roster holes resulting from the trade and surround LeBron James and Anthony Davis with a deep and diverse class of elite role players.
The biggest challenge the Lakers face building a championship roster is replacing traded point guard Lonzo Ball. The first thing they need to do is resist the temptation to bring back Rajon Rondo, who played well with Anthony Davis on the Pelicans two years ago. While the 33-year old veteran posted a respectable 9.2 points, 8.0 assists, and 5.3 rebounds in 29.8 minutes per game as Lonzo’s backup last year, his 112.8 DEFRTG was horrific.
The point guard the Lakers should target is the Malcolm Brogdon, a 26-year old restricted free agent who can play on or off the ball, is a career 40.8% three-point shooter, and an elite defender. Brogdon averaged 15.6 points, 3.6 assists, and 3.5 rebounds in 28.1 minutes per game last year. He also posted a 112.1 OFFRTG, 101.6 DEFRTG, and 10.6 NETRTG, the fifth best among all guards. It would likely cost $15 million per year to steal him from the Bucks.
Other options at point guard include older veteran free agents like Derrick Rose, Ricky Rubio, Elfrid Payton, Darren Collison, or Patrick Beverley, all of whom might be willing to play for near the veteran minimum to chase a ring. Since Brogdon is more of a combo guard, a pass-first guard who can defend like Ricky Rubio would be perfect. Rubio would also allow the Lakers to take their time developing Darius Garland into the role of an elite shot creator.
Point Guards: MALCOLM BROGDON, RICKY RUBIO, DARIUS GARLAND
Signing a starting shooting guard in free agency is probably the second most important use of the Lakers’ $30 million in cap space. Fortunately, there are several affordable quality shooting guards who’ll be available in free agency, including Danny Green, J.J. Redick, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and Terrence Ross, who would cost around $12 million per year. The Lakers’ goal should be to build an elite two-way backcourt that could shoot the ball and defend.
The shooting guard the Lakers should target is Danny Green, who is the best two-way player among the above options. The 31-year old Green averaged 10.3 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 1.6 assists in 27.7 minutes per game and shot 46.5% from deep. He posted an 116.8 OFFRTG, 103.7 DEFRTG, for a 13.1 NETRTG, second among all guards in the league. The Lakers would likely have to offer him $12 million per year to sign him from the Raptors.
Other starting shooting guard candidates include three players from last year’s squad in Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Josh Hart, and Reggie Bullock. While KCP is a Klutch Sports client, I think it’s time for the Lakers to move on. Hart and Bullock are well suited as shooting guards to come off the bench. The 24-year old Hart has two-way potential and defends multiple positions. The 28-year old Bullock is a career 39.2% dead-eye three-point shooter.
Shooting Guards: DANNY GREEN, REGGIE BUSH, JOSH HART
As the Lakers’ starting small forward, LeBron James should be well rested and ready to enjoy a career year. Despite the years and miles, the 34-year old James averaged an elite 27.4 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 8.1 assists per game, while shooting 51.0% from the field, 34.3% from deep, and 66.5% from the line. While LeBron posted impressive stats and a 109.0 OFFRTG, he only had a 106.9 DEFRTG, giving him just a 2.1 NETRTG, which was disappointing.
One of the big concerns in the media last year was the decline in LeBron’s defense, although the stats show his DEFRTF’s and NETRTG’s have been declining steadily the last three years. In 2015–16, LeBron posted a very impressive 102.0 DEFRTG and 11.5 NETRTG. In 2016–17 he only posted a 107.8 DEFRT and 8.1 NETRTG. In 2017–18, he posted a 111.5 DEFRTG and a career low 1.6 NETRTG, directly the result of declining DEFRTG stats.
The Lakers need LeBron James to get back to posting double digit NETRTG’s if they’re going to compete for a championship. For LeBron to do that, they’ll need to get him a strong backup so they can limit his minutes at 34-years old. Unfortunately, there aren’t many affordable backup small forwards available so the Lakers will have to hope to convince a veteran like Trevor Ariza to sign for the room exception or rely on an unproven rookie like Jemerrio Jones.
Small Forwards: LEBRON JAMES, TREVOR ARIZA, JEMERRIO JONES
While Anthony Davis has split his time between power forward and center during his career, his best position on the Lakers will be center, which means the Lakers need to find a solid starting power forward to complement him. Since the Lakers already spent much of their cap space on their backcourt, they need to find a starting power forward candidate who is affordable and can both stretch the floor as well as help Davis defend the paint and rebound.
The ideal starting power forward for the Lakers would be Al-Farouq Aminu. The 28-year old Aminu averaged 9.4 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 1.3 assists in 28.3 minutes per game last season. He shot 43.3% from the field, 34.3% from deep, and 74.7% from the line. He posted a 115.5 OFFRTG, 107.8 DEFRTG, for an excellent 7.7 NETRTG, ranked 8th among all power forwards. Aminu’s toughness and versatility would be perfect complement for Davis at center.
As backup power forward, the Lakers should consider bringing back fan favorite Ed Davis, who would fit well as a rim protector alongside Anthony Davis. The 30-year old Davis is affordable and can play multiple positions. The second power forward backup would be young Moritz Wagner, who could develop into the best stretch four on the team. While Moe only shot 28% from deep last year, he’s got a good stroke and will get some minutes.
Power Forwards: AL-FAROUQ AMINU, ED DAVIS, MORITZ WAGNER
The biggest roster decision the Lakers and head coach Frank Vogel will face this season is where to play Anthony Davis. While AD prefers playing power forward, he’s more than willing to play center and posted the best stats of his career as Pelicans’ small ball center after DeMarcus Cousins went down with injury two years ago. The big lure of Anthony Davis at center is the luxury of having a center who stretch the floor, protect the rim, and switch on defense.
Davis’ value as a center was demonstrated two years ago when Cousins went down. Playing small ball center, Davis averaged 30.6 points, 11.7 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 3.0 blocks in 36.3 minutes per game versus the 26.4 points, 10.6 rebounds, 2.6 assists, and 2.2 blocks he posted before as a power forward. AD also posted a 109.9 OFFRTG, 102.3 DEFRTG, and 7.6 NETRTG as a center versus 108.1 OFFRTG, 104.4 DEFRTG, and 3.6 NETRTG as a power forward.
To backup Davis at center, the Lakers should bring back JaVale McGee, whose health struggles after coming down with pneumonia ruined what was a very strong start and finish to the year as a rim protector and pick-and-roll finisher. I also think the Lakers should bring back Mike Muscala, who struggled and shot poorly after being traded for fan favorite Ivica Zubac but is a career 36.5% three-point shooter who can attack the rim and play solid defense.
Centers: ANTHONY DAVIS, JAVALE MCGEE, MIKE MUSCALA
The above roster plan would give the Lakers a dynamic starting lineup that would boast two of the top-five superstars in the league in small forward LeBron James and center Anthony Davis, a dynamic two-way backcourt with a pair of dead-eye three-point shooters and lock-down defenders in Malcom Brogdon and Danny Green, a versatile power forward in Al-Farouq Aminu, PLUS an experienced veteran bench full of proven shooters and defenders.
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