How do the Lakers fix their problems?
Where do the Los Angeles Lakers find the elusive third scorer, second ball handler, and elite wing defender they need to win a championship?
Let’s start with an obvious but critical observation. The Los Angeles Lakers’ problem is not their floor; it’s their ceiling. With two superstars like LeBron and AD, they dominate lessor teams but struggle against the best teams.
With 40% of the 2019–20 NBA season now in the books, it’s become clear the Los Angeles Lakers need a third scorer, second ball handler, and elite wing defender to have a legitimate chance to win the NBA championship. Where they find these missing components is the challenge facing Rob Pelinka and the Lakers’ front office. They hoped players on the roster might be able to fill those roles but so far that doesn’t seem to be the answer.
So let’s take a look at each of the Lakers three critical deficiencies and what their realistic options might be to fix the problems via players on the roster, players who might be bought out, and players for whom they might trade:
1. Third Big-Time Scorer.
The Lakers had hoped that forward Kyle Kuzma would be the elusive third scorer they needed to complement LeBron James and Anthony Davis and there’s still a chance he could fill that role, though he’s been inconsistent. Because the odds of finding a third big-time scorer via the buyout or trade market are limited, the Lakers’ best option would likely be to stick with Kyle Kuzma and hope that he will continue to develop and grow into the role.
But that doesn’t mean Kuzma is safe and doesn’t have to worry about being traded. He is without question the Lakers’ most valuable trading chip but everything could quickly change should he struggle to score in January. The problem is the Lakers are undeniably in a win-now mode, which means Kuzma’s long-term upside could be more valuable as a trading chip than as a reason for the Lakers holding on to him rather than trading him for a vet.
The one advantage Kuzma has that could keep him from being traded is he only makes $1.9 million right now, which makes it difficult for the Lakers to match salaries in a trade for a player that makes more than $10 million. Proven veteran players who can give the Lakers that elusive third 20 point per game scorer they need are probably going to be earning between $15 to $20 million, which would require the Lakers to include Danny Green.
So unless Kuzma stumbles badly and cannot generate the 15 to 20 points per game the Lakers need in January, the Lakers will stay the course and bet on Kyle growing into the third scorer role alongside LeBron and AD. Should Kuzma fail to prove himself capable of being the third scorer, Rob Pelinka will not hesitate to trade him. The Lakers aren’t going to stand pat and miss a opportunity to win their seventeenth NBA championship.
The Lakers will pin their hopes for a third scorer on Kyle Kuzma but keep an open eye for potential trades for a proven 15 to 20 point per game scorer like Jrue Holiday, Jeff Teague, Bogdan Bogdanovic, and Davis Bertans.
2. Second Play Maker.
The Lakers had hoped point guard Rajon Rondo would become the second playmaker they needed to run the second unit when LeBron rested but after starting strong, Rondo pulled a hamstring and has since struggled. After averaging 8.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 6.9 assists in 20.9 minutes per game in 13 games before the injury, Rondo slumped to 5.7 points, 3.2 rebounds, and 4.6 assists in 21.6 minutes per game in his last 9 games.
What’s been more worrisome has been Rondo’s poor shooting, lackluster defense, and sloppy ball handling since coming back. His defensive rating of 100.9 for the first 13 games has skyrocketed to 107.2 the last 9 games.
After shooting 46.2% from the field and 52.8% from deep before the injury, his shooting has plummeted to 32.8% from the field and 19.2% from deep since returning, while his turnovers jumped from 1.7 to 2.3 per game.
Whether head coach Frank Vogel is ready to accept that verdict is still in doubt. Vogel’s made the point more than once that he doesn’t solely rely on stats and analytics when evaluating the performance of vets like Rondo. There’s the argument the hamstring injury may still be affecting his play although there’s also the counter argument that the difference is the Lakers were finally facing teams with winning rather than losing records.
While the Lakers could end up sticking with Rondo, their best option could be Darren Collison deciding to play and choosing to sign with the Lakers over the Clippers. Collison would be a clear cut upgrade over Rondo. Should Collision sign with the Clippers, Pelinka might be forced to trade for a second playmaker. Should Kuzma fail to win the third scorer role, he could be forced to trade for player who could fill both roles for the Lakers.
The Lakers will hope to land Darren Collison as their second playmaker if available but could easily end up seeking a trade for Jrue Holiday or Jeff Teague, both of whom can run an offense and average 20 points per game.
3. Elite Wing Defender.
Of the Lakers three areas of need, finding an elite wing defender could be the most difficult challenge, especially if the Lakers used all of their trading chips, including Danny Green, on a third scorer and/or second playmaker. Unless the Lakers solved their third scorer and second playmaker problems with Kyle Kuzma and Darren Collison, they’ll need the basketball gods to smile on them and Andre Iguodala to get bought out and sign with them.
The Lakers’ perfect solution would be Kyle Kuzma winning the role as the third scorer, Darren Collison signing as the second playmaker, and Andre Iguodala getting bought out and signing to become the elite wing defender. That would mean the Lakers did not have to use any of their trading chips and only had to cut two players like Quinn Cook and Troy Daniels from the roster to make room to add Darren Collision and Andre Iguodala.
There’s probably a good chance the Lakers might end up with two or three of the above outcomes. Kuzma has the talent to be the team’s third scorer and Collision would clearly have a bigger role and minutes with the Lakers. While the Grizzlies continue to claim they’re sure they can trade Iggy, the reality is none of the top contenders appear to have the assets or desire to trade for a player they believe they could sign as free agent once waived.
Whether Kuzma lives up to the hopes and hype, whether Collison wants to play with LeBron and AD, and whether Iguodala refuses to accept a trade and demands to be bought out to join the Lakers will control our destiny. There’s good reason for the Lakers to be optimistic that Kuzma will come through and Collison and Iguodala will decide they want to wear Lakers’ purple and gold and play with LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
How the Lakers play the rest of January will go a long way to determining whether or not they make a major trade. If the Lakers roll through the easy January schedule, Collison and Iguodala should be eager to jump aboard.
If you enjoyed this article and would like to share your ideas and comments with other intelligent Lakers fans, please join us on Lakerholics.Net.