How Rob Pelinka Can Upgrade Lakers’ Starting Lineup to Create Dream Team
Rob Pelinka needs a big offseason trade to transform the Los Angeles Lakers into a championship team by turning Russell Westbrook’s $47 million expiring contract and a pair of unprotected first round picks into three new starters.
The Lakers need size and athleticism across the board, better perimeter and interior defenders, and more elite shooters who can create their own shots. Specifically, they need three new starters to complement LeBron and AD. Malik Monk, Austin Reaves, Stanley Johnson, and Wenyen Gabriel are fine young Lakers players but none of them is close to being good enough at this point in their careers to be starters on a legitimate NBA championship team.
The Lakers’ problem is they have more holes to fill than trading chips to spend so they need to find a rebuilding team as trading partner who needs to dump rotation-quality players on long-term contracts to create future cap space. Those are the teams for whom Russel Westbrook’s gigantic expiring contract and the Lakers’ 2027 and 2029 first round draft picks will have real value. Talen Horton-Tucker’s and Kendrick Nunn’s value is now only as salary filler.
The list of NBA teams possibly looking to move key rotation players with multiple-year contracts for expiring contracts to free up cap space incudes the Indiana Pacers, Charlotte Hornets, Houston Rockets, and New York Knicks. The NBA players on those four teams whom the Lakers could target include Pacers’ Turner, Hield, and Brogdon; Hornets’ Hayward, Rozier, and Oubre; Rockets Wood, Gordon, and Wall; and Knicks Randle, Walker, and Reddish.
Here’s what Pelinka needs to do position-by-position and player-by-player this summer to build a dramatically better starting lineup that can carry the Los Angeles Lakers to their league-leading 18th NBA championship next season.
1. Point Guard — Find Replacement for Russell Westbrook
The Lakers need a legitimate starting quality point guard as part of the return in any trade for Russell Westbrook and Malcolm Brogdon is a better fit than Terry Rozier, John Wall, and Kemba Walker, the other available point guards.
The 29-year old, 6' 5," 229 lb Brogdon averaged 19.1/5.1/5.9 in 33.5 mpg while shooting 44.8%/31.2%/85.6% compared to 33-year old, 6' 3,” 200 lb Westbrook’s 18.5/7.4/7.1 in 34.3 mpg while shooting 34.3%/29.8%/66.7%. Brogdon is a major upgrade over Westbrook in every area. He’s a 37.6% career 3-point shooter with a 2.8 career assist/turnover ratio as playmaker vs Westbrook’s 30.0% career 3-point shooting and 2.0 career assist/turnover.
Besides being a better shooter and more efficient playmaker, Malcolm will be an even bigger upgrade over Russ on defense because he won’t blow rotations or take off possessions and he is 2" and 29 lbs bigger and 4 years younger. Finally, Brogdon is locked up for three more seasons at $22.5 million per year which allows the Lakers to stabilize their starting point guard position with a proven player who can shoot, pass, and switch everything on defense.
There’s a potential Westbrook trade with the Pacers where the Lakers acquire Malcolm Brogdon and Buddy Hield. Because the Lakers need a top quality replacement for Westbrook, the Indiana trade should be a top priority.
2. Shooting Guard — Find Volume Shooter Defenses Respect
Getting an opportunity to land Buddy Hield as part of the return from a Russell Westbrook trade would be a rare chance to get a mulligan to redo the disastrous trade that derailed the Lakers’ championship hopes last season.
The Lakers were reportedly on the verge of trading Kyle Kuzma and Montrezl Harrell to the Sacramento Kings for Buddy Hield last summer before they changed their minds at the last minute and traded for Russell Westbrook. Suddenly, with the Pacers interested in a salary dump of Brogdon and Hield in return for Westbrook’s $47 million expiring contract, the Lakers have an opportunity to put together a dramatically bigger and better backcourt.
Buddy Hield is the high volume, high percentage 3-point shooter the Lakers need to stretch defenses to prevent teams from packing the paint and create spacing for superstars LeBron James and Anthony Davis to attack the rim. This season, Buddy Hield averaged 15.6/4.4/2.8 on 35.6 mpg while shooting 44.7%/36.2%/88.6%. Buddy’s a career 39.8% 3-point shooter who has taken more than 8.5 threes per game over the last four NBA seasons.
The Lakers top trading partner priority this summer should be the Indiana Pacers because they have a legitimate starting quality point guard and shooting guard whom they’re willing to trade for Russ’ expiring contract.
3. Small Forward — Find Elite Three-Level Wing Defender
The Lakers’ greatest need this past season was for a legitimate 3&D small forward with the size and power to defend the bigger wing scorers the team faces like Kawhi Leonard, Pau George, Jason Tatum, and Kevin Durant.
We saw how frustrating it was for the Lakers this season trying to have 6' 4" Talen Horton-Tucker or 6' 6" Stanley Johnson trying to stop bigger wins who take the smaller defenders into the paint for easy-to-make midrange jumpers. Bigger 3&D wing defenders are probably the most desired addition on every NBA team’s roster. They are a rare commodity in today’s NBA which is why the Lakers need to move Anthony Davis to small forward beginning this year.
While the injury prone Davis has often complained about having to endure the banging and physicality of playing the five, his dream as an NBA player is to actually to play small forward. Time has come to let AD live his dream. Starting Davis at the three would reduce the wear-and-tear Anthony would have to deal with playing the five full-time and give the Lakers the ultimate wing defender, a 6' 11,” 250 lb athletic marvel who defend all three levels.
Moving Anthony Davis to starting small forward is part of a rebuilding the front court of the Los Angeles Lakers so they can play a modern version of the small-ball-on-steroids style that dominated the championship in the bubble.
4. Power Forward — Find Bully Ball Stretch Four
The other part of rebuilding the Lakers front court for next season to be more like the small-ball-on-steroids lineups that won the bubble championship is playing aging superstar LeBron James as the starting bully ball stretch four.
The switch of AD to the three and LeBron to the four is not only designed to optimize Davis’ and James’ skillsets but also to give the Lakers a dominant size advantage over opponents at every position. Positional size is a to priority. Building a roster with a starting lineup that consists of a 6' 5" point guard, a 6' 4" shooting guard, a 6' 10" small forward, a 6' 9" power forward, and a 6' 11" center will give the Lakers the flexibility to go super big or super small.
Playing LeBron at the four instead of the three also keeps James at 37-years old from wearing himself out chasing bigger wing scorers around screens and allows him to take advantage of his newly found 3-point shooting prowess. The 6' 11" Davis with his unicorn size and length could be more valuable to the Lakers as a 3&D small forward who can shutdown bigger wing scorers than as a small ball center who protects the rim and stretches the floor.
Moving LeBron to the four is simply playing him where his game can best take advantage of the skillset he’s developed as a 19-year, 37-year old veteran. Today’s LeBron James has become the quintessential bully ball stretch four.
5. Center — Find Rim-Protecting Modern Center
The key to the Lakers being able to supersize their lineups with 6' 1," 250 lb Anthony Davis at the three and 6' 9," 250 lb LeBron James at the four is the ability to find a starting center who can protect the rim and stretch the floor.
The player the Lakers need is the Pacers’ Myles Turner, a 26-year old 6' 11," 250 lb center who led the league with 2.8 and 3.4 blocked shots per game the last two seasons and a 34.9% career 3-point shooting on 4.4 shots per game. The Lakers desperately miss the rim protection, dunks, and rebounds they got during the bubble championship run from traditional low post centers Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee in addition to small ball center Anthony Davis.
Myles Turner not only gives the Lakers better shot blocking than they had during their 2020 championship run but also the benefit of being a stretch five center who can stretch the floor rather than being stuck in the paint. Turner will allow the team to play a modern version of a monster three bigs lineup with three 250 lb front court players or go small with the Lakers’ unique small-ball-on-steroids attack with Anthony Davis at the five.
The Lakers need to expand Hield and Brogdon for Westbrook trade to Hield, Brogdon, and Turner for Westbrook, Horton-Tucker, and the Lakers unprotected post LeBron James 2027 and 2029 first round draft picks.