How the Four ‘Right’ Players Could Transform the Lakers to Champions!
Last season was a brutal reminder of how important picking the ‘right’ players is to success in professional sports. Rob Pelinka will have to do a better job this summer than he did last summer if the Lakers are to have any chance to win.
Unfortunately, finding the ‘right’ players is difficult and more of an ‘art’ than ‘science,’ requiring a lethal instinct for player strengths and weaknesses and critical ability to envision how the different players will fit together as a team. More than anything, Pelinka’s failure to properly assess the risk and cost of the Westbrook experiment failing was the kind of mistake that ends careers. He’s lucky he’s going to get a second chance, even if it will be challenging.
Here are the Lakers’ player needs this summer: (1) point guard to run the offense, (2) shooting guard to space the floor, (3) modern physical center to protect the rim, and (4) defensive forward with size to guard bigger wings. Most importantly, for these four players to be the ‘right’ players, three of them must be able to space the floor with their 3-point shooting and three of them must be plus defenders capable of guarding multiple positions and levels.
Last season, the Lakers filled those needs with Russell Westbrook, Kendrick Nunn, DeAndre Jordan, and Talen Horton-Tucker. Unfortunately, Westbrook bombed, Jordan was cut, Nunn never played, and Horton-Tucker regressed. This season, with a little luck and the blessings of the basketball gods, the four ‘right’ players filling those needs could be Malcolm Brogdon, Buddy Hield, Isaiah Hartenstein, and Nic Claxton, a major upgrade of the Lakers’ roster.
The Lakers should be able to get Brogdon and Hield in a salary dump from the Pacers for Westbrook and 2027 first rounder, Hartenstein with their TP or NT MLE, and Claxton from the Nets for Horton-Tucker and 2029 first round pick. That’s 2 players and 2 picks from the Lakers for 4 ‘right’ players. The Lakers swap Westbrook, Horton-Tucker, 2027 first round pick, and 2029 first round pick for Malcolm Brogdon, Buddy Hield, Isaiah Hartenstein, and Nic Claxton.
So let’s take a closer look at what each of these four new players brings offensively and defensively and why they’re the ‘right’ picks to complement LeBron James and Anthony Davis and transform the Lakers into a champs.
1. Malcolm Brogdon, Point Guard
Malcolm Brogdon, 29-years old, 6' 5", 229 lbs
19.1/5.1/5.9 and 44.8%/31.2% on 5.2 3PA/85.6
While trading for a difference-making point guard to reduce LeBron James’ on-ball and playmaking workload didn’t work with Dennis Schroeder or Russell Westbrook, trading for Malcolm Brogdon should be a winning move.
Tyrese Haliburton and Chris Duarte are the Pacers’ backcourt of the future, which makes Malcolm Brogdon and his 3 years and $57.6 million an ideal chip to swap with Buddy Hield for Russell Westbrook’s expiring contract. Indiana has no interest in Westbrook as a player but are willing to take on his 1 year and $47.1 million to avoid Brogdon’s 3 years and $57.6 million and Hield’s 2 years and $39.1 million to save $49.6 million in long-term salaries.
One of the appeals to the Lakers of trading Westbrook and a first round pick to the Indiana Pacers is the opportunity to get a proven starting-quality two-way point guard like Malcolm Brogdon back as part of the trade return package. While the Lakers have to gamble Malcolm can stay healthy, they’re getting an All-Star quality point guard who is not only an elite 3-point shooter and playmaker but also has the size and physicality to defend multiple positions.
Malcolm Brogdon is the ‘right pick’ for the Lakers to trade for as their new starting point guard. His size, 3-point shooting, and solid defense elevate him over other trade candidates like Terry Rozier, Derrick Rose, or Kemba Walker.
2. Buddy Hield, Shooting Guard
Buddy Hield, 29-years old, 6' 4", 220 lbs
15.6/4.4/2.8 and 44.7%/36.2% on 8.5 3PA/89.6%
Buddy Hield to the Lakers should have and almost did happen last summer but the Lakers changed course at the last minute and traded for Westbrook. Now, in a sweet shift of fate, the Lakers may have a chance for a do-over.
Most NBA analysts and pundits were surprised the Lakers did not go through with a proposed trade with the Kings for Hield last summer as he is the perfect high volume, high percentage 3-point shooter to complement LeBron and AD. Hield, who was part of Indy’s bounty from the Sabonis trade to Sacramento, makes too much to come off the bench. With Haliburton and Duarte set as their backcourt of the future, the Pacers need to trade Hield and Brogdon.
While not an elite defender, Buddy Hield has the size, strength, and quickness to be a plus defender, especially in a heavy switch-everything defense with rim protection. Hield averaged 0.9 steals and 0.3 blocks per game last season. Pairing the 6' 4" sharpshooter Hield with the 6' 5" point guard Brogdon gives the Lakers a big high-scoring veteran backcourt with the range to rain threes, willingness to share the ball , and size and toughness to play physical defense.
Buddy Hield is the ‘right’ pick as the starting shooting guard for the Lakers because his high volume, high percentage 3-point shooting will create more space than candidates like Eric Gordon, Evan Fournier, or Kelly Oubre, Jr.
3. Isaiah Hartenstein, Center
Isaiah Hartenstein, 24-years old, 7' 0", 250 lbs
8.3/4.9/24 and 62.6%/46.7% on 0.3 3PA/68.9%
There may be no attainable player who could have a greater impact to help unleash the beast in superstars LeBron James and Anthony Davis and help the Lakers once again become a legitimate contender than Isaiah Hartenstein.
With LeBron James and Anthony Davis struggling to stay healthy in an increasingly physical NBA, the Lakers need to commit to signing a bully-ball modern center who will allow James and Davis to slide down one position. Hartenstein is the perfect fit for what the Lakers need. He’s a mobile young center who can protect the rim and defend out to the 3-point line. In just 17.9 minutes per game last season, Isaiah averaged 1.1 blocks and 0.7 steals.
Hartenstein is the Clippers’ version of Malik Monk in that the most they can offer him next season is just $2.3 million,120% of what he earned last season. Salary cap experts expect Hartenstein to fetch $7 to $8 million this summer. With a little salary cap magic, the Lakers should be able to make the changes they need to their roster while remaining under the $155 million hard cap, which means they could offer Hartenstein up to $10.3 million via their MLE.
After a revolving door of failed ‘rent-a-centers.’ the Lakers suddenly have an opportunity this summer to sign Isaiah Hartenstein as their next great center. Hartenstein is the ‘right’ center at the ‘right’ price to modernize the Lakers.
4. Nic Claxton, Power Forward
Nic Claxton, 23-years old, 6' 11", 215 lbs
8.7/5.6/0.9 and 67.4%/0.0% on 0.03PA/58.1%
There is no defensive player more in demand in today’s NBA than a 6' 8" to 6' 10" mobile forward who can slow down bigger wing scorers like Jason Tatum, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, or Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Claxton is defensive jack-of-all-trades in that he can play all three front court positions — small forward, power forward, and center — and defend all five positions at al three levels of the court-paint, midrange, and beyond the arc. While a great lob but not shooting threat, Nic gives the Lakers a dominating defensive center who can protect the rim and defend the perimeter so well he cannot be played off the court like so many traditional low post centers.
Fortunately for the Lakers, the Nets have too many centers and appear unlikely to want to extend Claxton at this time, which mean they would probably be willing to trade him for Horton-Tucker and a first round pick. Trading for Claxton also gives the Lakers the defensive specialist they need to play any style of basketball, especially during the long regular season when the Lakers will want to save playing Anthony Davis at the five for the playoffs.
While he can’t stretch the floor, Nic Claxton is the fourth ‘right’ player for the Lakers to surround LeBron James and Anthony Davis. He gives the Lakers an elite defensive center and shut down wing defender to guard big time scorers.
5. Four ‘Right’ Players Transform Lakers into Championship Team
When healthy, no team in the NBA has two better superstars than the Lakers’ LeBron James and Anthony Davis. The problem with the Lakers has always been finding the ‘right’ three players to start alongside their two superstars.
The four new players — Malcolm Brogdon, Buddy Hield, Isaiah Hartenstein, and Nic Claxton— should give LeBron James and Anthony Davis the high volume 3-point shooting and versatile positional size to unleash their games. Brogdon, Hield, Hartenstein, and Claxton should be the best four players on the Lakers after James and Davis. While Brogdon and Hield are 29-years old, the 23-year old Hartenstein and Claxton will make the Lakers younger.
The Lakers not only traded Russell Westbrook and a first round pick for two quality starters also swapped Talen Horton-Tucker and a first round pick for a third starter and signed Hartenstein with their full MLE for a fourth starter. Signing Hartenstein for the full $10.3 million MLE requires the Lakers to be hardcapped for the rest of this season. Being able to stay under the $155.2 million hard cap gives the Lakers another $8.2 million in MLE and BAE.
Here’s a breakdown of how the Lakers get under the NBA hard cap:
Rob Pelinka is facing a difficult challenge to rebuild the Lakers roster to championship level with few trading chips but there’s multiple combinations of four players who would transform the Lakers into a legitimate contender.
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