How the Lakers Could Return to Their Defensive Roots & Win Championship
Since wining the NBA championship in the bubble, the Los Angeles Lakers have had an identity problem. They’ve sacrificed their league leading defense in an unsuccessful attempt to upgrade the roster on the offensive side.
Defense was their calling card when the Lakers won the bubble championship fifteen months ago but roster imbalances, untimely injuries, and losses from H&S Protocols dropped them from first to twelfth in team defensive rating. Meanwhile, despite major offseason offensive upgrades made to their roster, the Lakers’ offensive rating still dropped from 24th last season to 27th this season and their net rating dropped from 8th last season to 23rd this season.
The Lakers’ defense will improve considerably once Anthony Davis and Kendrick Nunn return from injuries and Trevor Ariza, Austin Reaves, Kent Bazemore, and Rajon Rondo return from Health and Safety protocols. However, even then, the Lakers defense will lack a shut-down perimeter defender to slow down opposing point guards, an elite shot blocker and rim protector to control the paint, and a bigger 3&D wing to guard top scorers.
The big question facing the Lakers as the 2021–22 NBA season approaches the February 10th trade deadline, is what kind of team do they want to be? The offensive upgrades have not paid off while the team defense has declined. The question is whether the Lakers should double down on becoming a more balanced team offensively and defensively or return to and re-embrace the strong defensive roots that won helped them win their last championship.
The answer to the Lakers’ dilemma seems obvious. The Lakers won an NBA championship fifteen months ago by focusing on defense. Here is how the Lakers could return to their defensive roots and win another championship.
1. Trade for Elite Perimeter Defender and Elite Rim Protector
To return as the NBA’s top defensive team, the Los Angeles Lakers need to pull off mega trades for an elite perimeter defender like Sixers’ point guard Ben Simmons and an elite rim protector like Pacers’ center Myles Turner.
There is no question Ben Simmons is one of the Lakers’ primary midseason trade targets with Lakers VP of Basketball Operations Rob Pelinka and Klutch Sports President Rich Paul looking to swap Westbrook for Simmons. Klutch has put the league on notice that any team wanting to trade for Ben will have to beat the Lakers offer of Russell Westbrook. While Daryl Morey is reluctant to trade Simmons for Westbrook, he’s unlikely get a better offer.
The Sixers will resist as long as they can but will ultimately agree to trade Simmons and Niang straight up for Westbrook as it will be the best option to allow Philadelphia to salvage their season and compete for a championship. Meanwhile, Simmons will bring his All-NBA defense to the Lakers to give them the elite defender with the defensive size and skillset to shut down the point guards on opposing teams who have turned Westbrook into a turnstile.
Myles Turner, who led the league in blocks last season and is second this season, is the other defensive difference-maker the Lakers need to trade for. Turner is the elite rim protector and stretch five center the Lakers need. Importantly, Turner will allow coach Frank Vogel to play his preferred two bigs, let Anthony Davis play his preferred power forward position, and let LeBron James play his preferred small forward position going forward.
While Turner can’t defend all five positions like James, Davis, and Simmons, he does give the Lakers their first modern center who is capable of both shooting the three and protecting the rim since they signed LeBron James. Trading for Myles Turner will likely cost the Lakers their best two trading chips: 21-year old shooting guard and future star Talen Horton-Tucker and 26-year old shooting guard and versatile backcourt player Kendrick Nunn.
The net effect of bringing in an elite perimeter defender like Simmons and elite rim protector like Turner would be to transform the Lakers into a defensive juggernaut with the size and versatility to win a championship.
2. Trade for Elite 3&D Wing and Young Athletic Backup Center
The Lakers also need a bigger (6' 6" to 6' 10") 3&D wing who can shoot the three and defend the bigger wing scorers in the league and a younger backup center to reduce the wear-and-tear from LeBron and AD playing the five.
Georges Niang is a 28-year old, 6' 7", 230 lb, 6-year veteran small forward whom the Sixers would include in a Russ for Ben trade to match salaries. Georges only earns $3.3 million per year but is a perfect fit for the Lakers. This season, he is averaging 10.4/2.5/1.5 per game on 44.1/38.0/87.1% shooting splits and has the third best net rating on the Sixers behind Danny Green and Joel Embiid. Last year, he had 3rd best net rating on Utah Jazz.
Niang gives the Lakers the quality bigger 3&D wing they desperately need to backup LeBron James at small forward, especially since LeBron will also be playing minutes at the five. Niang is also a 40% career 3-point shooter. Georges will be the bonus from the Westbrook/Simmons trade in that he will give the Lakers the legitimate 3&D wing to guard big time scoring wings like Kawhi Leonard, DeMar DeRozan, Paul George, and Kevin Durant.
Damian Jones is a player the Lakers regret allowing to leave. He was another victim of the Andre Drummond disaster and the Lakers’ unsuccessful strategy of pairing LeBron and AD with rotating rent-a-centers the last three years. Jones will give the Lakers the ability play big when Turner is not in the game and will provide insurance against foul trouble or injury without having to rely on 35-year old Dwight Howard. Jones gives the Lakers center deprth.
The Lakers need to get better defensively if they want to win their 18th NBA championship. Young veterans like Niang and Jones and young stars like Simmons and Turner are exactly what how the Lakers rebuild their defense.
3. Lakers Will Become Bigger, Younger, and Better Defensively
Imagine a lineup with three top-ten lock down defenders like LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Ben Simmons, three All-NBA individual defenders who are capable of defending all five positions at all three levels of the court.
Then imagine adding one of the league’s top young shot blockers and stretch five centers in Myles Turner plus a 6' 7" legitimate 3-point shooting wing defender in Georges Niang and an athletic young center in Damian Jones. Adding four plus defenders like Simmons, Turner, Niang, and Jones to James, Davis, Ariza, Reaves, Bradley, and Johnson will change the direction of the Lakers roster to be defense first. Here’s the roster with new players:
PG: SIMMONS, Reaves, Rondo
SG: Monk, Bradley, Ellington
SF: James, NIANG, Johnson
PF: Davis, Anthony, Ariza
CE: TURNER, JONES, Howard
The Lakers replaced Westbrook and Horton-Tucker in the starting lineup with Simmons and Turner, massive upgrades defensively. They also replaced two of the five primary backups with new players who are plus defenders. The result is a balanced 15-man Lakers’ roster where two of the three players at each of the five positions are plus defenders. It’s a winning blueprint for transforming the Lakers into a championship defensive juggernaut.
Suddenly, all the angst and uncertainties about building a starting lineup that can both score and defend will become moot because the various pieces of the puzzle will finally fit. Let’s hope the Lakers will do something like this.
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