Lakers Need a Seven-Man Rotation!

Whether they sign one, two, or three free agents, the Los Angeles Lakers need a minimum of five starters and two elite reserves

There’s a tried and tested formula for building a championship NBA rotation. A seven-player rotation with five strong starters and two elite backups is the minimum a team needs to keep five quality players on the floor all game.

The math is simple. The Lakers need more than just five quality starters to win a championship. They need at minimum two top-tier reserves, ideally an elite backup combo guard to give them three quality guards to cover the 96 minutes at point and shooting guard and an elite backup combo forward to give them three quality bigs to cover the 96 minutes at power forward and center. The two combos can also cover the backup minutes at small forward.

The challenge facing the Lakers is daunting despite the $32 million in cap space they have cleared to sign a max free agent or multiple role players. Right now, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Kyle Kuzma are the only three rotation quality players on the Lakers’ roster. That means they will somehow need to find four additional players, a starting point and shooting guard plus a veteran backup guard and backup big to fill out their seven-man rotation.

The Lakers’ Plan A is obviously to sign either Kawhi Leonard or Jimmy Butler to a $32 million max contract. If they sign Kawhi, he would likely become their starting power forward with Kyle Kuzma moving to shooting guard. If they sign Jimmy, he would slide into the vacant starting shooting guard slot. In both cases, the Lakers would be short a starting point guard and would only have their $4.8 million room exception to fill that starting vacancy.

The best starting point guard candidate willing to play for the room exception would probably be 31-year old Darren Collison, who averaged 11.2 points, 3.1 rebounds, and 6.0 assists per game for the Pacers last season. The 6-foot Collison is only an average defender but he’s an elite shooter and playmaker. He’s a career 39.4% three-point shooter who shot over 40% each of the last four years and actually played for Lakers’ head coach Frank Vogel in 2011.

The best backup players willing to play for just the veteran minimum would probably be Laker free agents guard Alex Caruso and center JaVale McGee. The 25-year old Caruso averaged 9.2 points, 2.7 rebounds, and 3.1 assists per game for the Lakers last season, is an excellent shooter, playmaker, and defender , and is a career 43.9% three-point shooter. The 31-year old McGee averaged 12.0 points and 7.5 rebounds and is an excellent rim protector.

Plan A would give the Lakers a dynamic starting lineup of Darren Collison, Kyle Kuzma, LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, and Anthony Davis with Alex Caruso as the backup point guard and JaVale McGee as the backup center. The strength of this lineup is the Superstar Big Three of LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Kawhi Leonard, which would enable the Lakers to have two superstars on the floor all the time while carefully managing their load.

The Lakers’ Plan B could be to spend $32 million in cap space to sign point guards D’Angelo Russell and Patrick Beverly as the team’s starting backcourt. That would give the Lakers aggressive leadership at both ends of the court. The Lakers could utilize Eric Pincus’ ‘Miami Maneuver’ to offer Russell and Beverly legal 3-year contracts starting at $20 and $13 million that include playoff bonus provisions that would give them $23 and $15 million paydays.

The 23-year old Russell averaged 21.1 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 7.0 assists and shot 36.9% from deep last year. He’s an elite scorer and playmaker who can play on or off the ball and has great size and length at 6' 5" with a 6' 10" wingspan. The 30-year old Beverley averaged 7.6 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 3.8 assists and shot 39.7% from deep last year. At 6' 3" with a 6' 7" wingspan, he’s an elite defender who can harass opponents and lead a team’s defense.

By splitting their $32 million between Russell and Beverley, the Lakers would be able to use their $4.8 million room exception on one of their two backups. This would give them an opportunity to sign a stretch center like 29-year old Dewayne Dedmon as the backup big. Dedmon averaged 10.8 points and 7.5 rebounds and shot 38.2% from deep last year. The Lakers would be wise to re-sign point guard Alex Caruso to fill the role as the team’s backup guard.

Plan B would give the Lakers a starting lineup of D’Angelo Russell, Patrick Beverley, LeBron James, Kyle Kuzma, and Anthony Davis with Alex Caruso as the backup point guard and Dewayne Dedmon as the stretch backup center. While this lineup doesn’t boast three superstars, the starting five has better balance and more versatility with a more traditional two-guard lineup. The addition of Dedmon as a stretch five who can switch strengthens the bench.

There are only two more days before all the speculation and guesswork ends and we find out how Rob Pelinka and the Los Angeles Lakers finish what has been a spectacular summer and offseason to be remembered and revered. Best of all, Rob Pelinka and the his front office team have made great strides restoring the damage caused by the last six years of dysfunction and showing the NBA the Lakers are back and that Lakers’ exceptionalism is alive and well.