Lakers’ Next Move After AD Trade?
Ranking the Lakers’ roster building options should they succeed in trading for Anthony Davis and keeping max player cap space
Trading for Anthony Davis is the key to unlocking the door for a successful free agency for the Los Angeles Lakers, especially if they manage to trade for Davis while still keeping enough cap space to sign a max contract superstar.
No disrespect to Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, and Kyle Kuzma but there’s a huge difference between pitching top tier free agents to join LeBron James and Anthony Davis versus joining LeBron James and the Lakers’ young core. That’s why it’s critical to the Lakers’ plans this summer to make sure any trade with the New Orleans Pelicans meets the league’s salary matching rules and leaves them with cap space to sign a mid-tier max contract free agent player.
After establishing guidelines for the Anthony Davis trade, the Lakers next big challenge will be deciding whether to spend the $32 million in cap space on a third superstar or whether to use it to sign three or four top tier role players. There’s no question a superstar Big Three of LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and say Kyrie Irving would be an instant championship contender but would it be better than adding diversity and depth via multiple elite role players?
With that question in mind, let’s compare the realistic options the Lakers might have should they succeed in trading for Anthony Davis and retaining cap space to sign a third superstar or build a talented strong and deep roster.
Option 1. Sign a Third Superstar.
Trading for Anthony Davis would immediately make the Lakers the favorite to sign Celtics’ point guard Kyrie Irving in free agency. Irving has reportedly had talks with both LeBron James and Anthony Davis about playing together and would jump at the chance to team up with both of them on the Lakers. The big question is whether the Lakers would be able to find two high quality starters and three or four capable bench players to support their Big Three.
Ideally, the Lakers would have negotiated a deal with the Pelicans that let them keep Lonzo Ball. A dual point guard backcourt of Lonzo Ball and Kyrie Irving paired with a dual forward front court of LeBron James and Anthony Davis would be a great start but would still leave the Lakers missing a center with only the veteran minimum and room exceptions available to sign one. The best solution would likely be to re-sign JaVale McGee as starting center.
The benefit of adding versatile superstars like Anthony Davis and Kyrie Irving is they could also function as the Lakers’ backup center and point guard. Lakers’ head coach Frank Vogel could move Anthony Davis from power forward to center to backup JaVale McGee. He could also start Lonzo Ball and Kyrie Irving in a two point guard backcourt and stagger their minutes so one of them is always on the court, like Mike D’Antoni did with Harden and CP3.
As for the bench, the Lakers best options might be to re-sign several of their own free agents from last season who were the heart of the team’s inspired finish to the year, including point guard Alex Caruso, a career 39.8% three-point shooter, shooting guard Reggie Bullock, a career 39.2% three-point shooter, small forward Jemerrio Jones, an energetic rebounder and defender, and power forward Mike Muscala, a career 36.5% three-point shooter.
The Lakers could also consider buying a second round pick to draft a young center like UCF’s Tacko Fall, who could provide valuable minutes as a backup rim protector, or young guard like Wofford’s Fletcher Magee, who could be a dead-eye situational three-point shooter. Finally, the Lakers should be a top landing spot for veterans who’ve had their contracts bought out after being traded and would be willing to sign for the veteran minimum to chase a ring.
Bottom line, the Lakers should have no problem finding quality players to support and supplement a Big Three of LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Kyrie Irving using their room exception and veteran minimum exceptions.
Option 2. Sign Multiple Role Players.
Frankly, signing multiple role players in free agency is probably the Lakers’ backup plan should they succeed in trading for Anthony Davis as the second superstar to pair with LeBron James. It’s the path they would take only if, after trading for Anthony Davis, they were unable to retain the cap space to sign a max contract superstar in free agency or unable to convince a third superstar to sign with them to create a Big Three with James and Davis.
Having said that, you could argue that the Lakers might be better off using their cap space to build a more diverse and deeper roster. Superstar Big Threes usually require one of the three superstars to make big sacrifices in their game. The question is whether there are enough touches to go around with three ball dominant superstars like James, Davis, and Irving, although Ball and McGee, who don’t need the ball, could be excellent complements.
It’s the starting center position and the bench where signing multiple elite role players could have the greatest benefit. With $32 million in cap space, the Lakers could sign a top stretch five center like Brook Lopez or Dewayne Dedmon, who could open up space for LeBron and AD to attack the rim. With McGee at center, opposing centers would be able to sag off and clog up the paint, something they couldn’t do with Lopez or Dedmon on the perimeter.
While the Lakers’ free agents from last year finished the season as winners, there’s a reason why all of them have never carved out a career with a team. Being able to upgrade the starters and bench with exceptional shooters like Danny Green, Terrence Ross, J.J. Redick, or Malcolm Brogdon or dominating power forwards like Marcus Morris, Nikola Mirotic, Al-Farouq Aminu, or Julius Randle could make a huge difference, especially during the playoffs.
One of the trends we’ve watched in the NBA over the last few seasons is the growing value of depth and diversity. Strength in numbers is more than just a slogan in a league where injuries are more and more becoming a big factor. There’s something to say about having starter quality backups, especially at key positions like point guard and center. Whether the Lakers would be better off with a third superstar or multiple elite role players is a valid question.
Bottom line, even though spending their cap space on multiple role players may be Plan B, the Lakers might be able to build a more diverse, deeper, and more successful team than they could build around a superstar Big Three.
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