Six Steps to Transform Lakers From Chumps to Champs This Offseason!
Less than eighteen months ago, the Los Angeles Lakers won their 17th NBA championship in the bubble by surrounding superstars LeBron James and Anthony Davis with a roster with great length and size at every position.
Since then, the Lakers made a series of major strategic decisions to improve the team’s offense and versatility that subsequently backfired, resulting in throwing away the system and personnel that had won the championship. The Lakers top priority this summer will be to use Westbrook’s $47 million expiring contract and their 2027 and 2029 first round picks to rebuild their roster with players who better complement LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
The Lakers need new leadership in the front office, a new head coach with modern offensive chops, and serious upgrades to their starting lineup. Here are six steps to transform the Lakers from chumps to champs this offseason:
1. Hire Magic Johnson as Consultant and Visionary
The Lakers front office needs new leadership that can create a vision for the kind of team to build, coach to hire, and players to pursue and sell that vision to owner/governor Jeanie Buss who does not appear willing to give up power.
The mess the Lakers find themselves in is a direct result of the chaos and dysfunction undermining the decision making process since Rob Pelinka took over from Magic Johnson as head of basketball operations three years ago. Instead of a normal management structure, Jeanie Buss listens to an extended ‘kitchen cabinet’ that includes VP of Basketball Operations Rob Pelinka, trusted advisors Kurt and Linda Rambis, and former GM Magic Johnson.
Right now, the Lakers’ brain trust lacks leadership and vision. Jeanie Buss needs to respond to the concerns and criticism of the job being done by Rob Pelinka and consider hiring Magic Johnson as a consultant and advisor. Magic’s role would be to help Rob and Jeanie formulate and implement a vision for the kind of Lakers team to be built for LeBron’s final years in purple and gold and the transition plan for moving on once James decides to retire.
Unlike three years ago, Magic would not be asked to work full-time or give up any of his current pursuits. Instead, he would help Rob and Jeanie create a team built around an achievable vision for creating the next Lakers dynasty.
2. Hire Rajon Rondo as Lakers’ New Head Coach
The Lakers need a new head coach who has the respect and confidence of LeBron James and Anthony Davis and the basketball intelligence, instincts, and competitive drive to develop and coach an NBA championship team.
With Frank Vogel’s 3-year reign as the Lakers head coach coming to an end, the Lakers need to move quickly to hire a new head coach this summer. The goal is to replace Vogel with a coach with better offense and defense balance. Who the Lakers turn to to coach the team next season will be one the most important decisions the front office makes this season. The Lakers should look instead to hire a new young head coach with upside rather than a retread.
The candidate whom I think would be the perfect head coach for the Lakers and for LeBron James and Anthony Davis is former Lakers point guard Rajon Rondo, who was the team’s third best player during the bubble championship. Rajon not only has the basketball smarts and Hall of Fame resume as a player with two NBA championships but is also intimately familiar with what it takes as role players to optimize LeBron James and Anthony Davis as superstars.
The Lakers need to hire a new, inspirational voice to lead the Lakers over the next decade. Rajon Rondo would be the perfect hire as the head coach to help the Lakers win their 18th NBA championship and launch another dynasty.
3. Reach Agreement with LeBron James on Extension
The key to the Lakers having a chance to win their 18th NBA championship next season is convincing LeBron James to sign a 1+1 extension that would guarantee the Lakers at least two more years with superstars LeBron and AD.
Since James will not be eligible to sign an extension until August 4th, the Lakers will need him to give them a verbal guarantee that he will sign the extension so the Lakers can make needed roster moves the first week of July. Should LeBron decide not going to sign an extension at this time, the Lakers would then face a critical franchise decision: trade Klutch Sports clients’ LeBron James and Anthony Davis now or risk losing them for nothing.
All signs point to the Lakers and LeBron already having resolved any issues related to their close alliance with LeBron clearly ready to sign the extension and the Lakers ready to spend what they need to make LeBron a winner. While there is still a chance the Lakers might opt to keep Russ and then use his $47 million expiring contract to create up to $35 million in cap space for summer 2023 so Lakers could sign a free agent superstar to replace LeBron.
The Lakers need to reconfirm their close alliance with Klutch Sports not only to get LeBron to sign the extension but also to continue to building an NBA team that can win multiple championships with multiple Klutch clients.
4. Trade Russ and Two Picks for Three Rotation Players
The Lakers greatest priority this summer is to convert Russell Westbrook’s lucrative $47 million expiring contract and their 2027 and 2029 unprotected post-LeBron James first round draft picks into two or three starting players.
There are two potential options to the Lakers’ need to get bigger and better at every position: they can acquire a proven modern center who can protect the rim and stretch the floor or a modern bigger 3&D small forward or stretch 3. The Lakers should pursue a trade for a stretch five to go with James, who would play the four, and Davis, who wants to play the three. Adding a third big at center rather than forward would make the Lakers more dangerous.
The top stretch five candidate the Lakers to pursue should be the Indiana Pacers’ center Myles Turner, who has been among the top shot blockers and rim protectors while also averaging four to five 3-point attempts per game. The other center target should be the Rockets’ center Christian Wood, who’s a more dynamic offensive player (17.9 ppg vs. Turner’s 12.9 ppg) but not as good on defense (1.0 bpg and 0.8 spg vs. Turner’s 2.8 bpg and 0.9 spg).
The Lakers greatest priority is ending the Westbrook experiment. They have multiple trade options to yield two or three starters for Westbrook and two first round picks from the Pacers, Hornets, Rockets, Knicks, and Thunder,
5. Trade THT and Nunn for Bigger 3&D Wing
Besides Westbrook and their two available first round draft picks, the Lakers also need to find a trading partner for Talen Horton-Tucker and Kendrick Nunn, two players the Lakers need to swap for a bigger 3&D small forward.
While the Lakers will try to find a deal for Russ and their two first round picks that delivers three starters to complement LeBron and AD, they may need to trade THT and Nunn to be able to land that third elusive starter they covet. The ideal trade target for the Lakers Horton-Tucker and Nunn duo would be a bigger 3&D wing earning between $10 and $15 million like the Knicks’ small forward Cam Reddish or a stretch center like the Pistons’ Kelly Olynyk.
While trading for a stretch center to start alongside LeBron and AD would enable the Lakers to play two-bigs like they did to win the championship in the bubble but with the added advantage of having a 3-point shooting big. Adding Reddish or Olynyk would unlock the same small-ball-on-steroids lineups with Anthony Davis at the five that were the key to the Lakers dominating play and winning their 17th NBA championship in the bubble.
Having the versatility to play super big or super small will make the Lakers a better and more dangerous team than they were in the bubble. The addition of a forward like Reddish or a center like Olynyk will supersize the Lakers.
6. Bring Back Reaves, Johnson, Gabriel, and Monk for Continuity
After turning over their entire roster the last two seasons, the Lakers need to bring back three players who have team options in Austin Reaves, Stanley Johnson, and Wenyen Gabriel and re-sign Malik Monk to create continuity.
While the lack of continuity has been a killer to the Lakers last two seasons, the Lakers need to be careful not to turnover the entire roster like they did last season and the season before. Turning over the entire roster kills continuity. The Lakers need to bring back six players from this year’s team: LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Austin Reaves, Stanley Johnson, Wenyen Gabriel, and Malik Monk. James and Davis would be starters, the other four off the bench.
Russell Westbrook and Kendrick Nunn have both opted to accept player options of $47 million and $5 million respectively for next season and both are likely to be traded since they are not good fits next to LeBron and AD. Ideally, the Lakers should receive three or four rotation players for Westbrook and Nunn, so let’s add two more players to bring the roster to eight players with seven openings for free agents or possible multiple player trades.
Building a championship roster that benefits from stability and continuity is a requirement to legitimately compete for a championship in today’s NBA. Continuity means Lakers bringing back Reaves, Johnson, Gabriel, and Monk.
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