Three Explosive Personnel Decisions Rob Pelinka and Lakers Must Make!
When you’re the Los Angeles Lakers, life comes at you fast. Little more than 14 months after winning their 17th championship, the purple and gold find themselves facing three monumental franchise-defining personnel decisions.
The 16–16 Lakers are now 32 games into the 2021–22 NBA season with four players out due to H&S protocols and three more due to injury, including superstar center Anthony Davis, who’s slated to miss 20 to 30 games. Suddenly, in addition to trying to tread water until Nunn and now Davis get healthy, the Lakers find themselves having to rethink the overall role and viability of their superstar big three and their grand plan for the future.
This season is starting to eerily resemble the Lakers’ last season when injuries to LeBron James and Anthony Davis undermined the team’s quest to repeat and ended in a whimper via a first round exit courtesy of the Phoenix Suns. Just 14 months after winning their 18th NBA championship, the Lakers thought they were on the verge of a dynasty but now find themselves faced with three explosive personnel decisions that could determine their future.
Should the Lakers trade or keep Russell Westbrook? Can they count on Anthony Davis to be durable or impactful enough to take the baton from LeBron? And how long can LeBron James continue to play at this level?
1. Should the Lakers Trade or Keep Russell Westbrook?
Despite Westbrook playing well and being what they hoped for when they traded for him, the Lakers are already exploring whether he might be the missing piece in a trade to improve their roster and championship hopes.
Once the trade door is opened, it’s hard to close. The Lakers also have not seen how their team would look with a healthy Trevor Ariza and Kendrick Nunn. Unfortunately, Anthony Davis’ injury may now make that moot. Packaging Westbrook with budding young talent like Horton-Tucker and Nunn could give the Lakers the trading chips to bring back players with the size and defense at the wing and in the front court to fix their roster.
What it will come down to is whether the Lakers will be able to trade THT and Nunn for the bigger 3&D wing player (Jerami Grant) or modern stretch five center (Myles Turner) to let Davis to play his preferred power forward? That would be the ideal solution but the Lakers will probably have to expand the trade to include Russ, multiple players on both sides, and even another team. Their championship hopes will depend on what Pelinka is able to do.
Finding a trading partner to take on the final year of Russ’ contract would probably be a doable option this summer. Finding a team to take on two years and $91 million midseason will be more challenging but possible.
2. Can the Lakers Count on AD to Take the Baton from LeBron?
After a scintillating performance and winning a championship in the bubble, 28-year old Anthony Davis was projected by everybody to be on the verge of replacing LeBron James as the best player on the planet and the Lakers.
Unfortunately, major injuries have not only derailed Davis ascension to the crown but also raised concerns whether Anthony has the alpha mentality and physical durability to take the baton from LeBron and lead the Lakers. Injuries to LeBron and AD were probably a big part of the reason why the Lakers ultimately chose to trade for a third superstar in Russell Westbrook. A third superstar is the best insurance of losing a superstar to injury.
Right now, the Lakers are both worried about Davis being injury prone and concerned whether he will be capable of being the team’s alpha player. For whatever reason, AD has clearly not been the same player since the bubble. While the Lakers still consider Anthony Davis to be untouchable, they’re also having second thoughts about whether Davis’ struggles could be related to playing so many minutes at the five when he prefers playing the four.
The Los Angeles Lakers aren’t concerned Anthony Davis won’t be able to take the baton from LeBron James. They’re just trying to decide whether AD’s future as a Laker is playing small ball center or playing power forward.
3. How Long Can LeBron Continue to Play at an Elite Level?
How long can LeBron James continue to be the King and a top-five player on the planet and how best to optimize his championship window will be key factors in any moves the Los Angeles Lakers make before the trade deadline.
Rob Pelinka has already confirmed the Lakers traded for Russell Westbrook to reduce the workload on LeBron James. Sources also confirmed the Lakers are interested in trading Westbrook for Sixers’ point guard Ben Simmons. Rich Paul, the agent for James, Davis, and Simmons, just confirmed to Shams Charania that the two players the Lakers are targeting for this midseason trades are in fact the Sixers’ Ben Simmons and the Pistons’ Jerami Grant.
What Klutch Sports’ president Rich Paul did was announce to the basketball world that the any NBA team that wants to trade for Ben Simmons will have to come up with a better offer than Lakers superstar Russell Westbrook. Trading Westbrook for Simmons would be a genius move if Pelinka can pull it off. Because of the Lakers’ relationship with Klutch and Ben’s relationship with LeBron and AD, L.A. may be the only team who could trade for Russ.
The Lakers believe LeBron James can play until he is 40-years old. He will turn 37 on December 30th and will be 38 when his contract expires in June 2023. The Lakers will likely sign LeBron to a final extension this summer.
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