Rob Pelinka and the Los Angeles Lakers have won the NBA offseason by dramatically upgrading their championship roster, setting themselves up for a midseason mega trade, and keeping their cap space clear for 2021.
While there’s still work to do signing veteran centers to minimum contracts and maybe pulling off a blockbuster trade to land Sacramento Kings guard Bogdan Bogdanovic, Pelinka and the Lakers dominated the competition. Without the distraction of waiting for Kawhi, Pelinka was like a chessmaster in a checkers tournament not only filling all the Lakers’ major roster needs but also positioning the team perfectly for even bigger moves in the future.
1. Upgrading a Championship Roster.
Rob Pelinka kicked off the offseason by filling the Lakers’ need for a second playmaker and third scorer by trading shooting guard Danny Green and the 28th pick in the NBA draft for OKC Thunder point guard Dennis Schroder. Swapping 34-year old Green for the 27-year old Schroder not only gave the Lakers a player who fits Anthony Davis’ timeline but also a lightning quick point guard who shot better from deep and had a better defensive rating.
Pelinka then used free agency to fill the 3-and-D hole left by trading Green by signing Milwaukee Bucks’ free agent guard Wes Matthews, a better wing defender and 3-point shooter than Green, with the Bi-Annual Exception. Finally, the Lakers surprised the entire league by stealing backup center and Sixth Man of the Year winner Montrezl Harrell from their crosstown rival Los Angeles Clippers with the full Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception.
Replacing Green, Howard, and Rondo with Schroder, Matthews, and Harrell dramatically upgrades the Lakers’ offense. While Schroder and Matthews are better defenders than Rondo and Green, Howard’s much better than Harrell. The real bang for the Lakers is on the offensive side where the addition of Schroder, Matthews, and Harrell adds an astonishing 24.3 points per game, 44.9 points per game vs. 20.6 points per game Green, Howard, and Rondo.
And the Lakers may not be done. They’re still rumored to be working on a blockbuster trade for Bogdan Bogdanovic and looking to sign veteran players to minimum contracts to fill out their roster and center rotation.
2. Setting Up a Midseason Mega Trade.
By collecting attractive assets on favorable midsized contracts, Pelinka has the Lakers perfectly positioned to pull off a midseason blockbuster trade for a coveted third superstar to complement LeBron James and Anthony Davis. With teams looking to move superstars like Giannis Antetokounmpo who are slated to become unrestricted free agents at the end of the season, the midseason trade deadline could even be crazier than this wild offseason.
Last season, the Lakers lacked assets to make a move at the trade deadline. This season, between Schroder, Harrell, and KCP, Rob Pelinka will have almost $40 million in attractive tradable contracts to pull off a mega trade. That flexibility will also enable the Lakers to tweak their roster in case of injuries or players underperforming and take advantage of opportunities that might arise if the havoc of the coronavirus pandemic panics teams.
Making a midseason mega trade for a third superstar who’s going to be a free agent at the end of the season has big advantages for the Lakers. First, the risk of not being able to re-sign the player can reduce competitive offers. Second, the Lakers would receive Bird rights which would enable them to to over the cap to re-sign the player to a max contract. Realistically, that’s the only way the Lakers could end up with three superstars on max contracts.
Last offseason, waiting for Kawhi kept the Lakers from from positioning themselves for a midseason mega trade. This offseason Rob was able to fill the Lakers’ immediate needs and set the team up for a big midseason move.
3. Keeping Cap Space Clear for 2021.
If there’s been one overriding strategy since Rob Pelinka took over from Magic Johnson at VP of Basketball Operations for the Lakers, it was to clear max cap space for the 2021 offseason to pursue Giannis Antetokounmpo. While the Lakers are not done building out their roster for 2021, there’s no doubt they’re still prioritizing keeping their cap sheet as clear as possible as none of the deals they’ve done so far has been for multiple year contracts.
Dennis Schroder, for whom the Lakers traded Green, has one year left on his contract, Wesley Matthews signed a 1-year contract with the Lakers and Montrezl Harrell signed a below market 2-year deal with a player option. While other teams have signed players to multiple year contracts, the Lakers have stuck to their grand plan to create the max cap space possible to pursue a third superstar to complement LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
That strategy may face its first real test should the Lakers be successful in convincing the Sacramento Kings and Bogdan Bogdanovic to mutually agree to a two-sided sign-and-trade for Kuzma, McGee, and Caldwell-Pope. Bogdanovic and Caldwell-Pope are both looking for long term contracts so the Lakers may have to make an exception if they want to trade for Bogdan or re-sign Kenny. Either way, both would still be valuable trading chips.
While the lower salary cap numbers for next offseason due to the expected lost revenue from the pandemic will make it near impossible to sign a third max contract superstar, the Lakers want the most cap flexibility possible.
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