Nobody’s going to accuse Rob Pelinka of being too conservative, resting on his laurels, or standing pat when it came to deciding whom to bring back and whom to replace for the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers.
While he brought back 9 players from last season’s championship team, Rob approached upgrading the Lakers’ roster as if the team had fallen short and not won the battle of the bubble and posted the franchise’s 17th NBA title. He dramatically upgraded the Lakers at point guard and center, added two big time scorers to boost the team’s offense when LeBron James rested, and rejuvenated the roster with young players who fit Anthony Davis’ timeline.
Pelinka traded 33-year old shooting guard Danny Green and his first round pick for 27-year old point guard Dennis Schroder to replace 34-year old Rajon Rondo and then signed 34-year old Wes Matthews to replace Green. Then he replaced the Lakers’ old school traditional center tandem of 32-year old JaVale McGee and 34-year old Dwight Howard with 35-year old stretch five center Marc Gasol and 26-year old 6MOY Montrezl Harrell.
The impact Schroder, Matthews, Gasol, and Harrell will have on the Lakers chances of repeating can’t be overstated. Pelinka was basically able to fill all of the Lakers’ roster needs waiting for Kawhi kept them from last offseason. The Lakers not only expanded their lead but did so by stealing a key player from their top two competitors. Losing Harrell was a major blow to the Clippers’ offense and losing Matthews will clearly hurt the Bucks’ defense.
The infusion of these four new players completely changed the hierarchy of the Lakers’ roster, likely including the team’s starting lineup and rotations. Head coach Frank Vogel will have a much deeper and more versatile roster. The five players highlighted in the first row of the photo at the top of this article should be the Lakers’ new starting lineup with the five players in the second row comprising an outstanding bench in an eleven-man rotation.
Here’s where I ranked every player on the Lakers’ 2020-21 roster:
- LeBron James. No debate needed. LeBron is simply still the best player on the planet and on the Lakers. Expect him to begin to conserve energy during the regular season and pick the time and spots to take charge.
- Anthony Davis. Second best player in the league and a possible MVP winner this season. Will continue to play the five to close games and should be a top candidate for DPOY. Will separate himself as a player.
- Marc Gasol. Will revolutionize the Lakers offense with his basketball intelligence, ability to space the floor, and elite passing ability. Will play more minutes and be the perfect defensive anchor next to Davis.
- Dennis Schroder. Will start at point guard and free LeBron James from having to always handle the ball. Will play big minutes with and without LeBron on the floor. Could be serious candidate for MIP award.
- Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Will start at shooting guard and reward the Lakers for giving him the new 3-year contract. Will continue to be one of the team’s best 3-point shooters and consistent perimeter defenders.
- Montrezl Harrell. Will come off the bench and be candidate to repeat as 6MOY. Will play starter minutes often alongside Anthony Davis or Markieff Morris. Will be solid defensively and unstoppable offensively.
- Markieff Morris. The catalyst on offense and defense when Anthony Davis plays the five. Will be consistent part of the Lakers’ lineup to close games. Will get matchup minutes at the five alongside AD and Trezz.
- Wesley Matthews. New and improved version of Danny Green. Will see big minutes, especially against teams with bigger wing scorers like James Harden or Kawhi Leonard. One of the team’s best defenders.
- Alex Caruso. That Alex is now 9th on this list is a testament to how much deeper the Lakers are this season. His great defense will continue to earn him key minutes and opportunities to close games.
- Kyle Kuzma. This is a critical season for Kyle’s career as a Laker and he will need to shoot lights out to keep his place in the rotation. He will share time with Matthews guarding the Hardens and Leonards.
- Talen Horton-Tucker. If having a talented and versatile ten-man roster were not enough, the Lakers also have THT, whom the coaches say is going to be hard to keep out of the rotation. He’s our lottery pick.
- Alfonso McKinnie. A 6' 7" small forward with athleticism, McKinnie has potential as a wing defender but could also be a placeholder in case somebody like Trevor Ariza were to become available.
- Quinn Cook. Quinn’s contract is not guaranteed so he is a placeholder and ‘break glass in case of emergency’ player. Like Dudley, he’s beloved by teammates and a big part of the Lakers’ great chemistry and culture.
- Jared Dudley. The best 14th man in the league, Duds is great mentor and bench coach for the Lakers who can still shoot lights out and play smart defense in a pinch. Big part of team chemistry and culture.
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