Two seasons removed from an NBA title, the Lakers have struggled to get back to their championship ways. This year does not project to be an easy one, either, with a cluster of moves that made their offseason a head-scratcher.
The Lakers’ most recent significant move was another reunion, signing Dennis Schröder to a one-year, $2.6 million deal after his stellar performances in the EuroBasket tournament. The 29-year-old point guard had his first LakeShow rodeo in the 2020-21 season, where he averaged 15.4 points, 5.8 assists, and 3.5 rebounds per game. Since then, he had underwhelming stints with the Celtics and Rockets, but his incredible international play showed the world that he still belongs in the NBA.
Aside from Schroder, LA also traded Talen Horton-Tucker and Stanley Johnson to the Jazz in exchange for Patrick Beverley. The Lakers moved on from two promising young guys but received a gritty two-way guard that embodies coach Darvin Ham’s defense-first mentality.
These two major moves encapsulate the Lakers’ mysterious offseason, where they signed younger players who are hungry for a chance to prove themselves. That list now includes Matt Ryan and Dwayne Bacon—both wings with perimeter shooting potential—who were inked to training camp deals earlier this week. They also re-signed LeBron James to a two-year, $97 million extension that cements the King’s future in LA until the 2024-25 season.
The current roster provides more questions than answers as presently constructed, particularly with the new dilemma of four point guards: Russell Westbrook, Kendrick Nunn, Schröder, and Beverley. A Russ trade was the talk of the town for months, but Woj recently tweeted that the two will continue their partnership for this season.
There are no assurances that Russell Westbrook will be a starter for these Los Angeles Lakers, nor assurances that he’ll remain this season. Nevertheless, he promises this: “I’m all-in on whatever it takes for this team to win.” Story on ESPN+: https://t.co/FbaLqBJhAR
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) September 25, 2022
During the team’s Media Day, Rob Pelinka also noted the reasons behind not making a trade involving both future first-round picks:
Pelinka on potential trades: “You have one shot to make a trade with multiple picks, and if you make that trade, it has to be the right one. So we’re being very thoughtful around decisions about when to use draft capital.”
— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) September 26, 2022
Darvin Ham also reiterated key points of his coaching philosophy, particularly an emphasis on competitiveness, togetherness, and accountability. He also stressed that Westbrook is not a guaranteed starter, and they have plenty of capable options for the first facilitator next to LeBron and AD.
As of right now, many have projected the Lakers to finish as a Play-in team, an understandable prediction given how this team was constructed.
Westbrook being back in the picture brings plenty of questions, mainly in regard to his fit on this new roster. No one can deny how much of a headache he was last season. However, some fans, myself included, are beginning to think it’s water under the bridge. The fact that he is not a penciled-in starter enforces Ham’s mantra of sacrifice that he’s preached since he was hired. Russ will also need to adjust his game to better fit next to LeBron and AD, being the pass-first guard he was in seasons past instead of shooting nearly every chance he gets. I am confident Russ and the Lakers can figure it out, but time will tell if he will truly gel with this team.
Aside from Russ, Davis, and James, the players surrounding them are equally as important.
Schröder and Beverley bring a lot of defensive toughness the team had missed for most of the year. Second-stint Lakers Thomas Bryant and Damian Jones look promising as well since both bring athleticism, energy, and rim protection into the fold. They also provide relief for Anthony Davis, who will shift to his natural power forward slot.
The Lakers’ guard and forward situation is also unique, as returner Austin Reaves is competing for the starting two-guard job against Pat Bev and Lonnie Walker IV. Likewise, their newest wings, Troy Brown Jr. and Juan Toscano-Anderson, will likely duke it out for a starting role.
The team also holds promise with regard to their rookies, Max Christie, Scotty Pippen Jr., and Cole Swider. Each of them brings a unique skill set to the team. Christie has the tools to become a 3&D player, Pippen is a solid scorer and facilitator, and Swider turned heads with his marksmanship from three. They all may see the end of the bench for now, but their development with the franchise is certainly not to be overlooked.
While many are quick to dismiss LA’s newest additions because of their names and statistics, it’s important to note that they came here for larger opportunities. It will be up to them to make the most of their minutes on the court.
The Lakers will only be able to sniff success if everyone buys into the culture shift and plays their role to a tee, and according to Kendrick Nunn, that process has already begun. If everything goes according to plan, who knows how far they could go?