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This Offseason Sees The Lakers Become Title Favorites Again II

The Lakers backup center has picked up his player option.

At the time the first article in this mini-series dropped, the Lakers had not made their head coaching decision. We outlined some more experienced options in that article. The Lakers went with a different approach, choosing to hire a rookie head coach in JJ Redick and then surrounding him with experienced coaches as assistants. At the very least, there is stability now on the coaching side of things. This offseason sees the Lakers become title favorites again by making shrewd moves in free agency.

This Offseason Sees The Lakers Become Title Favorites Again II

At the time of this article, more than a week of free agency has passed. The Lakers have been disappointing in free agency. That disappointment will depend on your expectations and your understanding of their cap situation.

They were linked with prominent free agents like James Harden, DeMar DeRozan, and Jonas Valanciunas. LeBron James declined his player option to re-sign a new contract in free agency. Despite a possible departure hanging over the organization due to his contract decision, it always seemed likely that LeBron would return to the Lakers. After all, they had just drafted his son to keep him in Southern California.

LeBron was widely reported to be willing to take a pay cut to accommodate that ‘big-money’ free agency splurge by the Lakers. Ultimately, Harden re-signed with the Clippers. Valanciunas joined the Wizards, while DeRozan joined the Kings via sign-and-trade. The Lakers must turn their sights to the trade market to upgrade their roster. A brilliant set of moves during this off-season sees the Lakers become title favorites again. They just made the Western Conference finals two years ago. The West is as open as it has been in years. The Lakers are just two moves away from the top of the West.

Lakers Go Big or Go Home

The following trade sees the Lakers devote their assets for the foreseeable future one last time to the LeBron era. LeBron will be turning 40 in a few months. Despite that, he continues to perform admirably in his fight against Father Time. He achieved an All-NBA third team selection last season. Anthony Davis is in his prime as a two-way force. He played a career-high 76 games during the regular season. AD earned an All-NBA second team spot with his dominant play throughout the season.

The Lakers are one of a few teams that currently have two All-NBA talents on their roster. However you feel about their chances to make the finals, there’s no denying that they are closer to contending than tanking. Adding another all-star caliber talent puts them firmly in the conversation to come out of the West.

A Finnish-ing Touch

In this trade, the Lakers will acquire Lauri Markkanen and John Collins from the Utah Jazz. The Jazz will receive Rui Hachimura, D’Angelo Russell, Jarred Vanderbilt, Jalen Hood-Schifino, a 2029 first-round pick, a 2031 first-round pick, a 2028 pick swap, and a 2030 pick swap. The Lakers will also have to remove the protections on their 2026 pick currently with the Jazz.

It’s a lot of assets to give up. Still, it is probably what the Lakers will have to give up to land their third star. Lauri Markkanen was an all-star just two years ago. He was arguably a better player last year, but being buried on the mediocre Jazz ruined his chances at back-to-back all-star appearances. Lauri averaged 23.2 points per game on an EFG% of .578. His shooting splits of .480/.399/.899 are either career highs or the second highest in his career. Shooting nearly 40% on eight 3-point attempts is an elite combination of efficiency and volume. The Lakers ranked last in the NBA in 3-point attempts during the regular season. It’s a make-or-miss league. They need to shoot more three-pointers.

As a bonus, they will add John Collins, who at 26 is still yet to be in his prime, at least historically. We witnessed the impact PJ Washington had joining the Mavericks mid-season. John Collins figures to fit into that archetype for the Lakers. He’s an ultra-athletic wing that can play at the five in spots. With a wingspan of 6’11”, Collins will cause nightmares for opposing players beside AD. Collins will provide answers to multiple questions for the Lakers at the power forward/center positions.

The Lakers rather surprisingly finished last in offensive rebounds per game last year. This was in spite of having one of the premier rebounders in AD. Obviously, he needs help on that end. Lauri and Collins finished last season averaging 2.2 and 2.3 offensive RPG respectively. This helped the Jazz finish as the fourth highest in the league. They will strengthen the Lakers on that front.

Why Will the Jazz Accept This Offer?

It’s important to understand the factors at play here. Firstly, the haul the Nets got in the Mikal Bridges trade has set an asking price for these sorts of trades. The Lakers don’t have up to five picks to trade due to the Stepien rule. They could give two unprotected picks in 2029 and 2031. They could also offer pick swaps in 2028 and 2030. To make up the difference, the Lakers will remove the protection on the 2026 pick they owe the Jazz.

The Utah Jazz are looking to acquire as many assets in the next two drafts (2025 and 2026 drafts headlined by Cooper Flagg and AJ Dybantsa). Losing Lauri and Collins puts them firmly in the race to get high picks in both drafts. Getting unprotected picks in 2029 and 2031 when LeBron will be out of the league and AD would be 37 if he’s still in the league. These picks are so far into the future that they could turn out to be hugely valuable.

Acquiring D’Angelo Russell gives the Jazz a top veteran presence to mentor Keyonte George and Collin Sexton. His expiring contract could be flipped for some assets at the trade deadline if he doesn’t fit into the Jazz’s plans. Hachimura is still just 26 and could find a role on the Jazz or be traded elsewhere. His team-friendly contract and the tools he possesses on both ends make him an attractive asset for most teams.

Vanderbilt was injured for most of last year, so people can be forgiven for forgetting about his game. He’s a great on-ball defender, especially useful as a point-of-attack. He presents spacing concerns with his inconsistent jumpshot. Still, 3-and-D wings are in high demand in the league. Vanderbilt will have a market if the Jazz want to flip him for more assets. Lastly, Jalen Hood-Schifino is a prospect that unfortunately got buried in the Lakers rotation last year. He is a 6’6″ guard with a 6’10” wingspan. He is a work-in-progress but his ceiling is still incredibly enticing.

Strokes of Genius

This offseason that sees the Lakers become title favorites again is just a few steps away from being completed at this point. There are just a few issues to sort out. With D’Lo being traded, there is a need to add guards to the Lakers roster. Thankfully there are straightforward solutions in free agency.

By carrying out the trade above, the Lakers will create enough cap space under the second apron to use their taxpayer mid-level exception and sign another player to a veteran minimum contract without passing the second apron.. Who can they sign with that exception? The ideal target would be Gary Trent Jr. He has shot .386% from the 3-point line over his career. He is still just 25 and has shown flashes on the defensive end.

The big question is why will he take this deal when it’s reported he wanted $25 million-a-year to re-sign with the Raptors. Well, LeBron’s contract gives them the flexibility to lure him to LA. Gary can be convinced to sign at a discount price this year. A two-year contract with a player option. The Lakers have the flexibility of LeBron’s 1+1 contract now for the rest of his career.

How does this benefit the Lakers? Well, LeBron could reject his player option next season and go into free agency with the plan to re-sign with the Lakers after they pay their free agents. So Gary can reject his player option after a good season and sign with the Lakers for an amount both parties like. Or he could test free agency and negotiate a good deal for himself with another team based on his performance in the 2024-25 season.

The last move is to sign a starting-caliber point guard in free agency. Luckily, the Lakers have some familiarity with Spencer Dinwiddie. He will be a value addition. Dinwiddie already knows how to play alongside the Lakers core. He is still a really good point guard in his prime (he’s 31 years old). Also his contract will count as only $2.08 million against the cap due to his 11-year experience.

The Last Word

Following the potential trade and free agency signings, the Lakers would have the following rotation:

PG: Gabe Vincent, Spencer Dinwiddie

SG: Austin Reaves, Gary Trent Jr, Max Christie

SF: LeBron James, Dalton Knecht

PF: Lauri Markkanen, John Collins

C: Anthony Davis

This rotation firmly puts the Lakers in championship conversations. A huge plus is that the Lakers will still operate under the second apron so they can still make moves to improve the team around the trade deadline.


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