The Lakers, the seventh seed team, were eliminated in the first round after the game with Phoenix Suns. So what are their prospects for the off-season? Let’s discuss that today.
They have very few guaranteed contracts for the next season. By and large, it’s LeBron James, Anthony Davies, Kyle Kuzma, Marc Gasol, and there’s also an option for Montrezl Harrell contract for 9.5 million. Also, again, let’s not forget about Luol Deng’s 5 million contract, still written in the Lakers’ books.
Generally speaking, the Lakers will have a problematic summer ahead of them. It won’t be easy to sign new free agents and extend the existing contracts without going over the salary cap. And the central question of the off-season will be regarding Kyle Kuzma — will the Lakers trade him? Without getting rid of the forward, they won’t be able to bring in good support for James.
So what should we expect from LeBron James’ team in the off-season?
Montrezl Harrell will almost certainly choose a player option because it is difficult to imagine who will want him for the comparable salary. Charlotte Hornets may wish to sign Montrezl since they have the opportunity and the money to do that, and he may be helpful to their team’s lineup. In theory, after Pascal’s injury, the Toronto Raptors may be interested in Harrell as well, although it’s doubtful that Masai Ujiri will go along with this idea. Still, the Raptors definitely need a strong forward since Siakam is likely to miss a significant part of the preseason games due to his shoulder injury. But let’s wait until Ujiri signs a new contract; at the moment, we don’t know if he will be the one making decisions.
Getting back to the Lakers, it’s almost certain that Kuzma has to be traded because, judging by the past games, he is not worth 13 million, and the club’s management will probably try to move him. But the main question here is — who should stay in the team?
If Schroder leaves and there will be no other options to replace this salary, he may get re-signed. The Lakers may attempt to use him as an asset that can later be used to equalize salaries.
But I’d say that Schroder’s value is no more than 10 million dollars. He is unlikely to agree to this price himself, but it is also unlikely that anyone will offer him more than 15 million — we all saw his performance this season. He is definitely a sixth man, not a starter. But the question here is can we be confident that if Schroder gets re-signed, Pelinka will be able to trade him? I don’t mean sign-and-trade; this option probably wouldn’t be possible for several reasons. Most likely, Pelinka will sign Schroder and try to trade him at the deadline for a star player who is unhappy with his current club or for a player with an expiring contract who’d like to try playing for the Lakers.
On the other hand, this is a difficult question, bearing in mind that in the past, the Lakers offered Schroder 84 million for four years, the club is unlikely to give more after he declined and then played like this in the playoffs. But then, for Schroder, who turned down on such money, it would be stupid still to sign a contract with the Lakers but for a smaller salary. Offering more than 21 million would be too difficult for the club. I don’t see Schroder as a valuable asset and have many doubts that someone will view him as an interesting player and will be willing to pay more than 12-14 million; while he will be asking for more. If Dennis will be in demand and will be offered, say, 17 million, he may decide to leave the team, and Pelinka will start panicking; because he is losing potential money, his future bargaining chip. In this case, Pelinka can do the stupid thing and offer 20/3 and then end up with Schroder because no one will want to sign him. The problem is that the Lakers don’t have any picks they can trade. They have one 2021 pick that can be traded on the draft day, and the next one is 2027 one, so they don’t have anything to make Schroder’s contract more appealing.
At the same time, there are much more significant players for the team at the moment, for example, Caruso, who should stay. He will ask around 6-7 million, which seems like a fair price. Will the Lakers be able to sign him for this price? That is a good question.
There is a lot to think about and many decisions to be made by Pelinka since the Lakers have a complicated situation. Yet his previous decisions are not very convincing, especially what he’s said about Drummond remaining in the team. Frank Vogel, the head coach, has also said that they’re counting on Drummond in the long-term perspective, and it wasn’t a short-term collaboration for the duration of this season. Drummond could stand out from the other Lakers players when LeBron or Davis weren’t there. But after they came back, Drummond doesn’t look that favourable for this roster. It is unclear how to pair him with LeBron and Davis and why would the club’s management want him in the team. Drummond is not a trade asset. We cannot be sure if there were any promises made to Drummond when he was signed, it wouldn’t be the smartest thing to do, but Pelinka could have done it. It is what it is.
When we’re talking about signing players for the Lakers, we need to understand what they are necessary for and imagine how the person we are talking about will be useful for the team’s performance in the playoffs. If you read our articles, read or listen to other people’s opinions, and watch the games, you understand how the game should be structured around Lebron and Davis. They have Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who will remain in the rotation, and need maybe three more people in the rotation for LeBron and Davies. One of these people will probably be Caruso, so they still need two more people. Two, maybe three-guard players and one strong central player, preferably one that won’t cost too much. It would be easy to sign a central player at a minimal cost, but they will sign Drummond for a lot of money, after which it will turn into an Augean stable. Very similar to what it was like when Kupchak and his mates left. So it can end very, very badly.
In winter, there was a rumour that the Lakers were firmly determined to acquire Kyle Lowry, they even started the negotiations with the Raptors, and it seems like they stuck because the Lakers weren’t ready to say goodbye to Talen Horton-Tucker. Now he is a free agent.
Talen Horton-Tucker is a role player, isn’t very good at long-distance shots, but he has rudiments of the point guard at the basic level. He is not the person who can provide support for LeBron; he hasn’t got the potential to become a star player. So it is unclear why the Lakers want him in the team – in what capacity will he play? He is not the type who fits well alongside LeBron and who performs at his level. But after everyone, including Lowry himself, was convinced that Lowry would move teams and then he didn’t, it’s confusing what trade talks can be trusted. No one knows what to expect next. Judging by Pelinka’s actions, he is trying to keep his word, in which case it would make sense if Horton stayed. But it’s too difficult to predict what kind of contract he would have. At the moment, his value is only around 2.5-3 million dollars.
Talking about the prospects of the next season, the Lakers have little chance to win the West in their current rotation, and that is including Davis. LeBron is getting older, and although the talks about James not being the same anymore have been around for many years now, this season has made it obvious. Of course, there were many injuries in this season, which could be blamed on the condensed season, but now they will have time to recover. For the following season, the team will need a supporting cast, but at the moment, there are no options for this cast. And unless the Lakers find a third high calibre player, for which they simply don’t have enough resources, their chances to win the West remain low. Especially considering that the Phoenix will be even stronger in the next season, Utah will play better, and other teams will probably play as good as they did in this season.