The Lakers re-signed key members of their run to the 2023 Western Conference Finals this summer, including Austin Reaves, Rui Hachimura and D'Angelo Russell. They also signed Anthony Davis to a three-year, max-level extension and re-upped Jarred Vanderbilt for four years.
Los Angeles not only brought those guys back, but also made key additions. Gabe Vincent effectively replaced Schroder for the mid-level exception, while Taurean Prince came aboard for the bi-annual exception. with the room exception. Dennis Schroder with Gabe Vincent. The Lakers signed Christian Wood, Jaxson Hayes and Cam Reddish, too, bargains on minimum contracts. And their offseason moves began at the 2023 NBA Draft, where they selected Jalen Hood-Schifino out of Indiana in the first round and Pepperdine's Maxwell Lewis in the second round. Los Angeles then signed undrafted free agents D'Moi Hodge, Colin Castleton and Alex Fudge to two-way contracts.
That was the offseason, though. With training camp tipping off league-wide in barely more than a week, the 2023-24 season is right around the corner. Actual basketball is about to be played. Yay!
But just because the regular season is on the horizon doesn't mean rosters are set in stone. The Lakers are eyeing another championship, and are always looking for ways to improve during the LeBron James-Davis era. Two players on Los Angeles' training camp roster, in particular, look like potential trade chips before the trade deadlines comes and goes on February 8th.
The obvious candidate on the Lakers to get traded midseason is D'Angelo Russell. The veteran guard signed a two-year, $36 million contract in the offseason that includes a player option for the second season. His new salary is hefty enough that it can be used for salary-matching purposes in a one-for-one trade or as the financial centerpiece of a much bigger deal, but not so onerous to dissuade other teams from taking it on.
The Lakers also weren't hesitant to shy away from Russell as necessary during their playoff run, benching him toward the end of the Western Conference Finals. He lost his starting spot at the end of the Western Conference Finals against the Denver Nuggets. Los Angeles' net rating in the playoffs when James and Davis shared the the floor with Russell was +0.9, per Cleaning the Glass. Without him, lineups featuring the Lakers' two best players sported an impressive +8.2 net rating.
The reason for that was two-fold. One, Russell is not exactly the most robust defender in the NBA. The Nuggets were relentless attacking Russell defensively, targeting him over and over whether he was on or off the ball.
Bruce Brown yesterday on D'Angelo Russell: "We took D-Lo out of the game. That was our goal, to get him involved in everything."
"He's not the best defender, but he definitely tries."
Michael Malone said how much Russell plays tonight will be "an interesting storyline." pic.twitter.com/LSSYnmV3UH
— Harrison Wind (@HarrisonWind) May 18, 2023
Russell's jumper also completely fell apart in the Western Conference Finals. He shot 32.3% from the field 13.3% from deep as Los Angeles was swept by Denver. Combined with his defensive deficiencies, Russell's broken jumper basically made him unplayable against the eventual champions.
Perhaps things will change for Russell this season. But his questionable postseason viability and readily tradable contract—when he becomes eligible to be moved on December 15th, at least—give the Lakers plenty of reason to look for an upgrade on Russell if the opportunity presents itself.
Both the Lakers and Christian Wood should hope he is not this year's version of what Thomas Bryant was for Los Angeles last season. Bryant had a fine stint for the Lakers in 2022-23, averaging 20.4 points and 11.5 rebounds per-36 minutes with an awesome effective field goal percentage of 69.1%. Those are starting-caliber numbers. The issue is that Bryant was red meat on defense, then wanted a bigger role once the Lakers' starters returned from injury.
That sounds a lot like Wood. The well-travelled big man can play a reserve role and excel in it…if he buys in. But Wood hasn't always bought in to the role the coach and team has in mind for him, and he is a sieve defensively. There's a reason a player as talented as Wood was available in September as a free agent, setting for the veteran's minimum.
It could really work out for Wood and the Lakers. It's also very much possible Los Angeles moves on from him midseason if he isn't doing what the team planned for him to do.