After the first 12 games of the 2022-23 season, the Los Angeles Lakers were the laughingstock of the NBA with a 2-10 record. There were not only questions about if they were going to miss the playoffs, but if general manager Rob Pelinka and president Jeanie Buss were going to blow everything up by moving on from LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Coming off a 33-49 season in which they missed the playoffs, failing in this way was unacceptable for the Lakers.
Los Angeles was able to steady the ship and floated around the Western Conference with a .500 record, but dysfunction existed and this team did not resemble one that could be a threat. As a result, Pelinka went out and had a shopping spree at the trade deadline, moving on from the likes of Russell Westbrook and others in order to improve the roster.
D'Angelo Russell, Rui Hachimura, Jarred Vanderbilt and Malik Beasley came to Los Angeles in hopes of rewriting the season. Suddenly, this team went on a run to claim the 7-seed in the West.
After defeating the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round of the playoffs, the Lakers then went on to take down the Golden State Warriors, the defending NBA champions, in the Western Conference Semifinals. The Cinderella story ended in the Western Conference Finals when they got swept by the Denver Nuggets.
The success the Lakers found after the trade deadline was unexpected, especially given their slow start to the season. A new energy now exists within this organization and winning remains their own priority. However, injuries continued to plague this team during the regular season with both James and Davis missing chunks of time.
Davis played in 56 total games and James played in 55 games, directly resulting in some of the Lakers' hardships in the middle of the year. The availability of LA's stars has been a concern through the years and will once again be a key talking point for them as the 2023-24 season begins.
What makes the Lakers a championship contender is not only their stars or found success from last year, but also their newfound depth and willingness to make winning moves.
Pelinka and this front office did an exceptional job of bringing in talent at the trade deadline, and this mindset carried over to the offseason. The Lakers lost some good players in free agency, but they surely made up for it by utilizing their mid-level exception and signing proven veterans to minimum deals.
Lakers offseason additions and departures
Additions: G Gabe Vincent (free agency – MIA), F/C Christian Wood (free agency – DAL), F Taurean Prince (free agency – MIN), F Cam Reddish (free agency – POR), C Jaxson Hayes (free agency – NOP), G Jalen Hood-Schifino (draft), F Maxwell Lewis (draft)
Departures: G Dennis Schroder (free agency – TOR), G Lonnie Walker IV (free agency – BKN), G Malik Beasley (free agency – MIL), C Mo Bamba (free agency – PHI), F Troy Brown Jr. (free agency – MIN)
As the Lakers prepared for the offseason and free agency, only four players held contracts for the 2023-24 season: LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Jarred Vanderbilt and Max Christie.
Change was inevitable with that many players becoming free agents, yet this front office turned talent into more talent that can help the organization achieve greatness right away. Dennis Schroder was replaced with Gabe Vincent, Mo Bamba was replaced with Christian Wood, and both Taurean Prince and Cam Reddish are set to provide more depth on the wing in place of Lonnie Walker IV and Malik Beasley. All of the new additions have a chance to make a greater impact in Los Angeles right away compared to the likes of their predecessors.
Starting with Vincent, he comes to the Lakers after spending the first four years of his career with the Miami Heat. He went from being an undrafted guard to the starting point guard of a team that made the NBA Finals, proving his worth in a contract year. Miami was not prepared to lose the 27-year-old guard, but his value continued to rise throughout the playoffs.
What's interesting about Vincent and his free agency this offseason is the fact that the Lakers were not even targeting him at first. There was a wide array of interest throughout the league in Vincent, league sources told ClutchPoints, with the Toronto Raptors, Milwaukee Bucks, Minnesota Timberwolves and Heat all being in contact with his representation.
When the opportunity to pursue Vincent fell in the Lakers' lap, Pelinka quickly evaluated the team's financial situation and was able to come up with a competitive offer that was too good for the guard to turn down. They used almost all of their non-taxpayer mid-level exception to sign Vincent, and he was happy to be joining a team where he could be the lead guard amongst superstars. With Austin Reaves and D'Angelo Russell also in the backcourt, it will be interesting to see what Vincent's role looks like early on in the season.
While Vincent signing with the Lakers happened near the start of free agency, Wood agreeing to his contract is more recent news. Despite being one of the better big men available this offseason, Wood was passed up on by many teams and remained a free agent until the first week of September when he agreed to a two-year contract with the Lakers.
Set to make roughly $2.7 million this upcoming year, Wood will have the option of becoming an unrestricted free agent once again at the conclusion of the 2023-24 season. With his market being very low this summer and teams not looking for much frontcourt help, this contract with Los Angeles made a lot of sense for the 27-year-old.
Alongside Davis, Wood figures to be a key part of the Lakers' rotations. It would not be shocking to see him come off the bench to begin the regular season, but by the end of the year, he could very well be starting alongside the All-Star big man. This one-two punch in the frontcourt would instantly make the Lakers one of the better rebounding teams in the league, and they would have five players in their lineup who could spread the floor out on the perimeter.
The additions of Vincent and Wood instantly make this team better offensively than they were a season ago, which also protects the Lakers in case James and Davis once again deal with injury problems.
Prince, Reddish and Jaxson Hayes will be secondary bench talents for the Lakers. Their roles are undefined right now ahead of training camp even though all three players have found success through the years in their secondary roles. Whereas Prince and Reddish are 3-and-D threats on the perimeter, Hayes is a young big man who can be a lob threat at any point in the game.
More depth was added to the Lakers' roster during this year's NBA Draft with Jalen Hood-Schifino being selected 17th overall. A bigger, lengthier guard, Hood-Schifino will spend a lot of time going back and forth between the South Bay Lakers in the G League and the NBA squad, similar to what happened with Max Christie last season. The same can be said for second-round pick Maxwell Lewis, who is a versatile forward with two-way potential on the wing.
The Lakers probably had the best free agency period out of any team in the league simply due to the fact that Pelinka and this front office were able to replace unreliable secondary talents with better options while also retaining some of their own key players. James and Davis cannot carry this franchise to a title on their own, which is why Los Angeles added players who are more than capable of stepping up into key roles at any point during the 82-game season.
Lakers' championship depth
From the Golden State Warriors to the Milwaukee Bucks to the Denver Nuggets, there have been many different NBA champions in recent years. However, the one constant that has existed with all of them and what separates championship-level teams from the rest of the field are those key, secondary players that provide depth.
You can even point to the 2019-20 Lakers team in the NBA Bubble that went on to win a championship. Outside of LeBron and Davis, Kyle Kuzma, Alex Caruso, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Rajon Rondo all held key roles and played their parts to perfection. Even Dwight Howard provided much-needed depth in their frontcourt.
At the start of the 2022-23 season, the Lakers had virtually no depth and were so dependent on their two All-Stars. This resulted in frustrations mounting and both James and Davis having to carry the team every night, leading to more wear and tear. From the time of the trade deadline through the Western Conference Finals, the Lakers finally had depth and production that they could rely on outside of their stars.
Pelinka's main goal this offseason was to add more high-level depth to his roster, which was achieved. Vincent and Wood are going to be two instant sources of production in their respective roles, as described earlier, but what has gone overlooked is the depth Los Angeles retained.
Austin Reaves, Rui Hachimura, Jarred Vanderbilt and D'Angelo Russell are all returning on new contracts, and each player is important to this organization in their own way.
Although Russell's role will be changing from what he is accustomed to, he's still a really smart and agile scoring guard in pick-and-roll situations. Having the ability to get to his spots in the mid-range area and hit jumpers opens up the Lakers' offense tremendously. The same can be said about Hachimura, as he emerged as a key secondary scoring weapon at either forward spot in the mid-range last year.
Vanderbilt came over to Los Angeles last season and instantly made his presence felt as an athletic forward who could run the floor and defend virtually any position. Vanderbilt's length and size allowed him to play against frontcourt talents, and his quick feet allowed him to stay in front of opposing guards. In the playoffs, he even matched up against Stephen Curry and held his own for a vast majority of that series.
Then there is Reaves, the golden child of this Lakers organization. Looking at him, you may think Reaves is a farmer, but he is a special basketball talent. The 25-year-old's unselfishness and high IQ is why he is such a great fit alongside LeBron, and he is going to be a different player come time for the start of the 2023-24 season.
Spending this summer with Team USA in the 2023 FIBA World Cup, Reaves ended up being arguably the best bench player in the tournament. The energy and change of pace he brings is special, which is why the Lakers are lucky to have him in their backcourt. Not to mention, Reaves is one of the best at drawing fouls and getting to the line, another advantage for James and Davis to get quick breaks in the middle of games.
In order to fight for and potentially win a championship in today's league, you have to be able to give the ball to more than just one or two star players. There is so much talent around the league right now that you can point to every single team and make a claim that they have at least one All-Star talent. The Lakers have championship-level depth in addition to their two stars, which is why they will enter the year as title favorites.
2023-24 season outlook
The hunt for their record-breaking 18th NBA championship has begun. The Lakers are definitely favorites to come out of the Western Conference and win the 2024 NBA Finals because of their vast amount of depth and simply because they have LeBron James.
Even at 38 years of age and starting to show signs of slowing down, James is still one of the most dominant talents in the league right now. As long as he is healthy, Los Angeles will have a chance to win any game they play simply because of how great he still is.
LeBron is the league's all-time leading scorer and all of that, but he is truly one of the greatest passers of all time. Every single year, James makes his teammates better because of his ability to create space and find them off the dribble. With other versatile scorers around him, the Lakers star could wind up finishing near the top of the league in assists.
The 2023-24 season is obviously championship or bust for the Lakers. They have invested a lot into James, they have invested a lot into Davis and this offseason was all about finding and retaining players who put this organization in a position to win right now.
Time is running out for James to win another title in his career, which is why this franchise decided to go all-in this summer. There are not many better rosters on paper ahead of training camp than the one the Lakers have right now.