Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James has two left years in his contract. It wouldn’t be surprising if he calls it quits after this. Fan or not, the end of a baller’s legendary career will bring tears to anyone’s eyes. For the Lakers front office, this is not the time to be emotional. The only right thing to do this offseason is to make sure James is equipped with the right players. The free agency and trade market picture will take time to fully unravel. But from inside, it’s already clear who the Lakers need to boot out of their squad.
The Lakers still have a good chance to win at least one title before James retires. Rob Pelinka may his game plan ready for the offseason. But just for the sake of it, here are the 3 changes the Lakers must make this offseason to keep LeBron James happy.
Kyle Kuzma surprised everyone with his stellar rookie campaign in 2017. He came in as the 27th overall pick but basically outperformed Lonzo Ball, the Lakers’ second pick. When LeBron James arrived, he seemed the perfect fit for the legend. Kuzma had a scoring mentality within him. It was amazing to see him make great reads on offense with James on the floor. We can say that Lakers fans witnessed a peak Kuzma during their title run last year. Yes, we saw a decline in his numbers. But overall, he was a reliable scoring option behind the star duo of LeBron and Anthony Davis.
But in the 2020-21 NBA season, there was clearly something amiss about Kuzma. He averaged a career-low 12.9 points in the regular season. In the playoffs, Kuzma made matters worse by averaging just 6.3 points. This was the time when the Lakers’ needed him the most given Davis’ injury. Yet there he was, not stepping up on offense. Embedded in the minds of Lakers fans are the plethora of Kuzma’s missteps and errors. All of them want Kuzma out.
Get a Third Star or a Decent Set of Role Players
Guard Dennis Schroder could be considered the third star of the team. However, it was evident that he didn’t seem to complement James and Davis well. Add the fact that he rejected the four-year, $84 million contract extension in March. He clearly wants to get paid. But Rob Pelinka must be scratching his head right now if Schroder is worth a heftier deal.
The right move now is to just move away from Schroder and hunt for big fish — be it in the form of a star player or a set of veteran role players. Damian Lillard, provided he requests a trade, maybe the biggest fish out there. But given his massive contract, the Lakers might have to give up key pieces from their roster, particularly Alex Caruso or Talen Horton-Tucker (a matter that will be discussed later). And that’s not really the most ideal scenario. The same goes for Bradley Beal who’s been in the rumor mill all season long.
Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum may be a more feasible trade target. He’s one heck of a potent scorer who could either create his own shots or patiently wait for the catch-and-shoot. A package will likely include Kentavious Caldwell-Pope or Kyle Kuzma as they are the most tradeable players right now. The Lakers will be well over the luxury tax but they understand that this is a necessity to be able to win.
However, the Lakers can avoid burning a hole through their wallet by getting DeMar DeRozan who’s going to be an unrestricted free agent. The man is turning 32-years-old and he himself does not expect to receive any more lucrative deals other than a mid-level exception. His lack of a stroke from downtown may be a cause of concern. However, the other aspects of his game — his perfection of the perimeter shot, improved passing game, and overall experience — will make up for everything.
In terms of role players, Lakers fans should keep their eyes on Buddy Hield, Malcolm Brogdon, Robert Covington. The Lakers can probably get two of the three. Safe to say that all of these three players can perfectly complement James and Davis. Except for Hield, the two guys are excellent defenders. Brogdon has been working on his stroke from deep, too. All in all, three-and-D players and pretty much key fixtures in James’ championship teams. And these players fit the bill.
Keep Caruso and THT
In their quest for a third star of a decent set of role players, the Lakers might inevitably give up either Alex Caruso or Talen Horton-Tucker. The two guards have performed extremely well for the Lakers for the past season or two. Much has been said about Caruso’s high basketball IQ. Horton-Tucker, too, has shown off his scoring prowess as a member of the Lakers’ second unit. Unfortunately, other teams have been eyeing them as well. These two players will likely be inserted into a trade package headlined by Kuzma or KCP.
It’s likely that THT will be the one to go given his inexperience. Apart from this, the details of his contract can get a bit awry for the Lakers as he fits in the Gilbert Arenas Provision” that was added to the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement in 2005. Eric Pincus discusses the matter clearly in his video.
It would be best to check out the video to get a clear understanding of the technicalities of the THT situation. But the short version is this: the first and second year of his new deal is pretty manageable. The first year cannot exceed the non-taxpayer and mid-level exception while the second has a five five percent increase.
However, after the first two years, THT would have some experience by then. And by this provision (and of course, provided that he performs well), he could be eligible for up to $82 million overall. The Lakers, who are well-above the cap, can choose to pay up the luxury tax. However, LeBron James’ contract will expire right as THT’s contract jumps. This would basically mean that the Lakers will lose the ability to lure another big-name free agent. One could argue that they could just press the reset button and rebuild. But this is not what the Lakers are all about. Once they do this, then they might see Anthony Davis walk.