Technically speaking, the Los Angeles Lakers have undertaken a relatively quiet offseason thus far. Facing expectations of yet another personnel overhaul, the Lakers' roster moves have been mildly underwhelming (though not surprising, considering their limited flexibility).
Of course, the supernova awaiting explosion is whatever decision gets made regarding Russell Westbrook, whose relationship with the franchise seems rockier than ever (a cordial phone call notwithstanding). Whether Los Angeles swaps Russ for Kyrie Irving, ships him elsewhere, or sends him home will most certainly end up being the most consequential development before next season. (LeBron James' actions on Aug. 4 will get the silver medal).
So, with Summer League wrapped and no NBA-related events on the docket before training camp, let's identify the most encouraging choice the Lakers made this offseason — not including the hiring of Darvin Ham, which may turn out to be the most prudent of all.
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Lakers Best Move Of 2022 NBA Offseason: Getting younger!
None of the Lakers' free agent signings will dramatically move the needle on their own. Collectively, though, the front office's roster-revising approach indicated a necessary philosophical shift.
Last year, the Lakers — operating on LeBron's timeline and recognizing his proclivity to be surrounded by proven veterans — opted for experience, past production, and name recognition over athleticism, versatility, and youth. Including Westbrook, the Lakers added nine players over the age of 30: Carmelo Anthony, Trevor Ariza, Dwight Howard, DeAndre Jordan, Wayne Ellington, Rajon Rondo, Kent Bazemore, and Avery Bradley. In addition to being various degrees of washed, the prideful vets consistently came up short in the “hustle plays” and “overcoming adversity” departments, and, predictably, weren't exactly thrilled when out of the rotation. The team woefully lacked speed, bounce, and grit. (Relatedly, only Jordan is currently employed.)
The Summer of '22 has told a different story. After picking up the contracts of Stanley Johnson (26 years old), Wenyen Gabriel (25), and Austin Reaves (24), the Lakers inked five free agents under 30: Juan Toscano-Anderson (29), Damian Jones (27), Thomas Bryant (24), Lonnie Walker IV (23), and Troy Brown Jr. (22). Each player should supply the team with some combination of culture-setting, athleticism, consistent effort, defensive ability, and room to grow under the organization's lauded player development infrastructure.
Los Angeles also selected 19-year-old potential 3-and-D Max Christie in the second round of the 2022 NBA Draft and signed two promising prospects, Cole Swider and Scotty Pippen Jr., to two-way contracts.
“We have to get younger,” Pelinka said after the Christie pick. “We have to start developing players. Last year we saw the impact of Stanley Johnson, Wenyen Gabriel, and Austin Reaves. I think the wrong thing to do in the draft is to get a guy who can play in the NBA right now. That’s when you can make big mistakes. We want players to help in the present time but can develop into something special.”
16 of the Lakers' 17 roster spots (including two-ways) are filled. LeBron and Russ are the only two members over 30.
“I think we’ve gotten younger. I think we’ve gotten faster. I think we’ve gotten hungrier,” Ham told reporters in Vegas. “Between Juan Toscano-Anderson, Lonnie Walker, Troy Brown Jr., Damian Jones, Thomas Bryant, and even some of our young kids — Cole, Scotty, Max — guys are hungry, and they look up to our Big Three and they really want to do everything in their power and their energy level to come out and help them. Just compete, compete, compete, compete. That’s what it’s all about.”
The Lakers will probably need to pull the trigger on a Kyrie deal (if possible) if they want to credibly vault into contention. For now, though, Lakers fans can take solace in the fact that the organization seems to be learning from the miscalculations of 2021-22. If nothing else, they'll play a lot harder and faster.