Good news for LeBron James and Anthony Davis: The Los Angeles Lakers are getting Chris Paul, Kyle Lowry, Lonzo Ball, Kawhi Leonard, and DeMar DeRozan. Followed soon afterward by Kareem, Magic, James Worthy, and the robot at the Olympics that’s been burying half-court shots as halftime entertainment.
Don’t buy the Jerry West rumor, however. He’s adamant about staying retired no matter how badly the Lakers need guards.
And no matter how out of control the hype gets.
Jalen Rose offers a rare sane take on the Lakers’ future
All 200 stories you’ve already read this month about the Lakers’ personnel options for the 2021-22 NBA season pretty much mention the same thing: Kyle Kuzma, with three years and $39 million left on his contract, is trade bait. Dennis Schroder, a pending free agent, is sign-and-trade bait.
That much is undoubtedly true. On the other hand, the expectations for what the Lakers can do to fix their roster are out of control. Otherwise-rational fans think the rest of the league will roll over to accommodate the Lakers, who are one year removed from one NBA championship and many more than that away from their next.
ESPN analyst Jalen Rose recognizes Kuzma as attractive to other teams, but with limitations. But Rose is one of the few people to realize that Lakers aren’t trading him for his potential value to other teams as much as for his lack of value to LA. With James and Davis in place, the 6-foot-10 forward doesn’t make the Lakers better unless the big two experience another injury-filled season.
Even then, Kuzma wouldn’t put the Lakers over the top.
“He can be a champion in LA, but he can’t maximize his potential just by the sheer geometry of their lineup. LeBron James and Anthony Davis are going to play the lion’s share of minutes up front and you can’t have all three of those guys really on the floor. Therefore, he’s not going to be able to score the kind of buckets that he has the potential of scoring.”Jalen Rose
Anyone trading for Kuzma, then, acquires unrealized potential rather than confirmed reliability. There’s still value there, but the Lakers aren’t going to get disproportionate value in exchange for what rivals recognize is just a spare part for LA.
The Lakers have a lot of issues to resolve
James and Davis will account for $76.5 million of the Lakers’ payroll next season. Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and Marc Gasol are the only other veterans under contract. Everyone else on the roster is a free agent, though LA can probably retain guards Alex Caruso and Talen Horton-Tucker.
Throw in their first-round draft pick, and that gives the Lakers an eight-man foundation, which is why they want to move Kuzma and Caldwell-Pope. The way-too-rosy scenario their fans seem to be hoping for is that those two players bring the Lakers two useful pieces while the projected Schroeder sign-and-trade gains them another.
And that’s where the dream dies with respect to Schroder and his unrealistic contract expectations. Acquiring players via sign-and-trades triggers the hard cap, a reality that will limit where the Lakers can ship him and what they can get in return.
After accounting for the contract(s) they would be acquiring in the sign-and-trade, the Lakers can more or less forget about signing impact free agents unless Brooklyn Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie leaves money on the table in exchange for coming home to LA.
In essence, then, the speculation around the Lakers successfully revamping their roster is mostly pie-in-the-sky crap.
LeBron James and Anthony Davis hold the key
Lakers fans need to start resigning themselves to reality. The team’s best hope for improvement in the 2021-22 season is keeping James and Davis healthy.
Those two alone keep LA competitive for another year, and trading Kuzma and Caldwell-Pope doesn’t necessarily improve their overall talent but perhaps redistributes talent to address deficiencies.
Almost anything else they do would put them up against the hard cap of around $140 million. With James and Davis eating up more than half that sum, fielding a team with the depth necessary for a deep playoff run in 2022 simply is not in the cards.