In 2019, Kawhi Leonard essentially held the Los Angeles Lakers hostage to begin the NBA offseason, limiting what Lakers’ GM Rob Pelinka could do to bring in players to help the franchise truly compete for a 17th NBA title. And the Lakers still went out and won the title anyway while Leonard and the Clippers couldn’t even make it to the Western Conference Finals.
Yes, the Lakers won with two of the best players in the league in LeBron James and Anthony Davis but the role players that Pelinka was able to bring in played a huge part in helping LA match the rival Boston Celtics with the most NBA titles in history. Signings like Rajon Rondo, Danny Green, Alex Caruso, and Dwight Howard didn’t seem like big deals at the time but certainly paid off as the season progressed.
In 2020, without having to give the rest of the NBA a week-long head start, Pelinka has given LeBron and AD an even stronger supporting cast heading into the 2020-2021 season and clearly made the Lakers the overall winners of this short offseason. And he did it with no future first-round picks to trade and essentially no salary cap space, showing off just how creative he could be.
Dennis Schroder and Wesley Matthews were great additions to the backcourt
The Lakers made the very first trade of the NBA offseason by acquiring NBA Sixth Man of the Year runner-up Dennis Schroder from the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for Danny Green and the No. 28 pick in this year’s NBA draft. The Lakers couldn’t officially trade the pick given the Stepien Rule and drafted Washington forward Jaden McDaniels for the Thunder, who then traded his rights to the Minnesota Timberwolves. OKC also dealt Green to the 76ers.
As for the Lakers, their bench got a much-needed upgrade with the acquisition of Schroder, who can fill in for LeBron James when he goes to the bench, which could happen more often in a condensed season, and can also be a spot starter when necessary.
Losing Danny Green certainly shouldn’t hurt the Lakers as Rob Pelinka quickly replaced him with veteran shooter Wesley Matthews, who comes at a fraction of the cost and is a much better defender, which will certainly endear him to head coach Frank Vogel. Sure, LA might miss Green’s outside shooting but Matthews only shot 0.3% worse from the 3-point line last season so it’s not really a downgrade whatsoever.
Pelinka was also able to ink Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who has played very well alongside LeBron James, to a new three-year deal worth $40 million. The Lakers might have overpaid just a tad on that one but it’s a contract that Pelinka can use in future trades if he needs to do so.
The Lakers certainly upgraded at the center position
The Lakers will have a completely different look at the center position in 2020-2021. Dwight Howard claimed he would be re-signing with the Lakers but then took a deal with the Philadelphia 76ers and JaVale McGee was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers. But the Lakers have upgraded from both as Pelinka was able to sign three-time All-Star and former Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol and reigning NBA Sixth Man of the Year Montrezl Harrell to heavily-discounted deals.
Gasol signed a two-year deal for the veteran’s minimum and Harrell left plenty of money on the table (and likely a starting role with the Hornets) to join the Lakers, signing a two-year deal worth $19 million.
The Lakers weren’t the only team to upgrade but they’re the clear winners of the NBA offseason
Obviously, the LA Lakers weren’t the only team to upgrade during this short NBA offseason.
The Clippers lost one of their big pieces in Montrezl Harrell but were able to sign Serge Ibaka, which is a nice piece to put next to Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. Ibaka can also body up Nikola Jokic if the Clippers match up with the Denver Nuggets again in the playoffs, something Harrell struggled with this past postseason. The Clips were also able to hang onto Marcus Morris, who played well for them in the postseason, and also added backup shooting guard Luke Kennard, which is an upgrade.
The Portland Trail Blazers, whom the Lakers defeated in the first round on their way to the title, also had a nice offseason by making some quiet moves to bolster their roster, the biggest being the addition of Robert Covington, who was acquired via a trade with the Houston Rockets. Covington adds some much-needed defensive help and also takes some of the scoring pressure off of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. The Blazers also added Derrick Jones Jr. and re-signed Rodney Hood and Carmelo Anthony.
But the Lakers are still the clear winners of the offseason. They were already a dangerous team coming into the new season and are now even better than they were when they hoisted the Larry O’Brien Trophy back in October. Perhaps Rob Pelinka can finish higher than seventh in the NBA Executive of the Year voting next time around.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference