The Los Angeles Lakers continuity as a team after winning the 2020 NBA championship has been at least questionable. They barely made the playoffs in the 2020-21 season, as they needed to go through the play-in tournament and they suffered a first-round exit at the hands of the Phoenix Suns.
Following their disappointing 2021 postseason appearance, the Lakers went all-in by trading for the Wizards’ Russell Westbrook giving up much of their depth to Washington last summer. Kyle Kuzma, Kevtavious Caldwell-Pope and Montrezl Harrell plus future draft assets left the LA franchise as GM Rob Pelinka opt to add more star power.
While the Lakers were among the favorites for the NBA title at the start of the 2021-22 season, the narrative quickly changed as the team never found a way to improve its chemistry and play as a contending team. Injuries to superstars LeBron James and Anthony Davis played a part in the Lakers’ struggles.
However, it’s not like the team was dominant when James, Davis, and Russell Westbrook were all available. Lack of depth, shooting and the inability to maximize Westbrook’s strengths throughout the season resulted in a 33-49 record. In the aftermath of their disappointing season, the franchise fired coach Frank Vogel.
The Lakers needed a change after three seasons with Vogel. They hired Darvin Ham as a first-time head coach, following the example of hiring long-time assistants that worked in winning environments throughout their careers. Ham was part of Mike Budenholzer’s staff for seven seasons and part of the Detroit Pistons’ team that won the 2004 NBA title.
Cap Situation in Offseason
The Lakers’ cap situation is not ideal. They have three max deals in their roster with James, Davis and Westbrook. Westbrook is expected to opt in the last year of his contract, worth $47M, while LeBron James is entering the last year of his contract worth $44M for the 2022-23 season. LeBron will be eligible to sign an extension this summer.
Davis has two more years in his contract, in addition to a player option for the 2024-25 season. According to spotrac.com, the Lakers will have four players under contract in James, Davis, Talen Horton-Tucker and Austin Reaves. Westbrook will be the fifth contract soon after opting in the last year of his current deal, which is considered a formality.
Aside from those five, the Lakers will have 12 potential free agents this summer, but not enough room to wiggle in the free agency. Kendricks Nunn, who missed most of the 2021-22 season due to injuries, has a $5M option for the upcoming season, while Stanley Johnson has a team option for next season.
Even if both players remain (which is considered very likely at this point), the Lakers will have only seven players under contract and no room to improve the team. LA will guarantee Austin Reaves, as he was a nice find on the undrafted market. And they’ll probably pick up the team option for Wenyen Gabriel as a solid roster-filler on team-friendly contract.
Los Angeles will use their Taxpayer MLE to snag a rotation player worth about $6.3M and that’s their only way to improve their roster in the upcoming offseason. The rest of the roster will most likely consist of off veteran players in minimum deals as they did last season after acquiring Westbrook.
Potential Free Agents, Trade Candidates
The Lakers have been really quiet in the NBA rumor mill this offseason. The lack of cap space hurt their chances to make a great free agent acquisition. Entering the free agent market, the LA franchise will likely have seven players under contract and only the MLE taxpayer to add pieces. Malik Monk was maybe the brightest spot on the Lakers’ team last season being at a minimum deal.
He will probably attract interest in the free agent market once the bigger names go off the board. Monk averaged 13.8 points, 3.4 rebounds and 2.9 assists through 76 games. According to Mike Scotto of Hoopshype, Malik Monk is projected to earn an average annual salary somewhere between the taxpayer and non-taxpayer mid-level exception. That would project to be somewhere between roughly the $6-10 million annual range.
However, he certainly can find a better deal somewhere else as an impact scoring option from the bench or as a starter in an up-and-coming team. In any case, Monk will remain the Lakers’ most interesting story of the offseason, if they can not trade Russell Westbrook to another team. It will be tough for the Lakers to find a trade partner for the 2016 MVP if they are not willing to part ways with more future assets.
A deal centered around Westbrook seems highly unlikely for now, as the franchise prefers to keep the guard for one more season than parting ways with future assets, per Marc Stein. The Lakers won’t have a pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, but, Rob Pelinka said recently that they will try to acquire a second-round pick. The LA franchise will need to find ways to add players in cheap deals, so a second-round pick will be an obvious option for them.
The situation for the LA franchise is not ideal. The Lakers will not have considerable space to improve the team. They hope that the hiring of Darvin Ham will change the tides, while Anthony Davis and LeBron James will remain healthy. Whether the Lakers keep Westbrook or not, adding more shooters will be a priority for them this offseason. Having limited options with their cap situation, the Lakers will have to be creative in order to improve.
The Western Conference is expected to be tougher next year. The rivals LA Clippers will have Kawhi Leonard back alongside Paul George, while Denver will likely have a healthy Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. alongside Nikola Jokic. The Suns and the Warriors will keep their core intact, and the Pelicans will have Zion Williamson back. The Lakers’ chances of a title run next season are certainly not seem high as of now.