The Los Angeles Lakers had one goal going into the 2022 offseason adding some “fresh legs” to the team after a disappointing 33-49 record during the 2021-22 campaign that headlined by one of the oldest teams ever appeared in the NBA.
Under new head coach Darvin Ham the Lakers were expected to add younger players, who are willing to sacrifice and play for their head coach. The LA franchise added athleticism and players with two-way potential in the roster.
They bought a second-round draft pick to select forward Max Christie, who showed some of his potential in the NBA G League, while they signed Scotty Pippen Jr. and Cole Swider to two-way deals.
In addition to that, they signed Lonnie Walker IV, another young player with two-way potential and immense athletic ability to run the combo guard position. Troy Brown Jr. is also an athletic forward with great defensive upside.
Damion Jones and Thomas Bryant returned to the Lakers’ organization to back up Anthony Davis, while Bryant will likely assume a starting role alongside Davis adding length and an extra option in the paint for Ham.
Juan Toscano-Anderson became the final free agency addition for the team, which hopes to return to prominence next season after two consecutive disappointments followed the 2020 NBA title run in the Orlando “bubble”.
The Lakers had one of the worst defenses in the NBA last season. The defense is slightly better on paper this season, but none of the acquisitions are game-changers by any means.
Christie is a nice player, but is probably too far away to help a team with championship aspirations. Brown and Walker could not curve out a steady role with their previous teams, and Ham and co. will have to rebuild their value.
Toscano-Anderson will offer energy off the bench after winning the 2022 NBA championship with the Warriors. The Lakers hope to bring some of the Warriors’ winning habits with him, along with his defensive and energetic approach to the game.
The Lakers were 28th in defense last season, allowing 115.1 points per contest, while they were bottom ten in defensive rating with 113.3 points per 100 possessions. The Lakers will hope to improve in this department with the current roster.
Russell Westbrook future
Even with a better squad in the defensive end, the Lakers did not address another issue from last season. Last season, the team shot just 34 percent from beyond the arc in a team with the creative force of Russell Westbrook and LeBron James.
The lack of shooting was followed by poor spacing in the offense, as Westbrook was not a good fit with James in the starting lineup. The veteran star has repeatdly considered a trade centerpiece in any rumor referring to the Lakers’ organization.
Darvin Ham repeatedly claimed he envisions the Lakers’ 2022-23 season with Westbrook as a big part of his plan. However, Westbrook is still involved in trade rumors even for players like Buddy Hield, who will likely be the Plan B of the team if they fail to trade for Kyrie.
“Russ is one of the best players our league has ever seen and there is still a ton left in that tank. I don’t know why people tend to try to write him off,” Ham said in his introductory press conference.
“We talked in our conversations and the biggest word we used was ‘sacrifice’. I want him to go back to being a pitbull on the defensive end, and everything else is gonna flow from there.”
Last year, Russell Westbrook was unable to lead Los Angeles to the playoffs and averaged 18.5 points, 7.4 rebounds and 7.1 assists in 78 games. His offensive struggles were complimented by his lack of focus in the defensive end.
Ham will have to find ways to integrate Westbrook more in both ends of the floor and keep him engaged in what will be another tough fit for him with the current roster. The Lakers really would hope injuries to the rest of the star crew to be the main reason for Westbrook’s inability to mesh with the team last season.
The Lakers will likely consider themselves contenders entering the 2022-23 season. With LeBron James entering his 20th season of his career and the last year of his current contract with the franchise, the Lakers will have to remain competitive.
On the other end, the franchise is hesitant to give up any future assets to improve their “win-now” chances as the talks around Kyrie Irving hit a staple with Brooklyn demanding two future first-rounders to complete the trade.
In that case, Russell Westbrook will leave the team and be replaced by Irving, who wants to play with LeBron James, per multiple reports. As of now, the Lakers have to dig themselves out of a hole they created.
James is an expiring contract, the same goes for Westbrook, and even if Kyrie Irving joins the team, he will also be under contract only for the 2022-23 season. Irving hasn’t showcased the consistency to remain on the floor with a team the last five years.
The one thing the Lakers can build upon is putting together a good team and make the current newcomers more valuable for them and the rest of the league. In that case, they can use them as assets to serve their needs on whatever goal they set for the future.
All in all, it will be an interesting season in LA with the Lakers hoping to have a healthy squad in place for the start of the new season.