The Los Angeles Lakers had a rollercoaster of a season; they started 2-10, clawed their way to the play-in, and then made a run, ultimately losing to the champion Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference Finals.
Lebron James is one of the greatest ever, and it’s always championship or bust for him, but after a few disappointing seasons, this was a great year for them. Free Agency officially starts today at 5 p.m. E.T.; see below for what the Lakers need to do this offseason to ensure they can compete for a Championship in 2024.
Thing #3: Hold onto their restricted free agents.
After the 2021 Season, Alex Caruso, who was pivotal for the Lakers championship run the year prior, had his contract up for negotiation as a restricted free agent. Caruso wanted to be a Laker, but the Lakers didn’t offer a contract that he felt was just, and he ended up signing with the Chicago Bulls for four years and $36 million.
Austin Reaves and Rui Huichimaru are in similar positions this offseason, and the Lakers cannot afford to let them walk. Reaves and Huichumaru, outside of James and Anthony Davis, were the two best players on the team, and each had big moments in the playoffs.
Reaves became one of the Lakers’ most versatile threats, efficient in pick-and-roll and one-on-one situations while knocking down timely threes as a spot-up shooter. He’s shown he’s not afraid of taking the big shots and is precisely the type of perimeter player James needs during long playoff runs. He averaged 16.9 points per game during the playoff run and is just scratching his potential as a player.
Huichimuari, standing at 6’8, became a matchup nightmare, overpowering smaller guards on the switch in the post. While shooting 48.7 percent from three, his boost off the bench was paramount; his size and scoring ability are precisely what you need in today’s NBA from the wing position.
Lakers GM Rob Pelinka must keep these restricted free agents by any means and not let them walk like Caruso. This is by far the most important thing for the Lakers this offseason.
Thing #2: Stay Calm.
Slightly before not resigning, Caruso in the summer of 2021 The Lakers made a blockbuster trade, sending Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell Pope, and picks to the Washington Wizards for Russell Westbrook.
The move ultimately didn’t pan out, as Westbrook was traded this past year for D’Angelo Russell, Jared Vanderbilt, and Malik Beasley in a three-team deal involving the Utah Jazz and Minnesota Timberwolves.
The fit alongside James and Davis wasn’t good to begin with, but most importantly, it felt like a move made out of desperation. It’s more clear now than ever how important three- and D-type players like them are for championship success. Pope was a huge factor in Denver’s championship run, and Kuzma is expected to receive a big offer this summer.
It’s crucial that the Lakers don’t attempt to make a blockbuster trade for one star, which will give up depth and their few remaining assets.
Thing #1: Make good use of cap exceptions.
The Lakers don’t have the cap space to sign a big name this offseason. However, they can do a few things to upgrade their roster without ruining their finances. Thus far, Mo Bamba and Shaquille Harrison have been waived. The Lakers also didn’t pick up Malik Beasley’s $16.5 million contract option.
This ensures that the Lakers remain below the luxury tax cap threshold and can use the available mid-level exception worth $12.4 million to sign a free agent. They also have a biannual exception available worth $5.4 million.
Jacob Poetle is a center that could be a great fit. Poetle has been on the Spurs and Raptors for the past few seasons, two teams with not much success. He’s coming off a 3-year, $26.5 million deal. The Mid-level exception would be a pay cut, but it would give him a chance to compete for a title that could be of value to him.
The Nikola Jokic and Aaron Gordon combination reminded everyone across the league of the importance of size in the postseason. This acquisition would allow the Lakers to throw another body on Jokic and allow Ad to roam the paint, a strategy that worked at times for them with a smaller Huichumuara on Jokic.
The Lakers own D’Angelo Russell’s rights and can offer him a 2-year, $67.5 million-dollar extension. After averaging 14.7 points per game against the Warriors, Russell was practically unplayable against the Nuggets. He had a negative plus-minus of -41 through the first three games, causing him to be benched in game four for Dennis Schroeder.
It’s an unfortunate situation because you don’t want to lose an asset like Russell for nothing, but after his postseason performance, it’s hard to commit that much money to a player who might not be in your closing lineup.
It’s best the Lakers let him walk and use the Bi-Annual to bring back Schroeder. Or they could hope and pray that they can find a suitor for a sign and trade. The Lakers have good pieces, and if they can make some of these moves, they’ll be right back where they were next year, giving James a chance to get his fifth championship.