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Offseason In Review: Los Angeles Lakers

Hoops Rumors is in the process of looking back at each team’s offseason, from the end of the playoffs in June right up until opening night. Trades, free agent signings, draft picks, contract extensions, option decisions, camp invitees and more will be covered as we examine the moves each franchise made over the last several months.



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Waiver Claims

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Draft Picks

Departing Players

Rookie Contract Option Decisions

Courtesy of USA Today Sports Images

Courtesy of USA Today Sports Images

More than half of last year’s roster is gone, so in one sense, this is a new beginning for the Lakers. Still, the purple-and-gold are stuck in the same non-contending circumstances in which they’ve found themselves since their star-studded 2012/13 underwhelmed, and whether the Lakers are any closer to escaping that realm is in the eye of the beholder. Executive VP of basketball operations Jim Buss believes the Lakers are “in dynamite position,” and though he meant it favorably with regard to the state of the franchise, some might have raised an eyebrow at his use of a term most commonly defined as an explosive.

Indeed, the Lakers’ reputation as a pre-eminent free agent destination has suffered serious damage over the past few years. The team’s presentation to LaMarcus Aldridge missed the mark, focusing far too much on business and not enough on basketball for the power forward’s liking. Their pitch to DeAndre Jordan was “somewhat underwhelming,” a source told Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times. Rumors consistently linked former UCLA standout Kevin Love to the Lakers, but he recommitted to the Cavs on the first day of free agency. The Lakers reportedly planned to target Goran Dragic but lost interest when they became enamored with D’Angelo Russell before the draft, according to Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News.

The addition of Russell turned out to be the most significant offseason move for the team, though early returns aren’t particularly favorable, thanks in large measure to coach Byron Scott‘s reluctance to play him during fourth quarters. Still, he’s only 19, and the Lakers clearly believe in him, taking a risk as they did to defy the conventional wisdom that center Jahlil Okafor and his polished offensive talents represented the best option outside of No. 1 pick Karl-Anthony Towns. Part of that had to do with the team’s belief that it could snag one of the top big men on the free agent market, which turned out to be misguided. Still, it became clear that the Lakers fell in love with Russell’s diverse offensive skill set. He played shooting guard at Ohio State, so it was a bit odd to see Scott use Russell’s acumen at the point as a rationale for picking him instead of Emmanuel Mudiay, who slipped to the Nuggets at No. 7. Mudiay probably has a higher ceiling, as Russell doesn’t have super athleticism, but scouts and executives had much more to go on with Russell, whose stock rose as he performed deftly for Ohio State last season.

Russell joins Julius Randle, who’s returned from a broken leg, along with an upgraded cast of veterans that had the team hoping it could focus on player development and win more games at the same time, as Medina told us in a recent edition of The Beat. The winning part hasn’t happened much yet, but Randle and Jordan Clarkson represent two of the top four Lakers in shots per game, so Scott hasn’t been afraid to go young. Naturally, Kobe Bryant leads the team in field goal attempts, but the other player in that top four, Lou Williams, joined the Lakers at the peak of his powers. Williams is coming off a Sixth Man of the Year award with the Raptors, though the team decided against offering him a chance to return as it instead decided to focus on defense. That’s an indictment of Williams, but his scoring prowess isn’t lacking, and the Lakers pounced on him for $7MM a year over the next three seasons, a bargain, especially considering the rising salary cap.

The Lakers will shell out much more than that for their lone trade acquisition. Roy Hibbert was the team’s fallback option when the marquee free agent big men went elsewhere, though GM Mitch Kupchak has expressed optimism that Hibbert will nonetheless become a core player. This is a trial season of sorts for the former All-Star whose game regressed in his last season and a half with Indiana. He’s on an expiring contract that’ll pay him nearly $15.6MM this season, though he’ll have to perform to make a case for a similar salary again next season, not to mention to keep his newfound spot as the Lakers starting center. Like Williams, he’s another player his old team seemingly didn’t want anymore. Still, the Lakers are asking him to concentrate on just one end of the floor, and if he can prove the game-changing defender he was in his heyday at Indiana, the Lakers will have Bird rights and seemingly an inside track to re-signing a key player.

The Lakers did come away with a well-regarded inside player, though Brandon Bass is apparently on the roster for his abilities as a complementary player and as a veteran mentor for Randle, whom the Lakers have chosen to start instead of Bass at power forward. Bass is also ostensibly around to aid the development of Larry Nance Jr., the power forward out of Wyoming who was the team’s other first-round pick this year. The 30-year-old Bass is making a positive contribution on the court even in limited minutes, doing the finest per-36-minute work on the glass of his career so far. He comes cheaply at a salary of just $3MM this season, but the Lakers may only benefit from him for a year, since he has a player option for next season.

No such early exit clause is a part of Nick Young‘s contract, perhaps a factor in the team’s inability to find a trade partner willing to take him in a deal the Lakers found palatable. The team reportedly abandoned its exploration of the trade market for him over the summer after coming up empty. It leaves the scorer in a reduced role with Russell and Williams in the backcourt, but he’s still a part of the rotation, and with salaries of $5-6MM a year between now and 2017/18, he doesn’t eat too much of the cap.

The Lakers can offset salaries they don’t want with bargain finds like Marcelo Huertas, who’s at the back end of the rotation on a deal for the rookie minimum salary. They also have Metta World Peace on a minimum-salary deal, but he hasn’t been an on-court factor and seems to chiefly be around as another mentor for Randle.

World Peace and Bryant are reminders of the Lakers’ gloried past, one that casts a broad shadow over the team’s rebuilding project. It’s one that seems likely to take time, and ultimately, the Lakers will probably have to reckon with the interpretation primary owner Jeanie Buss takes of her brother’s promise to step down if the team isn’t contending again soon. Jeanie Buss believes it’s a vow to resign if the team doesn’t reach the Western Conference Finals this season or next, though Kupchak apparently doesn’t see it that way, and Jim Buss isn’t focused primarily on making the playoffs for this season.

Kupchak sees Clarkson and Russell as the team’s backcourt of the next 10 to 12 years, and if they show signs this year that they’re capable of becoming a long-term starting guard tandem, it’ll also serve as a positive bellwether of the team’s ability to draft. The Lakers owe a top-three protected first-round pick to the Sixers this season, and they still must give a first-rounder to Orlando to pay off the ill-fated Dwight Howard trade. The draft will nonetheless be as important a tool as any for a franchise that’s clearly no longer the free agent draw it once was.

Eddie Scarito contributed to this post. The Basketball Insiders salary pages were used in the creation of it.

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3 thoughts on “Offseason In Review: Los Angeles Lakers

  1. Daniel

    Trade hibbert for a 1st round pick this in 2016 and trade swaggy and Lou Williams for draft picks as well

    • jeremy

      so you want to trade our best big man. then who going to play center? under size black who got replace by bass who more of a PF or scare who hasnt played all year.

    • Arthur Hill

      It’s probably too early for the Lakers to start trading talent for draft picks, but it’s something they should consider closer to the deadline in February. How high a pick do you think they could get for Hibbert?

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