2024 NBA Offseason Preview: Los Angeles Lakers

In 2022/23, the Lakers started the season 2-10. Just before the February trade deadline, they were 25-31. After making a few trades, they went 18-8 to close the regular season. A play-in victory over Minnesota secured the West’s No. 7 seed.

After defeating the shorthanded Grizzlies in the first round in six games, the Lakers took out the Warriors — the defending champions at that point — in the second round in another six-game series. However, they were swept in the conference finals by the Nuggets, who went on to win their first title in 2023.

Head of basketball Rob Pelinka talked up continuity last offseason, ultimately re-signing Austin Reaves, Rui Hachimura, D’Angelo Russell and extending Jarred Vanderbilt.

One significant roster change was letting Dennis Schröder walk in free agency, essentially replacing him by signing Gabe Vincent. Due to a knee injury, Vincent was limited to just 11 games and largely struggled in the time he was on the court.

L.A. gave out three minimum-salary one-plus-one (one-year with a player option for year two) deals to Christian Wood, Jaxson Hayes and Cam Reddish. The results were underwhelming. To this point, only Wood has made a determination on his player option for ’24/25, opting in and securing $3MM.

Last summer, the Lakers used their bi-annual exception to sign Taurean Prince, who shot 39.6% from three-point range in his 78 regular season appearances, including 49 starts (27.0 minutes per contest). Prince’s outsized role was a source of external consternation from fans and was reportedly an issue internally as well, perhaps playing a factor in Darvin Ham getting fired as head coach.

Prince is one of only two unrestricted free agents for L.A. in 2024, along with Spencer Dinwiddie, a late-season buyout addition. For what it’s worth, both Prince and Dinwiddie have expressed a desire to return — it remains to be seen if that feeling is mutual.

In ’23/24, Anthony Davis played a career-high 76 games and LeBron James played 71, his most in six years. While they were successful in the minutes their two stars played, the Lakers did not play well at all when James and Davis were off the court. Their overall net rating of +0.6 ranked 19th in the league, and they were 15th in offense and 17th in defense — the definition of mediocre.

At the end of January, the Lakers were just 24-25. Another late-season surge saw them finish 23-10 for an overall mark of 47-35. Once again, the L.A. won its first play-in game — this time over New Orleans — to claim the West’s No. 7 seed.

Despite leading for the majority of the minutes in the series, the Lakers were vanquished again by the Nuggets, losing their first-round series in five games.

As previously noted, Ham was let go last month, so the Lakers have been searching for a new head coach. UConn’s Dan Hurley, winner of back-to-back NCAA titles, emerged as a surprising frontrunner last week, but ultimately stayed in college with the Huskies. J.J. Redick, the presumed favorite for the job before Hurley, will formally interview for the position this weekend, per ESPN.

The ongoing search is drawing all the headlines right now. It’s a huge market, it’s the Lakers, and they have the league’s most famous and accomplished current player. It’s only natural. But what Pelinka will be able to do with the roster is the bigger and more pressing concern. The Western Conference is only going to get more competitive next season, with teams like Memphis, Houston and possibly San Antonio looking to move up the standings and leapfrog the Lakers.

The Lakers’ Offseason Plan

The Lakers enter the offseason in a difficult position. James and Davis remain as potent as any duo in the league, but James turns 40 years old in December and is expected to play only a couple more years.

The team will look to be aggressive in the offseason with its three tradable first-round picks — No. 17 overall in the upcoming draft, and future first-rounders in 2029 and 2031.

If a star player requests a trade, the best package the Lakers can put together simply would not be competitive with teams stacked with draft assets and young players. That doesn’t mean L.A. won’t continue to be linked to star players, but the ones who could be realistically attainable have red flags.

Take Trae Young, for instance, a very talented but ball-dominant point guard. Going all-in for Young would likely cause more problems than solutions due to his maximum-salary contract and defensive limitations.

Zach LaVine‘s value is at an all-time low after season-ending foot surgery limited him to 25 games. His max deal will pay him $89MM over the next two seasons, with a $49MM player option for ’26/27. The Lakers probably wouldn’t have to give up very much to acquire the two-time All-Star, but would he help or hinder the club going forward?

Finding players who can contribute both in the short and long term while maintaining some semblance of future flexibility is an extremely difficult needle to thread. Especially when other teams know you want to get better but don’t have a clear path to doing so.

L.A. had a recipe for success around James and Davis four years ago when the team won the championship — a top-tier defense with role players who knew how to move the ball and could make enough shots to keep defenses honest. But 3-and-D players aren’t easy to acquire, as just about every team in the league wants more of them.

Alex Caruso, who won a ring with that title team before the Lakers let him walk in free agency a few years ago, would be a great on-court fit. However, he’s entering the final year of his contract, and the Bulls have reportedly placed a high asking price for defensive stalwart in the past couple transaction windows.

Dorian Finney-Smith is another player who has been linked to L.A. He’s a good player on a fairly reasonable contract. He also isn’t a player who is going to move the needle on his own, and I don’t think he’s worth any first-round picks.

James has a $51.4MM player option for ’24/25 and is widely expected to return in some fashion, whether it comes via an extension or opting out and re-signing. In addition to Hayes and Reddish, Russell also holds a player option valued at $18.7MM.

If James opts out and re-signs, he would be eligible for a full no-trade clause. That could appeal to him as he enters his age-40 season, although it’s very difficult to envision any scenario in which the Lakers would consider trading him anyway.

Let’s say all four players simply pick up their options. That leaves the Lakers with $178.75MM committed to 12 players. They also have a $3.83MM cap hold for the No. 17 overall pick and a potential $2.29MM qualifying offer — which is also the cap hold — to make second-year wing Max Christie a restricted free agent. That’s a total of about $184.9MM for 14 players.

The first luxury tax apron is projected to be $178.7MM. The second apron would be just shy of $189.5MM.

I don’t have a great feel for Christie’s market value because he hasn’t been a regular part of the team’s rotation in his first two seasons. He’s only 21 and has shown glimpses of being a valuable role player, but it’s hard to say how that will translate to his next contract. I do think the Lakers will re-sign him though, assuming it makes sense financially.

The problem with the above scenario is the Lakers weren’t a contender in ’23/24 and running things back isn’t a solution. Handing out all those player options in 2023 free agency may have secured additional commitments, but it made navigating the team’s books a more difficult proposition this summer.

Russell’s situation is interesting because if he signs with a rival team in free agency, the Lakers wouldn’t have to worry about the restrictions of the aprons at all — they might not even be a taxpayer ($171.3MM). But they’d also lose their starting point guard and a potential mid-sized contract to use for salary-matching in trades.

You could make an argument that ’23/24 was Russell’s best regular season as a pro, averaging 18.0 PPG, 3.1 RPG and 6.3 APG while turning it over at a career-low rate (2.1 per game). He scored efficiently (.588 TS%), including a career-high 41.5% from three-point range, and appeared in 76 games, his highest mark in five years.

However, he was abysmal in the playoffs again, averaging more field goal attempts (14.6) than points (14.2) per game. He was also targeted by Denver defensively for the second straight year. If it were his first rodeo, maybe it wouldn’t be particularly noteworthy, but the 28-year-old has consistently struggled under the bright lights of the postseason, with a career TS% of .484 in 32 games (just over 1,000 minutes).

Russell has always been a streaky scorer who has never been known for his defense. But if he struggles to score at the time of the season you need him most, how valuable do his regular season contributions actually end up being?

There is no easy answer to that question, which is why his market value is particularly tricky to gauge. He provides a certain baseline of skills that appeals to teams, despite being streaky. But I also don’t think there’s a team out there that views Russell as any type of long-term solution at point. He’s entering his 10th season, so an improvement over last season would likely be marginal.

Russell exercising his option would probably be a best-case scenario for the Lakers because he would remain trade-eligible and under contract. He might be flawed, but they also don’t have a straightforward way to replace what he brings to the table.

That’s the biggest problem with the Lakers right now. Their most appealing player asset — aside from James and Davis, of course — is Reaves, a good player on a great contract. Beyond that, the outlook is pretty bleak.

Hachimura had a solid regular season before struggling in the playoffs. He’s owed $35.3MM over the next two seasons — not an onerous deal by any means, but also not particularly team-friendly. He might appeal to certain teams, but not enough on his own to return anything of significant value.

Vanderbilt defends, hustles and rebounds, but he’s not a great offensive player, and he only played 29 games last season due to a nagging heel injury. He’s 25 and will make a little under the non-taxpayer mid-level exception, which certain teams can now use as a trade exception — an acquiring team potentially wouldn’t have to take salary back to acquire him.

Vincent is still owed $22.5MM over the next two years. It’s hard to view that contract as anything but a negative right now.

Guard Jalen Hood-Schifino, whom the team selected 17th overall in 2023, only played a total of 109 NBA minutes as a rookie last season. Injuries certainly were a factor, but he was also buried deep on the depth chart. This is not a slight at Hood-Schifino because he’s still very young and some things were out of his control. But after one year, the pick doesn’t look great for the front office — the three players selected immediately after Hood-Schifino were Jaime Jaquez, Brandin Podziemski and Cam Whitmore — two All-Rookie First Team members and an explosive athlete and scorer.

2023 second-rounder Maxwell Lewis played 103 minutes across 34 games as a rookie, averaging just 3.0 per contest. He’ll earn guaranteed salaries the next two seasons, with a $2.4MM team option for ’26/27.

If Russell declines his option and signs elsewhere, the Lakers would have access to the non-taxpayer mid-level exception. Free agents like De’Anthony Melton, Gary Trent Jr., Derrick Jones, Caleb Martin, Haywood Highsmith and Naji Marshall could make some sense as targets, though they might not all be available.

One thing that’s certain is the Lakers will still trying to be competitive in ’24/25, as New Orleans controls their 2025 first-round pick, which is unprotected. That is the final piece of the Davis trade from five years ago.

Salary Cap Situation

Guaranteed Salary

Non-Guaranteed Salary

  • None

Dead/Retained Salary

  • None

Player Options

Team Options

  • None

Restricted Free Agents

Two-Way Free Agents

Note: Because they are no longer eligible to sign two-way contracts, the qualifying offers for Giles and Mays would be worth their minimum salary (projected to be $2,432,511 for Giles and $2,244,249 for Mays). Those offers would each include a small partial guarantee.

Draft Picks

  • No. 17 overall pick ($3,830,280 cap hold)
  • No. 55 overall pick (no cap hold)
  • Total (cap holds): $3,830,280

Extension-Eligible Players

  • LeBron James (veteran)
    • Extension-eligible as of August 18; player option must be exercised.

Unrestricted Free Agents

Other Cap Holds

Note: The cap holds for these players are on the Lakers’ books from prior seasons because they haven’t been renounced. They can’t be used in a sign-and-trade deal.

Cap Exceptions Available

Note: The Lakers project to operate over the cap and over the first tax apron. If they’re below the first apron, they would gain access to the non-taxpayer mid-level exception ($12,859,000). If they’re above the second apron, they would lose access to the taxpayer mid-level exception.

  • Taxpayer mid-level exception: $5,183,000

Luke Adams contributed to this post.

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