Looking Ahead to a Big Los Angeles Lakers Off-Season

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Much has been discussed before and during this season about the upcoming Lakers off-season and the way they’re positioning themselves financially to be aggressive in the free agent market this summer. The Lakers have several expiring deals and could clear over 50 million in salary cap space depending on what they do with some of those guys.

Brook Lopez aquired by trade, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in a one year deal, Julius Randle and whether or not he’s extended, and Corey Brewer are all up. So that and a couple other minor moves and the organization is able to add a max level contract or two. That could be one max level player and then bringing a couple of the aforementioned players back or two max contracts depending on a lot of factors.

Looking Ahead to a Big Los Angeles Lakers Off-Season

Luol Deng and his massive contract puts the Lakers in a position where they probably need to stretch him. It’s a provision that allows them to effectively cut the player but extend the money and how it impacts the cap to a longer duration. This could free up enough money with some other moves that allows the Lakers to really make a splash.

So who are those other guys? Potentially LeBron James, Paul George, Demarcus Cousins, some big names, lots of other options but who do the Lakers try and sign?

The core group of Lakers for the future

Lonzo Ball is an athletic 6’6 that is quick, can really handle, distribute, get a team out in transition, get easy buckets, always makes the unselfish play of passing ahead early in transition, reversing it quickly in the half court and overall is great for ball movement and the overall group. He makes others around him better and doesn’t have to dribble it to death and late clock make the key pass. He’s very comfortable getting the hockey assist. The pass that leads to the pass that results in a score. The only real knock on him, because he defends and rebounds and plays hard and players like playing with him is that he’s struggled some with his shooting percentages.

For a rookie, Ball, still early in his first season, it’s clear that he’ll just continue to improve in all areas. Look at the Jason Kidd’s and Magic Johnson’s and Russell Westbrook’s of the World and you’ll find a lot of great players at the point guard position that didn’t necessarily demonstrate perfect shooting from the perimeter early in their careers. He’s been better the last few weeks finding much more consistency and it won’t happen overnight but over the years this won’t be the media focus any longer and he will be a great player. He already does so many things well that the casual fan may not always appreciate as much as the X% and PPG numbers that dominate the media focus.

Brandon Ingram is another great athlete for his position. Long and wirey and quick for his height is a good combination in today’s NBA. He’s 6’9 and can handle like a combo guard even handling some point duties when Ball is resting. They’ll regularly throw it ahead to B.I. and let him get into those quick pick and rolls and see if he can be a creator for the drive and kick or to finish at the rim himself early. He’s also showing the ability to be on the ball late in the clock with his combination of a quick first step, a handle to create his own shot, and that length to just pull up and bury that jumper. He’s not a 40% plus 3 point shooter yet on a consistent basis but he can shoot and he’s continuing to see improvement to all areas of his game – still only 20. He’ll get bigger too, look at Durant and his maturation process. We hope Ingram can continue to climb the ladder to elite player status someday.

Kyle Kuzma is just silky smooth with a quick release and accurate jumper that his whole game can play off of. If he’s open he can knock it down at a 40 clip… he’s been deadly. He also can put the ball on the floor against the closing out defender and finishes with hooks and floaters in the mid-range and gets all the way to the bucket as well. He can score. Barring injury Kuzma is 20ppg already (17.7ppg currently). How much more upside is in there?

Kuzma is already a great shooter but he has looked like a rookie on defense a few times. Offensively he’s a bit of a mismatch for players. He shoots too well and is too quick for a lot of 4’s but he’s too big and has a few moves in low against the smaller wing defender. Defensively he has some of the same issues but in reverse. Bigger NBA power forwards can back him down a bit like Taj Gibson showed on Christmas, but quicker 3’s especially when teams go small and it’s really a combo guard or a 2 on both wings; having Kuzma match-up with some of those guys will cause Kyle to get beat off the dribble now and again. He’ll continue to physically mature and I see with the weight room and how the league is getting smaller that the power forward position is his future – especially with Ingram at the 3 who has a little more handle and sits down on the defensive end a little better against quicker players. He’ll get stronger too.

Future growth potential for the Lakers young core

Ingram is a little light in the wallet for the 3 just like Kuzma is for the 4. But we were all a lot thinner when we were 20 too – couple that with being 6’9 and understanding the typical NBA game for a player that is playing starters minutes is the equivalent in some calculations to running 7-8 miles in one game. Often the NBA schedule has 4 games a week and long travel and you quickly get why it will take a little time for them to add more power to their game – more size. So what do those guys need? What about Larry Nance, Jordan Clarkson or Josh Hart? Who starts? And what position is played by who? Can a clear path to a bigger and stronger Ball and Ingram coupled with increased range on their shots and accuracy as it relates to their shooting percentages both from distance and also from the foul line seem like clear areas for improvement. I don’t know if players like Kuzma or Hart have the same obvious areas they can greatly improve although they will improve as well. What about players now a few years into their careers like Randle and Clarkson. Are they pretty much now what they’re going to be?

Let’s examine the upcoming free agent class

James is more of a power forward these days but he’s so athletic at this stage of his career he can still guard multiple positions. Would signing James force the Lakers to bring someone like Ingram or Kuzma off the bench? I think so – probably Kuzma. You don’t want any of them matched up the whole game with someone 6’3 and point guard handles playing ISO on the wing. But the Lakers switch so much and will continue to do so either way so pick and roll defense with multiple 6’8-6’9 athletes is terrific. I still don’t think, even in position-less basketball, that you can have three players that are really SF/PF’s 40 minutes plus a game. But it’s much easier done with one of the guys subbing for the other two and keeping all of them fresh.

What about Paul George? He’s capable of playing 2, 3 or 4 and a few years younger. They’re both incredible athletes and the Lakers would probably love to figure out a way to sign both but George might be the more obvious replacement to slide into Caldwell-Pope’s spot. What about Lebron at 4 and bringing Caldwell-Pope back? Ingram starts at 3 and Kuzma comes in and can play with James or Ingram and keep pressure on the opponent from start to finish. Lots of possible combinations but I still think Paul George at that 2 spot makes the Lakers really long and athletic. Is Paul George better at guarding a quick shooting guard better than Ingram or even James? Will he be 3-4 years from now? Because anyone we sign like that along with our youth, we really have to project out how they fit several years down the line to be prudent.

What about a real center?

What does he bring? What do we need from that spot? The league is getting smaller and Walton likes to switch as much as possible. You can see an obvious difference in the strategy defensively when Lopez or Bogut is on the floor versus going to small ball and switching everything with Randle. Do the Lakers underestimate that skill from Randle in a league that is going to more and more small lineups without a true 5 on the court? Demarcus Cousins isn’t going to switch out on point guards the whole game either but could they play a style defensively with Cousins that is in line with their current tactics with Lopez or Bogut and then have a small ball 5 that they go to in the middle of the games? Is that player Randle?

This is really out there maybe but when the opposing center in the middle of games is really a power forward, Couldn’t James if he was in a rotation at some of those times play a small ball 5? Crazy right? I think that team would get some easy transition buckets.

Switching defenses and position-less basketball in the modern NBA

Switching defenses is the way a lot of the league is going to. Much like the fullback or the blocking tight end in football. In today’s NBA you’re seeing quicker lineups too as the game is played at an increased pace and with better spacing then the bigger, less mobile, and limited range bigger players seem to be getting phased out. Meanwhile, the Warriors and how they use Durant and Draymond Green together at bigger spots is clearly something Walton has brought to the Lakers.

Who the Lakers have playing at the center position next season will greatly impact what defense is deployed at what point in the game. The keys to a switch isn’t positions 2, 3, and 4. It’s 1 and 5! If you have a point guard that is strong, long, and athletic for his size that helps a lot. Same goes for the super mobile big man that can guard smaller players on the perimeter.

Who do you think is the best fit with our roster moving forward? Who do you bring back to fit with that guy? Do you sign two max free agents? Who? Signing 2 will probably make it impossible to keep Lopez, Randle, Caldwell-Pope, Brewer and probably Clarkson too. Is that a sacrifice you’d make to add two superstars?

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One of the only American basketball coaches to lead professional teams in the top league on the continents of North America, Europe, and Asia. Terrell coached overseas for a decade in leagues such as CBA China, FIBA Europe, Latin America, Canada, and several of the more well known minor leagues in the States. His writing has included Eurobasket and Better Basketball Magazine. Terrell now has work featured on Last Word on Pro Basketball and has a podcast covering the NBA game.

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