Lakers show much better urgency, understanding in second summer with LeBron James
NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.
LeBron James’ teams have an implicit mandate: Compete for championships.
He’s good enough to singlehandedly elevate a team near that level. As he approaches the end of his prime, it’s even more important to optimize each year.
The Lakers drastically failed in that regard last season.
They made amends this offseason.
Los Angeles added a superstar, upgraded its supporting cast and hopefully gave LeBron time to get healthy. Yet, the Lakers still face major uncertainty. Such is life in the wide-open NBA — especially with the Lakers’ uninspiring front office.
The Lakers did well to add Anthony Davis. He’s an elite two-way big whose finishing could could fit well with LeBron’s playmaking and can cover a lot of ground defensively. But make no mistake: The cost was high — Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, the No. 4 pick, two future first-rounders (including one that can be deferred), first-round swap rights to the Pelicans and Moritz Wagner, Isaac Bonga, Jemerrio Jones and a second-rounder to the Wizards. Los Angeles depleted nearly every asset to get Davis. Also bake into the price that Davis seemed likely to sign with the Lakers next summer even if they didn’t acquire him sooner.
Again, this was worth it considering LeBron’s timeline. The Lakers couldn’t waste another year waiting for Davis.
They’ll have to wait for a third star, though. Kawhi Leonard chose the Clippers, leaving Los Angeles’ other team loading up on role players.
The Lakers selected far better than last season, placing more emphasis on outside shooting and defense – essential skills around LeBron. But the signings still run the gamut from clear-and-obvious Danny Green (two years, $30 million) to poor-fitting Rajon Rondo (1+1, minimum).
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (1+1 with starting salary of $8,089,282), Jared Dudley (one year, minimum), Alex Caruso (two years, $5.5 million), JaVale McGee (1+1 with starting salary of $4 million), Quinn Cook (two years, $6 million with second season unguaranteed), Dwight Howard (one year, unguaranteed minimum), Troy Daniels (one year, minimum) and Avery Bradley (1+1 with starting salary of $4,767,000) land in between.
DeMarcus Cousins also signed with the Lakers, but he’ll likely miss the season with a torn ACL. That caused one problem – a lack of depth at center – but maybe helped with another.
The Lakers have a lot of, um, personality. They’re full of players who have their own ideas about how things should operate and aren’t afraid to speak on it. Even the new coaching staff – with Frank Vogel as head coach an Jason Kidd as assistant – looks combustible.
Potential difficulties extend to the front office and beyond. The Lakers put Rob Pelinka in charge of the front office after Magic Johnson’s stunning resignation. Pelinka did well to distance himself this summer from Johnson’s poor decision-making, but major questions still linger around Pelinka. And Kurt Rambis and Linda Rambis. And Jeanie Buss. And even Rich Paul, LeBron’s and Davis’ agent.
A simple move – buying into second round for No. 46 pick Talen Horton-Tucker, a young and interesting prospect I pegged 18 spots higher – raised eyebrows, because Paul represents Horton-Tucker. Just who’s in charge? It’s a murky power structure full of people I’m unconvinced will deliver for the Lakers.
Pelinka and co. did enough this summer to bring the Lakers into the forefront of the championship chase. That’s why this grade is so high.
But if they haven’t done enough yet to win a title, I don’t trust this regime to find a way over the top.
Offseason grade: B