The Los Angeles Lakers made a big splash in the 2021 Draft and free agency, but they’re still not a favorite to win the title.
The 2021 offseason has had a lot of moving parts, and the Lakers have been a hub for quite a few of them. From Russell Westbrook to Malik Monk, the Purple-and-Gold puffed out their chests in a quest for another championship.
To kick off their summer, the Lakers traded Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Montrezl Harrell, and the No. 22 overall pick in 2021 for Westbrook, a second-round pick in 2024, and another second in 2028. They’ve been eyeing a high-level playmaker since LeBron James signed on, and it seems they finally got one in Westbrook.
And when free agency rolled around on Monday, the stove only got hotter. Trevor Ariza, Wayne Ellington, Dwight Howard and Kent Bazemore, veterans who have each been Lakers before, joined the party on day one. Ariza, Ellington and Bazemore are all options on the wing, a position group that only grows more important with each passing year. Howard found his best self the last time he was in L.A., and the Lakers will embrace his comeback after an uninspiring run with Harrell and Andre Drummond last year.
Day 2 was even more interesting, as Malik Monk, Carmelo Anthony and Kendrick Nunn joined LakeShow. Monk, 23, was a lottery pick just four years ago, but struggled to find his footing with the Charlotte Hornets until last year. Anthony, 37, has been tied to the Lakers for virtually his entire career, and now gets to play with LeBron for the first time. Nunn, 26, was an important part of a very good Miami Heat team, but has a checkered history off the court that gives teams trepidation.
All in all, the Lakers have a pretty well-known support cast around James and Anthony Davis. Even Marc Gasol decided to re-up for another year. At all times during a game, the typical NBA fan can watch this team, point to someone on the court, and go “hey, I know that guy!” from their superstars to their scrubs.
In name value alone, the Lakers have one of the best teams in the league. In basketball value, any team with LeBron James and Anthony Davis is bound to be among the best in the league. But there’s a lot to pick apart with this roster, potentially enough to take them out of championship contention.
3. Lack of space
In the James-Davis era, the Lakers have spent big on two positions: point guard and center. Last year they grabbed Dennis Schröder and Montrezl Harrell; now they’ve added Westbrook and Howard (again).
Why? Because James and Davis said so. James’ days as the full-time primary playmaker are dwindling, so it makes sense that his burden be lessened during the long days of winter. And while the Lakers do their best with Davis at the 5, it’s a strategy that they’d rather preserve as a trump card. What superstars want, superstars get.
The problem with these additions in particular is that they don’t space the floor. Like…at all. Westbrook likes to shoot from the mid-range and can be a very effective cutter if he buys in, but he’s not any sort of threat behind the 3-point line. Gasol shoots them, but only in a “when I’m wide open” type of way. Howard’s tally of 20 attempts last season was equal to his previous four years combined.
So if Westbrook, James, Davis and a center are all starting, where’s the spacing coming from? Just one of Ellington or Monk isn’t going to light the world on fire. There’s little evidence of Westbrook being engaged in a secondary role.
The quintet of Westbrook, James, Davis and two shooters (i.e. Davis at the 5) will probably be their best unit. But it won’t be their starting unit, and it may not happen that much at all if Davis continues to protest against being a center. After all, Gasol and Howard didn’t sign on to be benchwarmers; they’re going to play, offense be damned.