You win some. You lose some. The 2020 NBA Draft and subsequent free agency period have already thrown a wrench into the upcoming season about a month before it gets started. Like all the other teams coming after them to try to dethrone them as NBA champions, the Los Angeles Lakers are trying to get better.
So far, the Lakers have had some success in this regard. It actually appears that the team has had an upgrade of its roster after the business of the draft and opening period of free agency, give the team its best chance at defending the Larry O’Brien Trophy.
Looking at all the public moves that general manager Rob Pelinka has done since draft day, you might wonder if the Lakers have adopted the “out with the old, in with the new” philosophy.
Out: Dwight Howard, JaVale McGee, Danny Green, Avery Bradley, Quinn Cook, and Rajon Rondo. In: Marc Gasol, Dennis Schroder, Wes Matthews, Montrezl Harrell, and Jordan Bell.
The Lakers roster flip began when the team made a trade on the night of the NBA Draft that would send Schroder, then with the Oklahoma City Thunder, to Los Angeles in exchange for guard Danny Green and the rights to the 28th overall selection Jaden McDaniels. This move would be the first of many as Los Angeles revamps their roster to remain competitive at the top of the Western Conference.
The addition of Schroder meant the Lakers added some offensive prowess to their point guard position and their second unit. They had found someone who could find ways to create shots for himself which was something they lacked last season outside of LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
The departure of Green meant Los Angeles had lost a reliable veteran defender who knew the tendencies of the league’s marquee players while posing as a threat on the wing from behind the arc, which steadily declined in the NBA bubble.
Many role players from last season’s title-winning squad have moved on and found new homes within the NBA. Howard will no longer be around to protect the rim since he signed a 1-year deal with the Philadelphia 76ers. Rondo and his passing abilities have also departed from Los Angeles, electing to sign with the Atlanta Hawks on a two-year deal.
The versatile Bradley took off to join the Eastern Conference champion Miami Heat on a two-year deal. McGee was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers in what appears to be a salary dump move and Cook was waived by the Lakers.
The frenzy of the NBA free agency period has led to some stars saying goodbye to the bright lights of STAPLES Center but has also welcomed new additions to the organization with open arms. The aggressive trade for Schroder let the rest of the league know that the Lakers were going to address one of their weaknesses of lacking a primary ball-handler immediately and the team is going to do everything possible to defend their crown.
Last season, the Lakers’ reserves earned one vote for the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award: a third-place vote for Howard. Over the past few days, Los Angeles had nabbed the two leading vote-getters in Schroder and former Clipper and reigning Sixth Man of the Year recipient Montrezl Harrell. The signing of Harrell was the highlight of the Lakers’ free agency as it allowed them to pry him away from their city rival Clippers.
He averaged 18.6 points and 7.1 rebounds while shooting 58% from the field in 63 games last season. Harrell’s arrival to the Lakers was stunning considering the intense rivalry between the Clippers and Lakers had grown at the start of last season. Nonetheless, his scoring ability down in the paint along with his off-the-ball, pick-and-roll situations with James could flourish with the purple and gold.
After shipping Green to OKC, the Lakers needed to find a good perimeter shooter who could fill in for Green and found exactly that in Wesley Matthews, who owns a 38.1% career average from behind the arc and came at a fraction of the price at just $3.6 million. The new group of additions got one former Laker excited about the team and their upcoming season.
“With the new additions of Montrezl Harrell, Dennis Schroder, and Wes Matthews Jr, the Lakers will be younger and more talented than last season’s championship team and [are] on their way to a repeat,” said Lakers legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson on Twitter.
The Lakers continued their free agency frenzy when they made a splash to sign Gasol, who gives the Lakers a big man with championship experience coming from the Toronto Raptors. He fills the void left by the departure of McGee and Howard. The purple and gold also brought back Kentavious Caldwell-Pope after a strong 2020 postseason where he was a reliable 3-and-D player that helped the organization win.
Depending on what might happen with Demarcus Cousins and Markieff Morris, head coach Frank Vogel might not have as many options to replace McGee in the playoffs next season. The team could look to rely on Harrell to finish out games, something he didn’t get to do with the Clippers in the 2020 postseason.
On paper, the Lakers have addressed some of the needs on their roster while potentially improving their overall team. Los Angeles has been gearing up for their title defense through free-agent signings that can complement Davis and James well while still grabbing quality players who can run the offense if both Davis and James were to take a breather during a game.
The Lakers still have some spots to fill out on the roster before the season tips off on Dec. 22, but their current team is shaping up to be one that is up to the challenge of going through the gauntlet known as the Western Conference to emerge as the favorites to bring home the Larry O-Brien trophy.