Where L.A. Lakers Go From Here

A fish stinks from the head to the tail.

When it comes to dysfunction in a team, corporation or even a family, poor leadership is, more often than not, the culprit. And that always starts at the top.

To the Los Angeles Lakers’ credit, they are apparently looking to get rid of the stench that’s been emanating from the franchise for six years. And so where did they begin the sanitation process? The front office. The top.

Magic Johnson is gone and so is Luke Walton. Rob Pelinka’s departure or dismissal would complete the front office/coach overhaul. As far as the roster is concerned, the Lakers have more options than what they think.

It is expected that they will chase the top free agents and rightfully so. They have the salary cap space to sign two. However, the Lakers must ask themselves: How will we attract these players?

The mystique of the purple and gold has faded considerably. L.A. can’t bank on players simply wanting to “expand their brand.” They could do so in any market. Still, others may not be entirely enthused about playing with an aging LeBron James—one who still commands all the attention off the court but is shedding responsibilities on it.

But the Lakers will try. They have to because the massively lucrative fanbase is fed up, and they don’t want to “waste” a second year with James on the team.

The Lakers’ return to contention will be a process. On the surface, getting a free agent or two is a quick fix and the one that most of the fans would want.

But the Lakers might be better off keeping their younger guys, hiring a solid coach and going after only one free agent:

Coach

Apr 15, 2019; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers assistant coach Monty Williams before game two of the first round of the 2019 NBA Playoffs against the Brooklyn Nets at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Walton landed in Sacramento, and Pelinka seems to have honed in on a prospect: Philadelphia 76ers assistant Monty Williams. The current Lakers’ GM had a recent second interview with Williams, whose biggest asset might be his relationships with some of the league’s superstars. He’s coached a young Anthony Davis in New Orleans and is familiar with Kawhi Leonard during his time as a Spurs exec. Not to mention he served as an assistant during Kevin Durant’s last season with the Thunder.

It’s safe to assume Pelinka is targeting Williams for his relationships with stars and his various experiences around the league. And that’s not a bad thing for the Lakers, whose previous reported interest with former Cleveland Cavaliers coach Ty Lue also likely centered around his relationship with James.

As the coach, Williams can act as a stabilizer. He can lean on his time as a Spurs exec to manage tensions and egos in the locker room. When it comes to coaching style, he’s not committed to a specific philosophy—at least from what we can ascertain based on his Pelicans stint. This could be used to the Lakers’ advantage: Williams can use that diversity to build around whatever roster they end up with.

STARTING Guards

Nov 19, 2018; Charlotte, NC, USA; Boston Celtics guard Kyrie Irving (11) shoots the ball over Charlotte Hornets guard Kemba Walker (15) in the second half at Spectrum Center. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

There isn’t really a wrong option when it comes to altering the roster’s guards. The Lakers could continue to have faith in Lonzo Ball and develop his strengths, which are facilitation and perimeter defense. Rajon Rondo has those same attributes and could remain both a mentor and a safety net for Ball.

On the other hand, an upgrade could be better as James will continue to be ball dominant. Kyrie Irving will be a free agent after the season, and he and James seem to be on better terms these days.  The “Cavs Days” familiarity makes this an intriguing choice, especially because Irving can play both on and off the ball.

But the problem with reuniting Irving and James, (or even bringing in someone like Kemba Walker), is the fact that both are at their best when creating their own shots, even if they can play off others. Such a pairing would be difficult because James is at his best with the ball in his hands and dictating the tempo.

Thus, a solid possibility would be signing someone like Jimmy Butler.

Bringing in ‘Jimmy Buckets’ may be a risk, but the rewards are undeniable. He could play off the ball with James, Ball/Rondo and Ingram. He too could also create his own shot. Butler would also make the Lakers’ defense better by providing the team with more size on the perimeter.

STARTING Forwards

Nov 18, 2018; Miami, FL, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (left) celebrates their win with Lakers forward Brandon Ingram (right) against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Since it’s seeming more unlikely that Kawhi Leonard and Kevin Durant would sign, the best bet for the Lakers is to continue developing Brandon Ingram. Granted, he may have had his struggles during his three-year career, but he also continues to gradually improve. This season, he averaged a career high in points per (18.3) and field goal percentage (49.7).

Health permitting, Ingram returns and James could move to the four. Also, the new coach could continue developing Ingram in the point forward role he temporarily has filled a couple times during his career. This option could give the Lakers three playmakers in the starting lineup that can effectively play off each other. With Ingram at the three and James at the four, the possibilities are endless for multiple mismatches.

Plus, Kyle Kuzma can move to a more complementary role as a key bench cog.

STARTING Centers

April 15, 2019; Oakland, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors center DeMarcus Cousins (0) receives a pass against LA Clippers center Ivica Zubac (40) during the first quarter in game two of the first round of the 2019 NBA Playoffs at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Trading Ivica Zubac to the L.A. Clippers for Mike Muscala was puzzling, even as it was well-known the shooting-starved Lakers sought a frontcourt fix.

While they still have serviceable pivots in the aging Tyson Chandler and solid Javale McGee, signing a stretchier big isn’t such a bad idea.

Will the front office resume talks with the Pelicans for Anthony Davis? Once the Lakers get a new VP of Basketball Operations and GM, the outcome may be more favorable this time.

If not, their plan B should be a center that can effectively score or facilitate from the post. If his second rehab stint is a success, Golden State Warriors star DeMarcus Cousins is a possibility.

While Cousins struggles with defending pick-and-roll switches, he can effectively facilitate from the block.

Before his latest injury, the Warriors would run post-split action to get Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant open. A potential Lakers’ post-split would get James going along the perimeter where he’d also have the option to drive and finish. This would also afford the Lakers’ shooters open looks. (Shooting is something that needs to be upgraded across the roster, regardless of who the starters are.)

The Lakers and their fans need a fix. It may come in July with one or two key free agents, but developing what they already have isn’t such a bad option if it leaves flexibility for future moves.

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