The Los Angeles Lakers traded for Russell Westbrook on draft night. While this gave them three all-star caliber players, it also raised questions about the rest of the roster. LA traded three quality pieces to acquire Westbrook. The team lost their two leading three-point shooters, Kyle Kuzma and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and a solid bench big man, Montrezl Harrell.
However, the team was willing to take the risk to get their third star. With Westbrook in the folds, the Lakers needed to rebuild their depth and three-point shooting. On day one of free agency, the Lakers' new roster began to take shape.
Limited cap space
LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Russell Westbrook alone take up well over 60% of the Lakers cap hit. The Lakers had to find good players on cheap deals to fill out the rest of their new roster. Because of this, they were out of the market for more big names like Kyle Lowry, Lonzo Ball, or Demar Derozan. Instead, they had to search for veterans, undervalued young players, or people coming off of a down season. Even though he is a fan favorite and a key cog in their defense, they also had to let budding talent Alex Caruso walk away for bigger money.
And more specifically, they needed shooters. Though casual fans might not realize it, Kuzma led the team in three-pointers made last season. He also developed his game in other ways and was an underrated piece of the Lakers' core. It wouldn't be a shock to see him reach his own lofty all-star expectations in Washington. Even worse for LA, Westbrook is a terrible shooter. Not just that, he is a low-efficiency, high-volume shooter.
LeBron is one of the greatest three-point assist men and performs his best in a pseudo-point-guard role. His peak Miami and Cleveland rosters featured tons of three-point specialists. It spaces the floor for LeBron and gets other guys involved. If LeBron is the best shooter on the floor, something is wrong. Westbrook and Davis will certainly cramp some of that spacing, so LA was desperate for shooters.
The day one returns were good but not great. They added Trevor Ariza on a veterans minimum contract. He is a classic 3-and-D guy. He is a 35% shooter for his career, although he has had two seasons above 40%. They also added Wayne Ellington, a better shooter (38.2% for the career) but a worse defender.
However, coming off a 42% three-point shooting year, this is a value deal for LA. He also came on a veterans minimum. The Lakers also added a third new shooter to the roster in Kent Bazemore. He shot nearly 41% with the Warriors last year. Between these three players, LA made up for some of its lost shooting. However, none of them have much experience as a high-volume option that the Lakers need.
Dwight Howard: filling many roster holes
The fourth player LA added on day one of free agency fills many gaps for LA: Dwight Howard. In terms of production, he gives them another rim-running big that they like to slot in at the center position. He is also a rim protector on defense, and he is a great rebounder.
More importantly, he brings a much-needed locker room presence. Howard was a key player on the Lakers 2020 championship roster. He is tough-minded and physical, two things the Lakers really missed without him last season. He will likely back up Marc Gasol, who announced he would be returning to LA this year. The Lakers don't need Howard to put up huge numbers. All they need is for him to set the tone for this LA team with high-energy, physical play.
The next targets
While many of the biggest names came off the market on day one, the Lakers still have plenty of roster spots to fill. Their day-one signings showed that they know exactly what they need: shooting, depth, and established players. Interestingly, all four free-agent signings have played for the Lakers before. They plugged some obvious gaps, but plenty of work remains for Rob Pelinka and the Lakers' front office.
First, they are trying to bring back young guard Talen Horton-Tucker. He has shown flashes of playmaking ability and tough defense. The Lakers expect he will take a step up in a bigger role this season if he re-signs. The Lakers are also looking to add former all-star and long-time close friends LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony. He is a great midrange and three-point shooter, though he is a serious defensive liability. Some other names to look out for are Danny Green (via trade), Patty Mills (free agency), and Goran Dragic (buyout market).
It's too early to really say how good this roster is. As of now, the team only has eight roster spots filled. However, it would be hard to pick against this Lakers team. They feature three bonafide superstars and some solid role players to slot alongside them. However, they are far from the only superteam in the NBA right now. And the questions about fit are valid.
Can Westbrook, Davis, and James all really thrive at the same time? None are great shooters, and Westbrook and James are both best with the ball in their hands. However, the Lakers have certainly put themselves in a good position to improve this year after a disappointing season.