Today we’ll be taking a look at the LA LeBrons. You can find past entries here but I’ll warn you now, there’s only twelve.
I’ll take a look at three things they did well, three things they failed at and three things they could do this summer to improve. I’ll issue one of two grades based on my findings: Oh hell yeah (good) or Oh no (bad). This is the internet, things are classic or trash with no in between. You wouldn’t expect nuance on Twitter so please do not expect it here. Thank you.
Los Angeles Lakers (37-45, 10th place Western Conference)
1. Roster value
LeBron James will be the 6th highest paid player in the league next season (John Wall is 5th, Kyle Lowry is 8th for reference). However you feel about the Lakers young pieces, they’re all (Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart, Moe Wagner, Isaac Bonga) on rookie deals for at least another season. Them being dirt cheap gives LA the option to sign FAs that better complement them or package them for a better piece. They’re projected to have the 11th pick in the draft and for all their flaws, they’ve drafted reasonably well. They don’t owe any future first round picks so they’re not far from righting this ship. If they’re smart.
2. Cap space
They’ll have about $35 million in expiring contracts and they’ll only be paying Luol Deng $5 million next season, instead of the $14 million they paid him this season. This allows them to go after a guy in free agency and still be able to package their young guys/picks for a third guy. Like Dallas and New York before them, their summer strategy is all about free agency/trade market so the cap flexibility is crucial. If they’re smart.
3. Alex Caruso
I’m not even kidding, that guy is incredible. He’s every substitute teacher you had in middle school taking flight:
He’s got some real flash to his game and will dunk on your ass with a bald spot we haven’t seen since Ginobili. If I’m Pelinka, I max out Caruso and Andre Ingram and call it a summer.
A 35-win team signed the best player of his generation and won two more games the following season. That same player missed 27 games this season and is about to turn 35. If they can’t get a star this summer, how much more time do they have? As nice as the young players looked during various points of the season, a LeBron James team is constructed to win now and win around LeBron James. If the Pelicans refuse to trade AD to the Lakers (feasible) and they whiff on superstars again (VERY feasible), you’re looking at wildly overpaying for a guy (enter Jimmy “Hollywood” Butler) or rolling out another awful team. Probably both.
2. The front office………….is bad
Jeanie Buss took over as President in 2013-14. The Lakers have yet to win 40 games and are about to hire coach #4 under her reign. The Magic Pelinka experiment was a joke and I’m sure plenty of people will want the job as GM, but do we trust Jeanie Pelinka to make the right hire? Do we trust that right hire to make the right hire at coach? No and hell no, says this man.
3. The Lakers young pieces showed promise this season but not without some concerning warts
Brandon Ingram’s TS% and FTr rose for the third consecutive season and his 3PAr dropped, which is probably for the best. His usage rate went up but his turnover rate went down and he had a great post-January 1st run (21/6/4 on 52% FG shooting) before injury shut him down The prognosis sounds good but DVT has derailed careers before. And assuming full health, Ingram still isn’t a good shooter (career 33% 3P, 66% FT) and his weight will continue to give him issues defensively.
Lonzo Ball finished top-7 in PG Defensive Real Plus-Minus for the second straight season and LA defended like a top 1- team when he was healthy. But he shot 41/33/42(!) this season and missed 30+ games again. We’ve seen ankle injuries derail a beige guards potential before so hopefully, Lonzo can overcome. But the jumper is a real issue if he’s not going to have the ball in his hands, which he won’t as long as LeBron is in town.
Kyle Kuzma played 70+ games again, averaged 19 a game and showed his rookie season wasn’t a fluke. He can get buckets and he gives a fuck, two qualities I like to see. But he doesn’t offer much else in terms of passing/rebounding/defense and if he’s not a plus 3p shooter it becomes tougher to build with/around him.
Don’t get me started on the Zubac trade.
Trilly’s Summer Prescription
1. If you’re committing to LeBron-ball aka strike out on a major FA….
If you’re going to LeBron-ball, you’re going to have to go all in to get the best out of him. That’s what we’ve seen over the course of his career, and it’s usually a safe bet. This means probably going to Ty Lue or Jason Kidd as a coach and going away from this Bron/Rondo/Lonzo/Ingram/Lance multiple ballhandler system. This is a good free agent class for stars and role players. IF THEY ARE SMART, they can play LeBron-ball with much better pieces around him this season. They aren’t elite players but Patrick Beverly, Danny Green, Taj Gibson, Al-Farouq Aminu, Terrence Ross, Thaddeus Young are all guys that are UFA’s this summer and would fit better than whatever the fuck they signed last summer. You could hand out high dollar one-year deals and get much better value than you got for $30 million dollars of KCP/Rondo/Lance/Muscala.
2. If you’re going back down the AD path….
We keep seeing stars traded for pennies on the dollar, so maybe the same package they offered in February (plus a draft pick that conveniently and unsuspiciously lands in the top-four) is enough to land Davis. Either way, I think they’re going to have to overpay for him and it will be the right decision. He’s still Anthony Davis and of all the available stars, his game would fit the most easily with LeBron. He’d be the best player LeBron has ever played with (AD at 26>Wade at 29, not career) and this would be the only time LeBron has played with a player currently better than he was. He doesn’t need the ball in his hands and he’d keep Bron at the 4 with a rim protector. With all due respect to Chris Bosh/Udonis Haslem and Kevin Love/Tristan Thompson, that’s a Bron we’ve yet to see. What he unlocks for Bron as he age is worth ponying up the extra pick(s) to get him from New Orleans.
3. If the Pelicans say that package isn’t enough for AD….
I’d ask are they DONE done with us or if we could get Jrue off your hands. Ingram/Lonzo and Kuzma/picks might not be enough for AD but Jrue? If the Pelicans blow it up, they might have to consider that trade knowing the return they could also get for AD.
I’d call Washington about Bradley Beal if they get a pick inside the top-four, that isn’t #1 of course. That trade package not being able to get a guy coming off a First Team All-NBA appearance but it can get you somebody helpful immediately.
It’d be funny but betting a max offer sheet on D’Angelo Russell being a younger Kyrie to play off an older LeBron might be a better look than paying big for Kemba…or actual Kyrie and those knees. Malcolm Brogdon and Tomas Satoransky are other RFA’s that could improve your team without giving all your money to older guys, one of the biggest flaws of LeBron-ball. The new GM has nowhere to go but up compared to his predecessors and this team could have homecourt next season if they’re smart. Alas, they’re not.
Rebuild Status: Oh no