Despite not being one of the original four NBA franchises, the Los Angeles Lakers have become an integral part of the league’s history. From winning an NBA-best 17 championships (tied with the Boston Celtics) to having four of the five all-time regular season scoring leaders, the Lakers have become synonymous with success in the NBA.
And it is this winning tradition that has been the driving force of their free agency plans this offseason.
|2021 Lakers Free Agent Signings|
|Talen Horton-Tucker||20||Resigned via extension|
|Dwight Howard||35||Yes, twice|
Los Angeles also made headlines (and nearly stole the show in the 2021 NBA Draft) by sending Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Montrezl Harrell, and the draft rights to Isaiah Jackson to the Washington Wizards in order to acquire Russell Westbrook and the Wizards’ 2024 and 2028 second-round picks.
Another interesting wrinkle from the Lakers’ free agency so far is that latest signee DeAndre Jordan has the distinction of playing with both title favorites (at least according to oddsmakers), having been with the Brooklyn Nets from 2019 to 2021 and now with the Lakers. Talk of his roster fit is warranted as Dwight Howard and Anthony Davis will take up minutes at the 5-spot, with Marc Gasol also still on the roster.
Beyond the Laker ties (or in Westbrook and Trevor Ariza’s case, hometown ties), age is another factor that stands out among Los Angeles’ new (or rather “new”) recruits for this coming season. If not for Talen Horton-Tucker, Kendrick Nunn, and Malik Monk, Kent Bazemore would have been the youngest Laker signing so far this offseason at 32.
LeBron James is turning 37 in December and Davis has a colorful injury history. This only complicates matters, as navigating through an 82-game season will now have to factor in managing minutes for their two superstars’ health. Previous seasons were about preserving energy for a long postseason run but what’s a long run if your stars aren’t healthy? Last season served as a prime example, as injuries to Davis and James largely contributed to their first round exit after winning the title back in 2020 – especially the groin injury that hampered Davis in the playoffs.
The current composition of the lineup indicates that Los Angeles put a premium on shooting and secondary playmakers after James and even Davis. Whenever LeBron sat out, the Lakers looked lost on offense especially since James was not there to draw defenses. This was even more evident when Davis was not 100 percent as the tape revealed that much of the 2020-2021 squad were perfect complements and not standouts on their own. Gasol was at times deployed as a playmaker, but he could not sustain this for long stretches.
The addition of the likes of Carmelo Anthony and Rajon Rondo will add both playmakers and scorers who can find their own shots. This could give James and Davis opportunities to rest especially as the season returns to a full 82 games. Rondo, in particular, was instrumental in the 2020 title run and Lakers head coach Frank Vogel will certainly look to him as the Lakers go for a league-record 18th championship. His 9.3 assists per 36 minutes last season were higher than in his last season with the Lakers (8.8 per 36 mins.), but it nevertheless points to the four-time All-Star’s ability to get his teammates involved no matter how much time he’s given on the court.
Shooting remains to be a key asset in the current style of play and the Lakers were in the bottom half of the league last season in 3-point shooting at 35.4 percent. Their neighbors, the Los Angeles Clippers, actually led the league in 3-point shooting at 41.1 percent. Getting open shots was easy, especially with the likes of James Davis attracting much of the defense, but making shots was apparently a different matter altogether. Their signings this offseason were either good shooters last season or at least have the reputation of solid career 3-point shooting.
|3FG% Among Selected Laker Free Agent Signings (2020-2021 NBA Season)|
|Player||3FG% Regular Season||3FG% Postseason|
Note: N/A indicates that the player’s team did not qualify for the 2021 NBA Playoffs.
Anthony, Bazemore, and Malik Monk will certainly benefit from sharing the court with James and Davis, and the percentages they finished with last season should excite Lakers fans. The Ariza the Lakers got in 2021 will be a far cry from the one that played an underrated role in the 2009 championship squad, but a return to LA could open things up for him figuratively and literally. While Rondo has had a reputation of being a non-shooter, he has made improvements in that department as of late. The Lakers largely benefitted from that in his first stint with the team, as he hit timely 3-pointers during the playoffs in the Orlando bubble.
While their title window is much shorter than the likes of the Nets and the Milwaukee Bucks, Los Angeles has someone they can depend on for a more competitive future. Horton-Tucker, who signed a three-year, $30.78 million contract earlier this offseason, is being billed as a future piece the Lakers can build and depend on. Having the former Iowa State Cyclone on the roster gives Los Angeles a bridge to the post-LeBron and even post-AD era and when that time comes, he will be a seasoned veteran with championship experience. But right now, it’s hard to believe that THT, who will be playing in third NBA season, will only be turning 21 in November. That makes him only 10 months older than this year’s top pick Cade Cunningham.
Lost in the shuffle of players are the two-second round picks the Lakers acquired from the Wizards in the Westbrook trade. Los Angeles has a history of drafting in the second round (e.g., Horton-Tucker, Jordan Clarkson, and Ivica Zubac to name a few) and they will likely find more diamonds in the rough in the coming years.
Laker fans have a penchant for photoshopping Laker jerseys on any and every superstar and at times it turns into a reality. With the way things have turned out so far, it’s safe to say that they’ve spamposted it into existence.
Laker lore certainly took on an even larger role in how the Los Angeles Lakers have constructed their roster so far, with the social media reactions highlighting how the franchise is one of the most divisive teams in all of professional sports. How it all works out is another matter altogether, but everyone will surely tune in to watch this team traverse through the 2021-2022 NBA Season.