Yes, LeBron James is basically a point guard — but with Anthony Davis as the team’s ironclad No. 2 option, the Lakers can’t afford to misfire in pursuing a player who can score and handle the ball.
The Los Angeles Lakers finished the NBA regular season in last place in the Pacific Division of the Western Conference at 43-39. They started the campaign 2-10 and didn’t have a record better than .500 until March 31, when they were 39-38 with five games left in the regular season. Things turned around when they acquired Rui Hachimura from Washington on Jan. 23 and D’Angelo Russell, Jarred Vanderbilt, and Malik Beasley at the Feb. 9 trade deadline as part of a deal that saw them ship Russell Westbrook and a first-round pick out of town.
The fact that the Lakers made it through the Play-In Tournament and reached the Western Conference finals is a testament to LeBron James‘ continued brilliance, Anthony Davis’ dynamism, and an executive masterstroke by general manager Rob Pelinka — but a four-game sweep at the hands of the Denver Nuggets despite hanging tough in the final three contests stung so badly that LeBron, seemingly for the first time, publicly questioned whether he would play next season at age 38 after 20 seasons’ worth of GOAT-level play.
Clearly, James’ retirement would change the entire franchise’s equation, but for the sake of this story, let’s say he’ll be back for year 21. In this case the 2023-24 Lakers have a lot of room for growth but limited cap space with which to improve. That brings us to a pressing Lakers offseason question: What can this team do to continue the momentum it generated in the final stretch of the season, particularly at point guard?
LeBron James will make $47.7 million next season. Anthony Davis, who averaged 26.8 points and 14 rebounds per game against Denver, will make $40 million. Besides that, LA has just Mo Bamba, Vanderbilt, Max Christie, and Shaq Harrison under contract for 2023-24. That leaves plenty of key decisions left to make; decisions that can’t wait until the trade deadline if this team is going to break through and mount another title run.
Hachimura was tremendous during the playoffs and should get a lucrative new deal as a restricted free agent. Austin Reaves, who likewise becomes a restricted free agent, was a revelation for the Lakers and will get an exponential raise from the $1.5 million he made this past season — the team would do well to retain him. With only so much to spend against the cap, should Pelinka then pick up Beasley’s $16.5 million team option next season, try to bring that number down over multiple seasons, or say “thanks but no thanks” entirely?
Dennis Schröder, Lonnie Walker, Troy Brown, Davon Reed, Wenyan Gabriel, Tristan Thompson, Sterling Brown, and Matt Ryan, meanwhile, are all hitting the open market. If even a couple of them are to come back, it will likely have to be on league-minimum contracts.
Ultimately, how the Lakers address the point guard will define their offseason. Sure, LeBron will be the lead ball-handler for the rest of his career, but LA could use a more consistent No. 3 scorer than Reaves or Hachimura, ideally someone who can handle the rock and build upon the strong defensive foundation the team built during the season. Russell and Schröder have something to offer in some of these areas, but fans will surely be clamoring for more after watching the Purple and Gold get swept.
Could that come in the form of imminent free agent Kyrie Irving, for whom James lobbied as trade target in February after his former Cleveland teammate asked out of Brooklyn? James Harden and Fred VanVleet are both high-level players expected to opt out of the final year of their respective contracts and enter free agency. Other ball-handling guards who could be available include Caris LeVert, Jordan Clarkson, Bruce Brown, and Taken Horton-Tucker.
Could they even revisit the trade market and go hard after Damian Lillard, who has got to feel like his window for competing for a title in Portland is all but closed?
The Lakers found something with a few rotation players who should be components for another deep run next season. Building upon that is all the more important as LeBron finally contemplates the end.
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