A mere 236 days ago, the Los Angeles Lakers hoisted their 17th
NBA title in Orlando. But fast-forward eight months later, and
things feel hollow in Hollywood.
The No. 7 seed Lakers lost in six games to the Suns with the
final dagger coming last night, and even with LeBron James on the
court, yesterday's outcome never seemed in doubt. Phoenix led by as
much as 29 points, and never let the margin slim to single digits
in the second half.
Anthony Davis left early in the contest after attempting to play through a groin
strain. James' impact waxed and waned throughout the night.
L.A.'s supporting cast failed to step up. Now, for just the second
time in 16 years, a James-led squad will watch the NBA conference
semifinals from the couch.
Suddenly, the 2021 offseason looms large for a team hampered by
injuries and inconsistency. Los Angeles must take stock of a number
of key free agents, and decide whether to keep continuity or start
fresh behind its two stars. Here's a quick primer on the Lakers'
The Lakers own the 22nd pick in the NBA Draft. As it stands
currently, this would be the franchise's highest draft spot since
selecting Lonzo Ball second overall back in 2017. L.A. hasn't made
a pick in the first round since picking Moritz Wagner with the No.
25 overall choice in 2018.
Rob Pelinka and the front office will have to decide whether to
use the pick on a rotation-ready player, a developmental talent
similar to Talen Horton-Tucker or as a trade asset.
With seven players entering unrestricted free agency and one
restricted free agent, per Spotrac, the Lakers are in a
pivotal year for roster construction. Among the free agents
Talen Horton-Tucker (RFA) -- The
lone restricted free agent, Horton-Tucker showed flashes of a
strong, versatile scorer in his second year. The 20-year-old
averaged 9.0 points, 2.8 assists and 2.6 rebounds across 65
contests as a bench piece. His best performance came May 12 against
Houston, when Horton-Tucker put up 23 points and 10 rebounds in a
victory. He's one of the few true "prospects" on the team, but
could be in line for a serious pay raise if another team wants to
squeeze the Lakers.
(UFA) -- Schroder averaged
15.4 points and 5.8 assists per game as L.A.'s starting point guard
in the regular season, but went remarkably cold as the playoffs
wore on. The 27-year-old reportedly turned down a 4-year extension worth
$84 million back in March. It remains to be seen what Schroder
wants as a free agent, and if the Lakers still wish to give him
that kind of money in an extension.
Andre Drummond (UFA)
-- As a prime buyout acquisition who fell
out of L.A.'s rotation in the playoffs, Drummond sits in limbo.
He's still one of the league's best rebounders (10.2 per game with
the Lakers), but struggled mightily with efficiency and turnovers
at the center spot. The team must decide if he's earned at least
another offseason to help acclimate with the roster.
(UFA) -- The 27-year-old
emerged as one of the team's best 3-and-D complements. Caruso
played in 61 games, made over 40% of his three-point attempts and
was one of the few bright spots during some of L.A.'s rough patches
in the spring. He made just $2.75 million this past season, and
will assuredly receive more lucrative offers as a free agent.
Wesley Matthews (UFA)
-- Matthews helped the Lakers become
the league's best defensive team with his chops on the perimeter.
But a 51.7% True Shooting Percentage was a career low for the
veteran shooting guard, and he made just 10 of 33 playoff field
goal attempts. The 33-year-old made $3.6 million in 2020-21 and
should be valued by contending teams.
Morris (UFA) -- In his second year
with the purple & gold, Morris dealt with shooting
inconsistencies, hitting on just 31.1% of his threes. He averaged
9.5 minutes per game in the playoffs, and made a tad over $1.6
million this past season.
(UFA) -- The Lakers signed
McLemore in April after he was waived by the Houston Rockets, and
the former 2013 lottery pick mostly contributed as a bench scoring
spark. He played only 36 minutes in the postseason, making two of
his nine field goal attempts.
(UFA) -- At this stage of
his career, Dudley's primary value comes from his voice in the
locker room. The 35-year-old played just 12 games in the regular
season and five total playoff minutes as a reserve.
Salary Cap Outlook
To be frank: the Lakers have no cap space. According to the
data at Spotrac, Los Angeles
will be shelling out over $116 million next season to LeBron James,
Anthony Davis, Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell (player option),
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Marc Gasol and Alfonzo McKinnie
(non-guaranteed). And the franchise still has to pay Luol Deng $5
million in dead cap money after stretching his deal years ago.
Theoretically, the Lakers could nix McKinnie's non-guaranteed
deal worth $1.9 million and hope Harrell declines his $9.7 million
player option. That could put the team a hair under the estimated
$112 million salary cap -- assuming they also renounce every other
free agent mentioned above. The chances of all of those things
happening seem pretty low, though.
Essentially, Hollywood cannot spend Hollywood money this year to
mix up its roster. The Lakers will have to be cunning on the trade
market, pick up veterans on minimum deals and navigate any
mid-level exception contracts.
It's been a challenging year for the Lakers, who were faced with
the shortest offseason in the NBA before opening 2020-21 as the
But with the wound of a first-round loss still fresh, the hard
work has only just begun.