This team preview is taken from The Guide 2018-19, available to download or read online. Click here for more features and previews.
Last season the Los Angeles Lakers finished with nine more wins than in 2017, but 11 games back of the eighth seed in the West. Luke Walton’s second season in-charge offered little to cheer about, as offensively the Lakers struggled in the halfcourt, with not enough being done by the way of X’s and O’s.
However, Walton was able to bring the defensive presence out of players who didn’t appear to have one. Lonzo Ball especially, ended up looking like a great defensive point guard, finishing top-3 in both Defensive Box Plus/Minus and Defensive Win shares for the team. His length, combined with his IQ and ability to cut the passing lanes, made him a real problem for opposing teams. Thanks in part to his influence, the Lakers ended up ranking 13th in defensive efficiency and 12th overall in defensive rating. This made them one of only two teams with top-15 defensive ratings that missed the playoffs. Walton also experimented with a variety of line-ups throughout the season, partly out of intrigue but most due to injuries. Brandon Ingram played as point-forward while Kyle Kuzma became a real focal point of the offense. Off the court, Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka got their first full season under their belts and made some significant changes, which were ultimately for the better. The Lakers overall, did everything they needed to do last season.
This offseason they welcomed eight new players into the fold, including the prize target, LeBron James, who announced his four-year, $154 million contract decision early on in the free agency period. Lakers fans were understandably ecstatic. After all, you don’t land the greatest player of all-time every offseason (come at me Jordanites). His willingness to sign a multi-year contract goes against the usual contractual strategy of two-year contracts and provides the Lakers with an increased level of flexibility, as well as security, for years to come.
Confirmation of the King’s arrival set in motion a hectic chain-reaction of events, all designed to land the Lakers another superstar. However, it soon became apparent that the asking price for the likes of Kawhi Leonard was too high
Confirmation of the King’s arrival set in motion a hectic chain-reaction of events, all designed to land the Lakers another superstar. However, it soon became apparent that the asking price for the likes of Kawhi Leonard was too high, while Paul George, who had for so long been linked with the purple and gold, refused to even take a meeting. Thus, Magic, Pelinka and probably James – yep, definitely James – went to work acquiring talented players on short-term deals.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope returned, signing another one-year deal, this time for $12 million – $6 million less than he got last season. Caldwell-Pope had an up-and-down 2018 campaign, improving in a lot of areas – including 3-point shooting percentage and rebounds – but his scoring and assist totals went down. Now, playing alongside LeBron, his numbers should go up.
Of all the Lakers free agent acquisitions, Lance Stephenson is the biggest head-scratcher. Yep, the man who once decided to become an eternal meme by blowing into the ear of LeBron signed for one-year, $4.5 million. In all honesty, Stephenson actually had a solid year in 2018, where he made significant contributions to a young and incredibly talented Pacers roster, which pushed LeBron’s former team, the Cavaliers, to a Game 7 in the first round of the playoffs. During 2018, he averaged 22.6 minutes per game, while making a full 82 appearances. The reason the acquisition is such a puzzling one is the simple fact that the Lakers are absolutely loaded with wings,most of whom are far better than Stephenson is.
Magic and Pelinka then seized the opportunity to sign Rajon Rondo on yet another one-year deal having rescinded their qualifying offer to Julius Randle. Rondo is an intriguing addition and a player with whom the Lakers have been linked since before Kobe retired. Rondo has been a starter for most of his career and has absolutely no intention of relinquishing that role to a young gun like Lonzo Ball. This point guard battle will probably be the best thing to watch next season Lakers-wise. One can only imagine the chaos which will ensue if Lonzo’s father, LaVar, voices his opinion…. oh, wait… he’s already done that. If there’s one thing the Lakers are hoping for more than anything, it’s that Rondo will push Ball to be a better version of himself. He can also step in and play heavy minutes if Ball is to miss any time due to injury.
The strange free agent acquisitions didn’t stop with Rondo, there was but one more man the Lakers needed to complete the weirdness. Enter Michael Beasley.
This point guard battle will probably be the best thing to watch next season Lakers-wise.
Beasley was once seen as the next big thing in the NBA, but after a torrid time in Miami, where he showed brief flashes of brilliance, he fell off the radar. Last season though, Beasley posted one of his best seasons, starting 30 games for the New York Knicks, averaging 13.2 points and 5.6 rebounds while shooting 50.7 percent from the field. Beasley, like Stephenson, is unlikely to see the same amount of minutes he saw last year, but hopefully that won’t deter him from giving his all everytime he hits the hardwood. The Lakers will be hoping Beasley can become a spark-plug off the bench and provide opposing defenses with another shooter to guard whilst also having to handle LeBron. Beasley, like the others, is on a one-year deal. Joel Berry II, Jeffrey Carroll and Johnathan Williams were also brought in during this hectic summer period.
Make no mistake about it, this is just year one of a far greater plan and, unsurprisingly, only seven players return from last season’s roster. The starting lineup is going to be different. The rotation is going to vary on a night-to-night basis and Walton will now have to navigate the complexities of managing a variety of different ages, personalities and talent levels, not to mention the best player on the planet.
This season will feel like watching a brand new Lakers team, with a few familiar faces sprinkled in.
This season will feel like watching a brand new Lakers team, with a few familiar faces sprinkled in. While it’s unlikely they contend for a title in the first year of this new regime in a crowded Western Conference, the Lakers will be in the mix all season long. And they will certainly make a playoff push (LeBron James all but assures that), but predicting how many wins this roster will have when it’s all said and done is difficult to do. A total between 47 and 52 wins is not exactly beating the Warriors, but oddsmakers in Las Vegas have given the team odds of 7-to-2 to win the NBA championship next season.