Kyrie Irving’s shadow hangs over Lakers after team’s bizarre series of moves to open NBA free agency

An idealized 2022-23 Los Angeles Lakers roster needed three things around LeBron James and Anthony Davis: shooting, defense and proven playoff viability. Less than a day into free agency, the Lakers filled all but two of their available spots, but to say they filled any of those needs would be premature at best.

Lonnie Walker IV, who will sign using the Mid-Tier Taxpayers Exception, shot just 31.4% from behind the arc last season. The three remaining offers were for Troy Brown Jr, Juan Toscano-Anderson and Damian Jones – three players who combined to hit just 85 3-pointers last season. That’s only six more than Russell Westbrook did on his own.

Of most major metrics, only Toscano-Anderson ranks above average defensively. FiveThirtyEight’s RAPTOR and DunksAndThrees’ EPM both disapprove of the non-Toscano-Anderson trio, and ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus is even more damning, ranking Walker 119th among 123 qualified defensive guards and Jones 64th among qualifying centers.

The four of them have played a combined 147 playoff minutes in their careers. For comparison, the last time a hobbled LeBron James was in the playoffs in 2021, he played 220 minutes in a single series against the Phoenix Suns. Both Toscano-Anderson and Jones have been on the Warriors’ championship teams. Neither could assign them rotational roles.

In other words…little of what the Lakers did in Day 1 of free agency doesn’t make much sense yet. Their only above-minimum-wage spending tool was the mid-level exception, and it’s gone. The same goes for 13 of their 15 spots on the total roster and their two slots. However, no major need has been met. So what gives?

The obvious prospect here is that the Lakers are over-correcting. Last year’s roster was the oldest in the NBA. It was as sluggish as it was injury-prone, and the infusion of youth and athleticism these signings bring could solve those issues. There’s something to that, especially in light of the leap Malik Monk made last season.

The Lakers are surely hoping that one or two of these players can evolve in the same way on a list built around James and Anthony Davis. It’s not bad logic. Walker has great physical tools and a wingspan of 6-10. The defensive upgrade is entirely plausible. Jones is coming off his best season as a pro and did so on a bizarrely constructed Kings roster. His role will be clarified on these Lakers. Even Toscano-Anderson probably has more to show than the Warriors allowed last season. It’s not his fault he played on a team with a $376 million payroll. The Warriors were too deep to rely on him in the playoffs. The Lakers are not. They’re not going to hit four homers here, but if just one of those players shows up as Monk, they’ll have found a good deal.

But Monk was also a bargain and the Lakers still missed the playoffs. The objective of the offseason is not to hit oil a few times, but to build up a complete and coherent roster. The Lakers don’t have one. They bet they can still piece one together. Dave McMenamin reported after the flurry that the team’s next priority was to shoot. It’s not hard to figure out where that might be coming from.

Insert Kyrie Irving into this list and suddenly things make a little more sense. This is especially true when you consider the $10 million gap between his salary and that of Russell Westbrook. Could one of Brooklyn’s backup shooters fill that void? Maybe the tax the Nets have to pay to get the Lakers’ maximum draw capital is also Joe Harris or Seth Curry.

Irving single-handedly sets the ground geometry for the Lakers. Suddenly, you can get away with two big lineups featuring Jones or big on-the-ball opportunities for Walker (or Talen Horton-Tucker) because the Westbrook defender isn’t clogging the paint for them. Maybe Toscano-Anderson or Stanley Johnson can get away with playing starting minutes as a limited offensive option, as their defense will complete an unstoppable attacking trio. Irving’s playoff credentials need no explanation. He scored a decisive shot for the final.

Irving does not solve all the problems. These last places in the lists should probably go to more experienced players. Beyond the theoretical big three of James, Davis and Irving, not a single Laker has proven capable of a rotational playoff berth. It is therefore essential to take advantage of the salary gap between Irving and Westbrook to obtain another player of some value. But the outlines of a sensible list are beginning to form.

Walker and Horton-Tucker could compete for the “downhill striker with a defensive edge” role. Johnson and Toscano-Anderson would fight for advanced minutes. Another center will likely be added to play the minutes Jones doesn’t play, although Davis will play a center as well. Kendrick Nunn is your backup point guard. Austin Reaves gets real minutes at shooting guard.

Whoever does not earn a rotation spot becomes fodder at maturity. The 2022 Lakers were extremely limited traders as they had almost no salary to match. But adding Walker to $6.5 million while keeping Horton-Tucker and Nunn at mid-level salaries and possibly bringing in another Nets player gives them a bit more flexibility to improve midway through the season. . If minutes are available, the redemption market should also be user-friendly.

It’s not a perfect list by any stretch of the imagination. Defense remains problematic in almost all builds. But with Irving on board, the basic plan suddenly makes perfect sense: your star trio are so talented and fit in so well that you can afford to play the other spots on the roster knowing you can keep the ones. that work and swap out those that don’t. ‘t. It’s a risky approach to roster building, but given where the Lakers are starting, there simply wasn’t a cleaner option. Players the Lakers signed don’t make sense next to Westbrook, but in 2022 few players do, and those who could weren’t coming to Los Angeles for $6.5 million.

This does not guarantee an Irving trade. Two days ago, such an agreement seemed impossible. It’s still unclear how much draft capital — if any — the Lakers are willing to surrender for a player the rest of the league doesn’t seem to want, and whether anyone else is bidding on it. , chances are he’ll have more to offer than the Lakers.

But there are really only two ways to rationalize the moves the Lakers made on Thursday. They might have added youth for youth. Considering James and Westbrook’s age, getting around them younger, and perhaps more relevant, after they’re gone isn’t the worst idea. But if they were adding youngsters in hopes of bolstering the current veteran talent, they’ve done a pretty bizarre job of doing it from an appropriate perspective. The players they brought in only make sense if more moves come along, and Irving is the only possible addition big enough to set up the rest of those misfit players.

#Kyrie #Irvings #shadow #hangs #Lakers #teams #bizarre #series #moves #open #NBA #free #agency

Add Comment