What should the Lakers do? A full run-down of Rob Pelinka’s looming decisions

Apr 28, 2023; Los Angeles, California, USA; Los Angeles Lakers vice president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka looks on prior to game six of the 2023 NBA playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies at Crypto.com Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 28, 2023; Los Angeles, California, USA; Los Angeles Lakers vice president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka looks on prior to game six of the 2023 NBA playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies at Crypto.com Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports /

Now that the NBA season has ended, the Los Angeles Lakers’ attention naturally shifts to speculating which players will be on next year’s roster. Conjecture and rumor at this time run rampant. That’s especially true this year because of the possible availability of big names like Damian Lillard, James Harden, Zion Williamson and others.

Ever since he’s been in control, Lakers GM Rob Pelinka has primarily signed players to one-year deals. On the one hand, that provides him with tremendous flexibility each year. But it also requires an annual re-shuffling of the roster, particularly since he hasn’t seemed too inclined to re-sign his own players.

This year Pelinka has to choose which road to take. Does he go with a “win now” approach while LeBron James is still playing at a high level? That would mean trying to sign another big star, either outright or through a trade, to form a new Big Three. It would be similar to what he tried to accomplish two years ago when he traded for Russell Westbrook.

Or, in preparation for the post-LeBron years, does he start moving down a “Plan Ahead” avenue? That would require re-signing as many of the team’s young talent as possible and creating a strong supporting cast.

Only four Lakers are signed for next season: the two stars, LeBron James and Anthony Davis, their best perimeter defender, Jarred Vanderbilt, and a promising 20-year-old potential 3 & D wing, Max Christie. The total salaries of those four are just under $94 million.

Next season’s salary cap is expected to be $134 million and the luxury tax will kick in at $162 million. The new collective bargaining agreement also added new luxury tax aprons with additional restrictions

Given their situation, if you were a Lakers senior advisor, what would you tell Pelinka to do in the following five situations:

  1. What action would you recommend that he take regarding the team’s $16.5 million team option on Malik Beasley? A decision must be made by June 29th. Would you tell Pelinka to sign him, let him walk, or try to trade him?
  2. What about Mo Bamba, whose $10 million contract is non-guaranteed? Again, the Lakers have a June 29th deadline.
  3. Rui Hachimura and Austin Reaves are both restricted free agents, meaning the Lakers can match any offer made by another team. Would you advise signing one or both, regardless of what offers they receive, or would you put a cap on how much you’re willing to spend?
  4. Do you think Pelinka should re-sign D’Angelo Russell?
  5. How would you like to allocate any remaining funds? Which players, returning or new, and/or positions would you prioritize?

Here is what the Los Angeles Lakers should do:

1. After the Lakers acquired Beasley at the trade deadline, he was given a starting spot, which he ended up losing to Reaves. Then he was a key reserve, but mostly because of his sub-par three-point shooting, he was ultimately replaced by Lonnie Walker midway through the postseason. Beasley is, however, a lifetime 38% shooter beyond the arc.

The Lakers should only exercise Beasley’s option if they can find a trading partner for him. Otherwise, they should let him walk or try to re-sign him for far less money.

2. Bamba was unimpressive in the nine regular season games he played for the Lakers. He then was used sparingly in the playoffs due to matchups and injury. Still, he’s a 7-footer with three-point range and is only age 25.

That combination isn’t easy to find. They should keep him unless he has enough trade value and they have a plan to acquire another big man.

3. Both Hachimura and Reaves are just 25, and presumably are still improving. Together, they represent a new direction for the franchise once LeBron retires or moves on. Additionally, Rui has made inroads with the Japanese community in L.A. and Reaves is a favorite of both the fans and team owner Jeanie Buss. It appears the preference of both is to remain put.

The Lakers have let it be known that re-signing both of the “R & R’s” is a high priority. It’s even feasible that other teams won’t waste their time signing either one to an offer sheet knowing the Lakers are all-in and will match all offers.

In any event, both players should still be wearing the purple and gold next season and beyond. And it appears a safe bet that they will.

4. There is less certainty about Russell, who is an unrestricted free agent although the Lakers have his Bird rights. He played well in the regular season and first two rounds of the playoffs, but had a disastrous Western Conference Finals against Denver.

The salary cap will play a major role in this decision for both parties. DAR’s options may be limited because not many teams have cap money to spend, and several of those already have a crowded backcourt. But from the Lakers’ perspective, they can pay Russell more than they can an external free agent. If don’t re-sign him, they will likely find it difficult to fit in another quality point guard under the cap.

Russell must realize he has to take a haircut from the $31 million he earned last season. As long as he is realistic in his salary demands, the Lakers should try to reach an agreement with him on a one or two-year deal.

5. In filling out the roster, the Lakers seem to have three basic needs: a reliable big man, more outside shooting and point guard depth.

The team is unlikely to try to acquire a starting center. The reason is simple. At this point in his career, LeBron James can no longer chase small forwards around the perimeter for long periods. He is much better suited to guard opposing 4s. That leaves Anthony Davis to defend 5s. So what is needed is a quality big to come off the bench.

That’s partly why the advice to Pelinka would be to hold onto Bamba unless he can find somebody better.

As for three-point shooting, they may not have to look very far. Russell shot 41% from beyond the arc in his 17 regular season games with the team. Although that dropped to 37% against the Grizzlies, 31% vs the Warriors and a dismal 13% against the Nuggets, there is reason to hope he can recover his form next season.

Reaves shot 40% on 3s during the regular season, then raised that mark to 44% in the playoffs. The indications are he will remain a marksman. Hachimura shot just 30% in 33 regular season games, then surprisingly increased it to 49% in the postseason. Time will tell how well he shoots going forward.

Additionally, two young players offer hope. Max Christie made 42% of his 62 long-distance attempts with the Lakers, while Cole Swider connected on nearly 44% of his tries in the G League. Either or both could become contributors next season. Christie in particular may earn a spot in the regular rotation.

Trade rumors have been floating that the Lakers might deal Beasley and one or both of the players they just drafted for a shooter like Buddy Hield. If that deal, or one similar to it, is available, Pelinka should go for it. The team has a $2.7 million trade exception to use, which might come in handy.

He should also look to sign a veteran point guard who can fill the same role with the Lakers that Kyle Lowry played with the Heat. Chris Paul is no longer a possibility, but other options exist.

The Lakers GM should also try to re-sign some other players from this year’s team. He may not have much success unless he is willing to use the $12.4 million mid-level exception.

First and foremost is hardnosed Dennis Schroder, who played better in his second Lakers stint than he did in his first. But the Lakers are limited in what they can offer him. His special relationship with Coach Darvin Ham might not be enough to persuade him to stay if another team makes him an offer he can’t refuse.

Lonnie Walker proved to be a good teammate but will likely sign with a team that can offer him more minutes. Troy Brown and Wenyen Gabriel are good depth pieces to hold onto if possible, but they also might choose to sign somewhere they can play more.

Overall, the advice here to Pelinka is to fill the roster with younger players rather than gambling on a third veteran star.

Next. 22 players the Lakers gave up on too early. dark