This summer, we have seen Rob Pelinka and the Los Angeles Lakers organization put on a clinic when it comes to free agency. The Lakers teams of the past have been lopsided in many ways, but not this year. The 2021-22 roster was lopsided in regard to age, with the team’s average age being right below 30 years old.
The roster the following season (until the trade deadline) was lopsided in regards to minimum contracts, unfortunately, due to Russell Westbrook’s massive contract. This year’s team, however…is perfectly balanced?
The team went out and signed players Gabe Vincent, Taurean Prince, Jaxson Hayes, and Cam Reddish; flipping the script from being a very guard-heavy lineup to a well-rounded roster. Vincent is coming off a very successful finals run with the Miami Heat and Taurean Prince is a 7-year vet who is serviceable and consistent. Reddish and Hayes are the ones leaving fans torn.
It is a bit perplexing that these two are the players in question when both came into the league with a much higher ceiling than the others as top-10 picks in the 2019 NBA Draft. Reddish was a highly touted player (third-best player in the nation) coming out of high school who completed the big three at Duke comprised of Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett, and himself.
Hayes, another top 100 player out of high school, is an athletic freak who has shown flashes of being a primetime, bright lights type of talent who just hasn’t been able to figure out the little things.
Reddish has had stints in Atlanta, New York, and Portland before finding a home in LA. Hayes, while only playing in New Orleans, was similarly unable to hit his stride with the Pelicans. This left everyone wondering what was missing for these two players. Enter LeBron James.
Aside from being the greatest scorer the game has ever seen, LeBron has an uncanny knack for not only being a great distributor of the ball but one that makes his teammates better just by sharing the floor with them. We’ve seen many instances in fact, of LeBron James changing entire trajectories of players’ careers, even just in his 5-year stint with the Lakers.
Players who have turned their career around on the Lakers with LeBron James:
We might as well start with the most recent change in career projection. Rui Hachimura came to the Lakers this past season by virtue of a trade that sent guard Kendrick Nunn (and several second-round picks) to Washington in exchange for the fourth-year forward out of Gonzaga. Similar to his new teammates Reddish and Hayes, Rui was the 9th pick in the 2019 NBA Draft and in his three and half seasons in Washington, he underperformed for a lottery pick.
While the change in numbers might not be substantial, he did improve drastically as a player for the Lakers, both offensively and defensively. The regular season was a bit up and down for him while he found his footing, but when it came time for the playoffs, he erupted. His three-point shooting became a lethal weapon at a 48% rate and the 6’8 forward shook off the talk of him being a subpar defender and turned himself into a valuable asset against some of the bigger bodies in the West.
This offseason, Hachimura received a three-year, $51 million deal thanks to his stellar play in the playoffs. A lot of that success can be accredited to one LeBron James. The gravity James creates around himself on the floor, specifically while driving to the rim, can only lead to good opportunities for his teammates around him. Hachimura was a more than happy recipient of those opportunities and will thankfully continue to be next season.
The tenacious point guard found his way to LA by way of trade after spending his first 7 seasons between Atlanta and Oklahoma City. In his first season with the purple and gold, he dug out a nice niche for himself, succeeding on the defensive end and continually taking advantage of his speed by putting pressure on the rim.
He played so well, in fact, that the Lakers reportedly offered him a four-year, $84 million contract (which is something he has since denied). Schroder had an abysmal showing in the NBA Playoffs and was unable to get an offer even close to that. He instead had to settle for a Taxpayer’s Mid-Level Exception with the Boston Celtics.
For a while there, Schroder was the joke of the league choosing to bet on himself with the house winning. This brought him back to LA and his running mate LeBron James. Coming back on essentially a veteran minimum to the same team that offered him forty times what he agreed to definitely took some swallowing of his pride, but it sure seems to have paid off.
Schroder became a steady presence both off the bench and, in some cases, in the starting lineup. He was able to put his playoff demons to rest as well, being again a steady reliable player on both sides of the ball as well as etching his place in Lakers history with what should’ve been the game-winner against Minnesota in the play-in game.
All of this led to the guard going out in free agency this summer and landing himself a two-year, $26 million deal with the Toronto Raptors. A far cry from the contract extension he was offered 3 years ago, but quite the change-up from the veteran minimum path he seemed to be on.
Last but certainly not least, Malik Monk. The 6’3 guard out of Kentucky spent his first 4 seasons with the Charlotte Hornets, where he was nowhere near on pace to fulfill his expectations coming into the league. Before joining LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers, that is.
Although the season was shrowded in losses and drama, Monk continually proved to be a bright spot, dazzling fans with microwave-like scoring and aerial acrobatics on the way to the cup.
In his lone season with the Lakers he saw a fairly significant jump in most, if not all of his stats. Over his career in Charlotte, Monk averaged 9.1 points, 1.9 assists, and 1.8 rebounds while shooting 42% from the field and 34.5% from deep. In his season in LA, Monk went on to average 13.8 points, 2.9 assists, and 3.4 rebounds on shooting clips of 47.3% from the field and 39.1% from 3.
This stellar leap in play was enough to land him a two-year, $19 million deal with the Sacramento Kings, where the newly invigorated Monk was able to shine even further into the playoffs next to his former college teammate at Kentucky and Kings point guard De’Aaron Fox.
The King’s Men
Do I, or should you expect Cam Reddish or Jaxson Hayes to instantly be all-star caliber players just from one season of playing with LeBron James? No, that would be insanity. What you can and should expect though, are fans of those players’ prior teams wondering what in the world went wrong.
History has shown us that these young athletes will show that they are certainly more than what we’ve seen from them to this point, and I for one, can’t wait.