Lakers finally accepting the reality of team-building in the modern NBA

By expressing interest in player development specialist Dan Hurley, the Los Angeles Lakers are finally accepting the terms of the modern NBA.
Los Angeles Lakers v Memphis Grizzlies - Game Two
Los Angeles Lakers v Memphis Grizzlies - Game Two / Justin Ford/GettyImages

Following the imbalance of the Big Three era, the NBA has moved to create an Association in which parity is possible. The Los Angeles Lakers have resisted this change in roster philosophy in previous seasons, but with salary cap rules limiting superstar team-ups, the front office is learning that it needs to adapt.

That much has been proven in the weeks leading up to the 2024 period of NBA free agency, as the Lakers' intention to build a deeper roster is finally taking precedence over pursuing a third star.

It's understandable to question the validity of such reports, but the high-profile pursuit of Connecticut Huskies head coach Dan Hurley lends credence to them. Hurley is widely regarded as a player development specialist, having thrived in that arena at the high school and collegiate levels.

According to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, one of the primary reasons the Lakers are high on Hurley is the belief that he could develop the current group of young players on the roster, as well as whoever is selected at No. 17 overall in the 2024 NBA Draft.

"Because of the roster-building limitations of the new second apron, the ability of big-market teams to construct contending rosters by trading multiple draft picks and young players for a third star player has largely been eliminated. Beyond the 17th pick in this month's draft, the Lakers have a young core of Austin Reaves, Rui Hachimura and Max Christie that management believes can still show even greater improvement under Hurley's coaching, sources said."

The Lakers have openly defied the changes in the NBA's shifting financial landscape by attempting trades for players like Russell Westbrook, but this acknowledgment of reality is a vital development.

Under the current salary cup rules, adding a third max-level player would eliminate just about any chance a team could fathom of acquiring sufficient depth. Such played out in 2023-24 when the Phoenix Suns landed Bradley Beal to complement Devin Booker and Kevin Durant, but struggled to fill out the rotation with contending-level assets.

The Lakers encountered a similar dilemma this past season, as Darvin Ham complemented the pairing of Anthony Davis and LeBron James with a constantly changing rotation.

In 2024-25, the hope in Los Angeles appears to be that Hurley, or whoever else may be the next head coach, would have promising talent to bring along progressively. There are certainly pieces on the roster that fit the bill, including Austin Reaves and Rui Hachimura—both of whom are 26 years of age.

The likes of Max Christie, Jalen Hood-Schifino, Cam Reddish, and Jarred Vanderbilt are all 25 or younger, as well, while D'Angelo Russell is in the early stages of his prime at 28.

The Lakers will, of course, attempt to acquire more talent in the hopes of improving in the short term. The pursuit of Hurley, however, indicates a prioritization of adding players with a present-day value whose fit and contracts will not sacrifice the long-term vision.

It's the type of rational approach to team-building that enabled the Boston Celtics, Dallas Mavericks, Indiana Pacers, and Minnesota Timberwolves to reach the 2024 Conference Finals.

Each of those teams has at least one franchise cornerstone who's under the age of 30, as well as a deep cast of players who thrive in their respective roles. The Lakers are older than most in the superstar department, with a 31-year-old Davis and 39-year-old James, but the vision can still align.

If the Lakers ace the 2024 NBA Draft and make responsible decisions in free agency, as well as on the trade market, 2024-25 could be the beginning of a return to sustained prominence.

Patience and discipline will ultimately be the deciding factors.