5 Moves Los Angeles Lakers Should Make Between Now and Start of Next Season
It doesn't take much of an analytical background to conclude that the Los Angeles Lakers are nowhere close to being a good basketball team.
The organization has a lot of work to do, both in terms of restructuring its personnel and instilling a more sophisticated hoops philosophy.
This offseason will be a vital phase in L.A.'s reboot. With potentially two first-round draft choices and a bundle of cap space, the Lakers can totally change their roster composition and align themselves to be competitive once more in 2016.
Accomplishing that feat will require some bold moves. Here are five they should make before the beginning of next season.
The debate around the use of analytics has come to the fore in recent weeks, with the Lakers' dismissive attitude toward the field becoming a hot-button issue.
ESPN.com's Kevin Pelton classified the Lakers as "nonbelievers" in his "Great Analytics Rankings"—one of just three teams in the league designated with that tag—and ranked L.A. as one of the 10 most analytics-averse franchises in all of North American pro sports.
Coach Byron Scott infamously rejected the widespread proliferation of three-pointers, stating "I don’t believe it wins championships" after a preseason practice, according to ESPN.com's Baxter Holmes.
Now, statistics aren't everything. The game isn't played on spreadsheets after all. But studying trends and numbers and charts lead to winning basketball strategies.
Nine of the 12 teams ESPN classified as either "all-in" or "believers" are contending for the NBA title this season.
We know that three-pointers, free throws and layups are the most efficient way to score and that mid-range jumpers are where most offenses go to die. Scott's insistence on playing the traditional way just doesn't add up.
Those same principles hold true on defense as well, which is where the Lakers struggle most.
Los Angeles is tied for the most three-point makes allowed. They also give up the fourth-most free-throw attempts and concede the fourth-highest total of baskets in the restricted area, per NBA.com.
Analytics isn't just about taking the most efficient shots. It's about preventing them as well.
Secure a Top-Five Draft Pick
It's been well-documented that the Lakers will only keep their 2015 first-round pick if it lands somewhere in the top five. They've got a pretty good shot at that right now.
With the fourth-worst record in the league, two other teams would have to jump over them by placing in the lottery's top three in order for L.A. to slide out of the top five.
The odds of that happening are fairly slim.
However, the Lakers could muck things up by winning too many games down the stretch. They just won back-to-back games earlier in the week, and their remaining schedule is pretty soft.
They play two of the three teams below them in the standings—the Philadelphia 76ers and Minnesota Timberwolves—twice each, and their final five games of the regular season feature only one top-10 Western Conference opponent.
This isn't advocating to openly tank the rest of the season. But resting a guy here and there or shutting someone down early could be beneficial toward achieving the ultimate goal.
Luckily for the Lakers, the team they are closest to in the standings, the Orlando Magic, have already banked four more wins than L.A. on the year.
And though the Timberwolves are two games behind, they just got healthy and are playing much better basketball than their overall record states.
The Lakers should be able to retain their selection and pair Julius Randle with a great center or find a top-tier guard to slot next to Kobe Bryant in the draft.
Until it's official, though, Lakers fans will be holding their collective breath.
Chase Kevin Love
However, the Cavs' season could still very well end prematurely, and without a championship—or maybe even a deep playoff run—to justify the prodigious sacrifices he has had to make, Love could conceivably walk away for the sake of self-satisfaction.
Six months ago, it seemed inconceivable that a 26-year-old coming off a season where he put up a 26-13-4 nightly line wouldn't make the All-Star team in an incredibly weak Eastern Conference playing next to LeBron James and Kyrie Irving.
And yet, Love's name wasn't even coming up in conversations about who should make the squad as an injury replacement.
His numbers are down across the board, and he's been reduced to a spot-up three-point shooter in Cleveland's offense. In a game earlier this week, 14 of Love's 16 field-goal attempts came from beyond the arc.
You watch Love play and you see him taking greedy, ill-advised shots because he knows that if he gives the ball up, he's not getting it back that possession. Or the next. Or maybe even the one after that.
That's hard to take for a guy who has proven himself to be an elite talent capable of being the focal point of a good offense.
Love is entering the prime of his career. He is a dominant force on offense and on the boards—a guy good enough to make second-team All-NBA his last two healthy seasons.
If Cleveland comes up short, the Lakers should be on Love's doorstep at midnight on July 1 to woo him back to L.A.
Go After Restricted Free Agents
One of the biggest mistakes the Lakers made last summer was not pursuing restricted free agents. There were great talents just sitting out there, but L.A. chose not to make any offers.
Eric Bledsoe was in a months-long standoff with the Phoenix Suns. Had the Lakers gotten involved early and forced Phoenix to make a quick decision, the Suns might have balked and L.A. could have landed their point guard of the future—a guy who just matched a red-hot Russell Westbrook play-for-play in a nationally televised contest this week.
Lance Stephenson ended up taking a below-market deal with the Charlotte Hornets. He hasn't lived up to that modest contract, but he's proven to be incredibly talented and an able playoff performer. He might have been in a better position to succeed with the Lakers.
Greg Monroe didn't even find a deal worth taking and ended up going back to the Detroit Pistons on a qualifying offer. After a strong 2015 campaign, Monroe's value will be much higher this time around. The Lakers could have had him at a steal of a price last offseason.
Hopefully L.A. learned from its folly and goes after restricted guys this summer. It has the money to throw at them.
You might have to overpay to snag a restricted free agent from his current team, but the difference between paying a restricted free agent and an unrestricted free agent is that the restricted guy is still on the way up. You're paying for what he will do, not what he already has done.
Players like Jimmy Butler, Draymond Green, Brandon Knight, Enes Kanter and Kawhi Leonard are all heading into restricted free agency in the offseason. Not all of those guys are realistically attainable—Butler and Leonard seem like virtual locks to re-up—but several of them will be viable targets.
It's up to the Lakers to pursue them and force their current teams to make a decision.
Find a Point Guard
We can copy and paste this entry into the list every year. Every team in the league has a good point guard. Many have two. The Lakers can't even find a mediocre one.
They may be finally able to solve that problem this summer. Los Angeles can pick up a point guard either through the draft or free agency.
Assuming that L.A. keeps its pick, there are two elite point guard prospects projected to go in the top five in Emmanuel Mudiay and D'Angelo Russell.
We already covered why the Lakers should delve into restricted free agency, where there are a couple of interesting names to be found.
Brandon Knight and Reggie Jackson both have a chance to be good starting point guards for years to come. Both were traded at the deadline to fluid situations. It's unclear what plans their new teams have with them, so there may be an opportunity for the Lakers to jump in and grab one.
Among unrestricted free agents, the two biggest names are Rajon Rondo and Goran Dragic.
Rondo seems like a long shot to stay in Dallas after butting heads with Rick Carlisle and getting suspended for it. However, he doesn't seem like the player he once was before the ACL injury. His inability to hit open jumpers and unwillingness to get to the foul line should make the Lakers wary of maxing him out.
Dragic, on the other hand, could be worth the price of admission. ESPN.com's Kevin Pelton broke down Dragic's true value superbly, showing that when he gets the ball in his hands, he's one of the best guards in the entire league—a guy who absolutely deserved the All-NBA nod he got in 2014.
His down season in Phoenix had more to do with the drop in his touches and usage than a decline in his skills. And though he turns 29 before next season begins, he's still got fresh legs after playing sparingly his first three years in the league.
To put it into perspective, he's played about the same number of minutes in his career as John Wall. Paying him for the next four years—even at the max—shouldn't be a burdensome contract, especially with the salary cap rising.
With so many options to find a competent point guard, the Lakers should not come away empty-handed this offseason.