Lakers Rumors: Latest Buzz on Los Angeles' Playoff Preparation, Offseason PlansMay 27, 2020
The Los Angeles Lakers currently hold the best record in the Western Conference. If the playoffs started today, their 49-14 record would earn them a top seed. While the playoffs won't start today, and there isn't a definitive date for when they will start, the postseason is on the near horizon.
According to The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor, the league is considering a World Cup-style "group state" to kick things off.
According to ESPN's Brian Windhorst (h/t Forbes' Chris Grenham), a conference-less 16-team playoff field could also be used. The way the standings play out, this would place eight teams in each conference into the top 16, but the Milwaukee Bucks, not L.A., would hold the top seed.
Regardless of how the playoffs are formatted, though, the Lakers will be there and need to be ready for competition. As Dwight Howard pointed out, this will mean reestablishing the chemistry they developed during the regular season.
"Just the chemistry we had before this was off the roof," he said, per Mike Trudell of NBA.com. "And then now, it’s like we have to build that up again. We got to get that engine flowing ... But I think with the group of guys that we have, I also think with the hunger that we have to win a championship, once we get back it will be like we never left each other."
Preparation will also involve reestablishing roles for players not named Anthony Davis and LeBron James. This is an aspect of playoff prep that shooting guard Danny Green discussed on ESPN's First Take:
"[James]’s got to be at his best, he’s got to be healthy and play well. Not just him—AD, of course, too, is very crucial—but it definitely starts with him. He’s our engine; he’s the MVP of the league in my opinion We have a very deep team—a lot of depth—so guys like Kuz, Avery Bradley, myself, and KCP, we’re going to need those four guys on our group to be able to have a good night at least one night each throughout the playoffs."
James and Davis are unquestionably Los Angeles' stars. However, they're not likely to carry the Lakers past teams such as the Bucks and the Los Angeles Clippers without the proper supporting cast.
This leads us to the looming offseason, where forging the 2021 supporting cast will be a huge piece of the equation. Re-signing Davis, who has a player option for 2021, will be the top priority, but there will be much work to be done with the rest of the roster.
Howard, who has emerged as a key role player, could create one of the more difficult decisions for L.A.
"Howard is on a minimum deal with no Bird Rights. Assuming he's too good to sign another minimum deal, it means the Lakers would have to use a chunk of their mid-level ($9.25 million) to re-sign him," The Athletic's John Hollinger wrote.
Part of Howard's value this season has stemmed from a team-friendly $2.6 million salary. While he's been an asset on the court—he's averaged 7.5 points and 7.4 rebounds—the Lakers may not be keen on keeping him on a mid-level deal.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Avery Bradley, JaVale McGee and Rajon Rondo are also entering option years and could pose problems for the Lakers. All four could opt in. All four could opt out. This could leave the team either with no cap room or several roster holes to fill, as Hollinger pointed out:
"Using their full mid-level and bi-annual exceptions for two outside free agents, and signing minimums for two others, would leave L.A. about $20 million from the apron to try retaining two or three of the Caldwell-Pope/Bradley/McGee/Rondo quarter. Caldwell-Pope will have full Bird Rights and McGee and Rondo will have Early Bird Rights, but L.A. can only offer a 20 percent raise to Bradley (limiting them to $5.7 million)."
The good news is that having little cap space will be of little consequence if the Lakers have a championship-caliber roster. Ideally, LeBron and Co. will lift the Larry O'Brien Trophy in the coming months, placing more emphasis on keeping the core intact than on clearing cap space and adding new pieces.