The first step? The 2020 draft Nov. 18, where the Lakers hold the No. 28 overall selection, the only pick L.A. has before 2022.
The Lakers can either make the pick and bring in a rookie to help LeBron James and Co. repeat as champs or trade the selection for a veteran who can offer more assistance now.
Here's how both options stack up.
Option 1: Keep the Pick
The Lakers' cupboard of draft picks is nearly bare thanks to the Anthony Davis trade from July 2019.
Counting the No. 28 overall selection in 2020, the Lakers own just four total picks over the next five drafts, including zero next year. After Nov. 18, they'll only be making one first-round selection (2022) before the year 2025.
That puts a lot of pressure on getting this pick right.
There's not much young talent on the roster to develop (even Kyle Kuzma is already 25), so bringing in a rookie would help raise the team's ceiling and still give the Lakers a trade asset for the future.
This isn't a time for projects or upside, however. The Lakers need someone who can step in and contribute immediately as a rotation piece—players who may never turn into All-Stars but have a high floor and bring at least one NBA-level skill to the table.
L.A. could use another ball-handler, especially with Rajon Rondo likely to decline his $2.7 million player option and become an unrestricted free agent, according to Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times.
Center could also be an area of need, with Dwight Howard also becoming a free agent and JaVale McGee questionable to return on a $4.2 million player option.
Shooting was a weakness for L.A. throughout the regular season and playoffs, with the team ranking just 21st in three-point accuracy (34.9 percent).
Putting all of these team needs together, a couple of players emerge.
Michigan State point guard Cassius Winston—a four-year contributor and three-year starter for Tom Izzo—was one of the best players in college basketball this past season. While he'll be a bit undersized running point in the NBA at 6'1", 185 pounds, he has the experience needed to get minutes right away.
He can serve as a backup ball-handler if Rondo returns or not, and Winston was an outstanding three-point shooter (43.0 percent in four years, 43.2 percent as a senior) who could knock down shots alongside James.
Oregon senior guard Payton Pritchard checks a lot of the same boxes and has a slightly bigger frame at 6'2", 190 pounds.
As Bleacher Report's Jonathan Wasserman wrote in his latest mock draft: "There have been whispers about Pritchard going in the first round, and the Lakers would make sense as a team to show interest. He seems capable of contributing as a rookie with shooting, passing, IQ and toughness."
If the Lakers prefer size over ball-handling, Michigan State junior Xavier Tillman makes sense as a potential replacement for Howard and/or McGee. The 6'8" big man has a 7'1" wingspan and is a high-energy, defensive-minded guy who would play well alongside Anthony Davis.
Tillman showed development as both a passer and outside shooter during his three years in college, making 62.8 percent of his two-pointers, mainly off finishes around the rim. The 21-year-old led the NCAA in box plus/minus (12.6) this past year, thanks mostly to his defense.
Option 2: Trade the Pick
The Lakers can't technically trade the pick until after the draft, but they can agree to a draft-day deal with other teams that would officially be announced later.
In a draft that features a good amount of depth and role players, even the No. 28 overall selection carries value.
Going off the same needs listed above (ball-handler, center, shooting), there are a few trade targets who stand out that L.A. could use its first-rounder on as the base of a deal.
The Detroit Pistons have the No. 7 overall pick but no other firsts or seconds to help jumpstart their rebuild.
A base trade of veteran point guard Derrick Rose to the Lakers for the No. 28 pick would make sense for both sides, giving the Lakers a playmaker and scorer off the bench with 46 games of playoff experience. Getting Rose would mean being able to rest James a bit more, with his ability to drop 20 off the bench on any given night likely exceeding what rookies such as Winston or Pritchard could provide in year one.
New Orleans Pelicans shooting guard JJ Redick—one of the best three-point shooters in the league, who averaged 15.3 points on 45.3 percent shooting from deep at age 36—would be a perfect fit next to James.
Myles Turner of the Indiana Pacers—a 24-year-old on an $18 million annual deal who has shown the ability to be an elite rim protector and hit on 35.7 percent of his career three-pointers—would be a dream target at center. An offer of Kyle Kuzma, Danny Green and the No. 28 overall pick should be attractive for both sides, as the Pacers previously traded their 2020 first-rounder to the Milwaukee Bucks in a sign-and-trade deal for Malcolm Brogdon.
As nice as it would be to get a player like Winston, Pritchard or Tillman in the draft, the Lakers should be prioritizing proven vets to help a soon-to-be 36-year-old James win another championship in L.A.
A late first isn't going to fetch a superstar by any means, but getting a solid starter or rotation piece off the bench would be good value for the Lakers, even if they have to give up an existing player in the process.
Rob Pelinka and the Lakers' front office should be aggressively pursuing win-now deals with their first-rounder firmly on the table, with selecting a veteran college player serving as Plan B.