After winning the 2020 NBA championship, the Los Angeles Lakers could have just run it back, and nobody would have been surprised. If they had re-signed Anthony Davis, Rajon Rondo, Dwight Howard, Avery Bradley and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, their offseason would have been considered a success.
Instead, general manager Rob Pelinka and the Lakers' front office got aggressive, got better and won free agency.
The Quick Strike
Once the NBA lifted the trade moratorium, the Lakers acted quickly, moving Danny Green and the 28th pick (Jaden McDaniels) for Dennis Schroder from the Oklahoma City Thunder. Then, at the start of free agency, they agreed to terms with Wesley Matthews to fill the void they created by trading Green.
L.A. also shocked everyone when it convinced Sixth Man of the Year Montrezl Harrell to move down the hall from the Los Angeles Clippers on the first night of free agency.
Right off the bat, the Lakers plugged some holes and got younger. Schroder is 27 and Harrell is 26, while the team moved on from Green (33) and Rondo (34).
For a team with several draft picks sent to New Orleans in the Davis trade, this was a great chance to get some younger talent on the roster.
The Next Wave
Just with those moves, the Lakers accumulated more frontcourt firepower to help ease the burden on Davis and another ball-handler to man the second unit.
They weren't done. They made the shrewd move to re-sign Caldwell-Pope, who played an important role during their run to the Finals. It was a crucial move after Avery Bradley signed with the Miami Heat, as they could not afford to lose both and retained a starter who is just 27 years old.
Late Sunday night, L.A. also sent JaVale McGee and a future second-round pick to the Cleveland Cavaliers to clear the space needed to sign Marc Gasol.
Granted, Gasol turns 36 in January, but bringing him in raises the team's basketball IQ several notches. He helps anchor the defense while adding another option to keep the floor spread on offense. He is a 35.4 percent three-point shooter for his career and shot 38.5 percent this past season with the Toronto Raptors. This signing was an absolute steal at $2.56 million per year over two years.
Markieff Morris barely played before the 2019-20 season was put on hold, though he shot 42 percent from three on 3.3 attempts during the playoffs. After a brief flirtation with reuniting with his brother Marcus on the Clippers, he returned to the Lakers on a one-year, veteran's minimum deal.
These moves will help keep LeBron James and Davis fresh throughout the regular season. At usage rates of 30.8 and 28.4, respectively, they were expectedly the team's top usage stars, with Dion Waiters the only other Laker to hit even 23.0 in a small sample of seven games.
LeBron, in particular, was 12th in the league in usage this past season, which might not sound extreme for someone of his status, but remember that he'll turn 36 before the calendar flips to 2021.
Schroder and Harrell can form a strong pick-and-roll tandem in the second unit that should keep the Lakers offense in good shape while they rest their two top. And the addition of Gasol will also save Davis from having to defend some of the NBA's big centers such as Nikola Jokic, Jusuf Nurkic and Joel Embiid, to name a few.
Los Angeles has put itself in prime position to defend its title. The team may have lost a little defense, but it gained a lot offensively, added both youth and basketball IQ and took some responsibility off the plates of James and Davis.
The Lakers also retained what made them special: their versatility in being able to play big or small. Like last season, they'll be able to close games several different ways.
The NBA champions are clearly the big winners of the abbreviated offseason.
Runners-Up: Suns and Blazers
After going on an 8-0 run in the NBA bubble, the Phoenix Suns decided to go all-in on a playoff push this coming season. Their first move was to bring in Chris Paul (and Abdel Nader) from Oklahoma City for Kelly Oubre Jr., Ricky Rubio, Jalen Lecque, Ty Jerome and a 2022 first-round pick. Adding a player like Paul to the mix opens the door for Devin Booker to work more off the ball, and Deandre Ayton's game as a roller should go to another level.
The Suns' moves did not end there, as they re-signed restricted backup point guard Jevon Carter and added more wing depth with Jae Crowder to go with Cameron Johnson and Mikal Bridges. The final big move was re-signing Dario Saric to a three-year, $27 million deal.
With the 10th pick in the draft, the Suns surprised many by selecting Jalen Smith from Maryland. Some draft experts called it a reach, similar to when Johnson was selected 11th overall in 2019. Reach or not, the 6'10" Smith is another big man for the rotation. He shot 36.8 percent from three in 2019-20 while blocking 2.4 shots per game.
Monty Williams used Saric in the bubble as a playmaking 5, and he averaged 14.8 points and 7.6 rebounds while shooting 52.4 percent from three. NBA teams are beginning to see the value of having a big man who can create for others, and Saric fits the bill.
The Suns added a massive piece in Paul, built wing depth and retained another playmaker in Saric, putting them in position to compete in the stacked Western Conference.
The Portland Trail Blazers were the other runner-up in free agency. After battling just to get into the playoffs, they had some work to do in the offseason. Before the draft, they added a capable wing/small-ball forward in Robert Covington from Houston for Trevor Ariza and two first-round picks. Pairing Covington with Gary Trent Jr. will provide a shot in the arm for their atrocious defense.
They continued to add wing depth by signing the high-flying Derrick Jones Jr. and re-signing Rodney Hood, who was a solid contributor before tearing his Achilles last December. They traded for Enes Kanter, who had a great run as a Blazer in 2018-19, to add a punch off the bench. They also re-signed a rejuvenated Carmelo Anthony.
Neil Olshey and the front office pulled off a sneaky move in signing 22-year-old Harry Giles away from Sacramento. He has struggled with injuries his first two years, but he still has a ton of potential and can develop into a piece for them.
The Blazers strengthened their bench and improved their defense, and they should compete for a top-four spot in the West.
Advanced stats via NBA.com.
Mo Dakhil spent six years with the Los Angeles Clippers and two years with the San Antonio Spurs as a video coordinator, as well as three years with the Australian men's national team. Follow him on Twitter, @MoDakhil_NBA.