Lakers' Complete 2021 NBA Offseason Guide
The Los Angeles Lakers' 2021 offseason arrived ahead of schedule.
There are many reasons why the defending NBA champions are on their summer vacation early. Injuries to Anthony Davis and LeBron James are the most obvious, but there's also inconsistency from the supporting cast, the roster's shooting shortage, some questionable decision-making on behalf of the front office and the difficulty level increased by the Lakers' lowly spot in the Western Conference standings.
When, where and how much those factors contributed to the club's exit aren't important. Rather, it's the way those lessons learned might shape the franchise's plans for the upcoming offseason.
We'll attempt to address some of those pressing inquiries and identify areas to address with this thorough guide to the months ahead.
Roster Situation and Assets
Despite having just five players under guaranteed contracts for next season, the Lakers already have $110.3 million on the books for 2021-22.
James and Davis are rightfully the highest earners with salaries of $41.2 million and $35.4 million, respectively. But L.A. also has substantial commitments to Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Kyle Kuzma, who are each set to collect $13 million. Marc Gasol has the final guaranteed pact at a modest $2.7 million.
Beyond that quintet, Montrezl Harrell holds a $9.7 million player option. Alfonzo McKinnie has a $1.9 million salary, but it's not guaranteed. The Lakers have early Bird rights on Talen Horton-Tucker, though whether that's actually helpful depends on his market. It only allows L.A. to offer a contract with a first-year salary up to $11 million, and while it has the right to match any offer for him, things could get dicey with a back-loaded contract.
Otherwise, everyone is up for grabs. That includes starting guard Dennis Schroder, closing guard Alex Caruso and polarizing center Andre Drummond, who started all of his 26 games in L.A. before being removed from the rotation and never seeing the floor during the club's Game 6 loss to the Phoenix Suns.
The Lakers have only their first-round pick for the upcoming draft, which landed at No. 22.
Let's start with Schroder, who trailed only the two superstars in points, minutes and shots. The Lakers twice made extension offers to the point guard, but he first declined a two-year, $33.4 million deal and later turned down a four-year, $84 million offer.
"I want to be a Laker for a long time," Schroder told reporters. "I just want it to be fair."
His market is tough to gauge because there aren't many teams with money to spend and a hole at point guard. The Lakers may not want to go any higher than that four-year, $84 million rate, though if he leaves there isn't an easy way to replace him. Beyond that, L.A. might be willing to overpay a bit if only to have his salary around to help facilitate a future exchange.
Caruso probably won't break the bank, since his ceiling stops well short of stardom. Having said that, though, his tenacious on-ball defense, ability to make open shots and willingness to move the basketball could be worth something near the mid-level exception. He won't come cheap, in other words, but his value is easily recognized at both ends of the floor.
Horton-Tucker and Drummond are even harder to gauge. The former is loaded with upside, but that might be worth more to a long-term rebuilder than it is to a win-now club like the Lakers. The latter has defined strengths (rebounding, interior finishing) and weaknesses (defending on the perimeter, offensive range). Both of their futures with this franchise feel like coin flips.
Areas of Need and Potential Targets
The Lakers need offense. That might sound funny about a squad with a pair of elites on the level of James and Davis, but even with them around, this club landed just 24th in offensive efficiency.
L.A. is strangely light on shooting, which one would think would be prioritized given the obvious benefit of having proper spacing around the stars. The Lakers could also use more shot-creation, especially if they're unsure about keeping Schroder and, to a lesser extent, Horton-Tucker.
Given their cap constraints, they seem likely to explore the sign-and-trade route, perhaps using Schroder or even Kyle Kuzma as trade bait. Is that enough to net someone like Kyle Lowry or Chris Paul? That feels like wishful thinking, though the Lakers could perhaps get closer to a deal by sending along more future assets.
Veteran shooters who might be inclined to ring chase should expect an early phone call from the Lakers. Patty Mills, JJ Redick and Kelly Olynyk come to mind as possible targets.
Finally, L.A. might look to land a big wing defender on the cheap. That's easier said than done, though a player like Otto Porter Jr. might fit the budget after missing significant time due to injuries each of the past three seasons.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.