LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers are loading up on veteran shooters to help the franchise chase its 18th title this season. Through two days of free agency, LA has completely changed the complexion of its roster, adding a ton of cheap veterans and few young guys with some juice. The past 48 hours have been James' best as the team's de facto general manager.
I want to start off by saying I still don't love the Russell Westbrook trade. I don't understand how that works for the Lakers long-term. The team has really struggled to shoot the ball from the perimeter over the past three seasons and Westbrook makes them worse at that. Plus, his need to constantly have the ball in his hands conflicts heavily with what LeBron and Anthony Davis do. If Westbrook fully buys in to the team concept, sacrifices shots and plays elite defense, maybe this works out. But it's still really odd fit in my view.
Over the past two days since free agency opened, the Lakers have loaded up on veterans taking the minimum to chase a title. The headliner is obviously Carmelo Anthony who will finally get to team up with LeBron in the banana boat buddy-cop movie we've all been waiting to see. The Lakers also added veteran shooters like Wayne Ellington (42.2 percent from 3) and Kent Bazemore (40.8 percent), plus wing defender Trevor Ariza who can also knock down shots (35.0 percent). Anthony has improved as a 3-point shooter as well (40.9 percent), so he fits the trend. LA also brought Dwight Howard back as a backup rim protector, something the team sorely lacked during the 2020-21 season.
All of those deals are for one year at the veteran's minimum, so there's very little risk associated with them. There's also limited upside given that Anthony is 37, Ariza is 36, Howard is 36, Ellington is 33 and Bazemore is 32. There was virtually no youth on the team, which is why later moves on Tuesday changed the game a bit.
The Lakers were able to convince 23-year-old shooting guard Malik Monk to take a one-year deal at the minimum to chase a ring and play alongside James. It was a huge move to snag a young, improving shooter (40.1 percent from deep last season) and an explosive athlete who can create his own shot. He averaged a career-best 11.7 points in 20.9 minutes per game with the Hornets last season. That they got him for the minimum is staggering.
Perhaps even crazier, the Lakers were able to convince Kendrick Nunn to sign a two-year, $10 million deal instead of chasing more money elsewhere. Nunn is a 26-year-old combo guard who averaged 14.6 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.6 assists in 29.5 minutes per game for the Heat last season. He also hit career-highs from the field (48.5 percent), 3-point range (38.1 percent) and the free throw line (93.3 percent). He'll be useful either as Westbrook's backup or his backcourt partner and, like Monk, adds some youth and athleticism to the aging roster.
Finally, the Lakers also came to an agreement with restricted free agent Talen Horton-Tucker to stay with the franchise. He's getting a three-year, $32 million deal. While his numbers weren't great last season, the 20-year-old former second-round pick has huge upside and the Lakers really believe in him. They've long seen him as a key piece of the future. I wrote about Horton-Tucker's upside last year. He didn't have the impact I believed he would last season, but I still think his breakthrough is coming.
While adding Westbrook didn't make a ton of sense to me, the rest of the additions have been a home run, especially given LA's salary cap constraints. Injuries with this aging group are a distinct possibility, which is why depth will matter. And all of the additions will need to continue to shoot at a high level. If they can't maintain those percentages the Lakers will struggle in the halfcourt.
Playing alongside LeBron James remains a huge draw for players around the NBA. He's done a fantastic job this offseason attracting talent that will fit around him as he tries to make a run at a fifth title. On paper, the Lakers look like a really well constructed squad, let's see how it actually works this season.