Is It Possible For The Lakers To Build Out A Championship Roster?

The Lakers enter free agency as the ultimate “build it up from the ground” team.

Although the hardest part, landing the star(s), is done.

Now they have to go out and find the right guys to put around those stars.

No supporting cast around a star has been more prominent and had higher stakes than the ones around LeBron James.  If you fail to put the right one in place, he’s going to leave, and leave you in shambles.

The Lakers have a fall-back plan in Anthony Davis.  But their true window is the next three years; the three years in which LeBron has a contract with them.

They have the ability this summer to capitalize on that window.  It may be tougher than we think, even with AD and perhaps even a third star in place.

I have tried to put together the best Lakers roster based on fit, value, money and need.  I’m trying to be as realistic as possible.  This should be a wake-up call.

Before we look at complete rosters, here is the list of role guys I believe the Lakers should target and why, based on the criteria above.

(Money totals are how much I would pay THIS SEASON for the player)

Talen Horton-Tucker (~$1.5 million)

Obviously Horton-Tucker is not a free agent as, the Lakers don’t have to go out and sign him.  I want to address him though because I didn’t get to write a draft recap.  I loved Horton-Tucker and had him 17th on my board; he went 46th overall.  On a LeBron-centered team, you need to be able to defend and shoot.  Despite being SIX MONTHS younger than me (And I’m young for my age), I believe he can do that right away for the Lakers, and maybe even ball-handle a bit.  Don’t forget about him.  Also, the contract is an estimate of what his rookie deal will pay him.

Patrick Beverley ($13 million)

As you will see below, this is dependent on some non-role guys the Lakers might be able to land.  There is no basketball problem with Beverley; he’s a good shooter, he’s a maniac defender and a really good point guard.  LeBron teams, despite running through LeBron, need secondary ball-handlers who can play at their peak like primary ones.  Beverley is that.  The problem is that he’s going to demand too much money.  In certain roster molds, he’ll work.  In others, he’s either too expensive or not needed.

Rajon Rondo ($6.5 million)

Essentially a backup no matter what mold you look at.  Rondo was not terrible last season!  He found a three-point shot, and can still be a good, pesky defender when he tries.  I think he’s fine in backup role with lower minutes. Rondo got $9 million last season.  Maybe throw two years on his next deal and he’ll take a bit of a pay cut.

Rodney McGruder ($5 million)

This is a tricky spot for the Lakers because McGruder is a restricted free agent, and the Clippers date to renounce his rights or not is Saturday.  If he’s unrestricted, the Lakers should go and make an offer immediately.  McGruder was flat-out waived by the Heat before the playoffs, but he’s a gritty, long defender and can shoot it well.  Five million is probably an overpay.

Reggie Bullock ($6 million)

The Lakers have Bullock’s bird rights, so they can afford to pay a bit more for him.  I liked the trade for Bullock that they made in February.  Like ALL THESE GUYS, he can switch defensively and shoot threes.  Bullock’s sneakily one of the best shooters in the league though; he provides legitimate firepower.

Wayne Ellington ($4 million)

Remember when the Pistons finessed the system and traded Bullock, got some assets for him and then signed essentially the same player in Wayne Ellington, who was also bought-out by the Heat?  Well, the Lakers can afford both of those guys.  Ellington probably comes cheaper than Bullock due to age.

Trevor Ariza ($6 million)

Ariza mailed it in last season after cashing-in with the Suns, only to end up playing for what he thought was a playoff team in the Wizards.  The one year, $15 million contract was a heist, so Ariza could certainly take a pay-cut, especially to go play with LeBron and actually compete.

Wilson Chandler ($8 million)

Are the Lakers willing to overpay for Chandler?  He fell apart in the playoffs after being traded to the Clippers, but Chandler was legitimately Philly’s fifth starter before the Tobias Harris trade, and he did really well!  He was plopped in the corner and hit threes.  We’ll see if that run inflates his value a bit.

CJ Miles ($3 million)

The Lakers should be able to get Miles for really cheap.  A reminder: In Toronto, CJ Miles was Danny Green before Danny Green got traded there.  They literally played the same role.  Once Green came in, Miles never recovered.

Maxi Kleber ($7 million)

Now for bigs.  Almost all of these guys are probably going to cost more, due to the league realizing “Oh, these are quality players!” and dumb teams offering too much money due to so-called “star-power” (Man I was really mean to Boogie there).  Anyways, Kleber might be on the less-expensive end.  He’s not as fluid defensively; he’s a big dude with ungraceful legs.  But that size does allow him to play small-ball five in certain lineups.  Offensively, the dude launches from three, and I love it.

DeMarcus Cousins ($8 million)

Is this too much?  Way too much?  Too little?  I have no idea how to interpret Boogie’s value this summer.  This Knicks seem keen on getting him at whatever price it takes (It shouldn’t be a high one).  What if they come in with some crazy offer that trumps $8 million a year?  I thought if anyone over the years was going to overpay Boogie, it’d be the Lakers.  I thought they could take that risk.  That’s not so much the case anymore.

Boogie would solely be a backup big for the Lakers.  I worry about him playing with Davis for offensive and defensive issues.  This would essentially be another Warriors-like, one year stint to try and get a ring.  But again, Cousins might have immense interest from others in the league.

Khem Birch($5 million)/Dwayne Dedmon($8 million???)

This spot is up in the air.

I have really liked Khem Birch for this spot.  He’s not a three-point shooter, but is at least an athletic center who can run.  He’s also going to make substantially less than Dedmon, who, as Zach Lowe has pointed out on his podcast, might be in for a shocking pay-day.

Dedmon is awesome, and deserves it, but it’s going to be a contract that NBA Twitter loses their minds at originally.

The Lakers can’t afford much more at this point.  In the exercise we just completed, and in the rotation we’re about to go through below, we have spent anywhere between approximately $137.5 million and $140.5 million.

The cap is projected to be around $109 million.  They’re also well over the luxury tax.

  1. Patrick Beverley-Rajon Rondo
  2. LeBron James-Rodney McGruder
  3. Kyle Kuzma-Reggie Bullock-Wayne Ellington-Talen Horton-Tucker
  4. Trevor Ariza-Wilson Chandler-CJ Miles-Maxi Kleber
  5. Anthony Davis-DeMarcus Cousins-Khem Birch/Dwayne Dedmon

Here’s the players I just picked in a rotation.  A lot of switchy wings who can shoot.  Bigs who can protect the rim and play athletically.  All running through LeBron, and helped out with the play-making of Beverley and Rondo.

But how good is this roster?  The West is wide open; the Warriors won’t be the same.  Is this the best team in the West?

It feels hard to say that.  We don’t know all the other moves that could be coming to teams in the conference.  The Rockets could get a lot better.  Denver has a lot of pieces coming into the picture.  The Jazz are loading up.

This lineup lacks impact guys.  It’s hard to rely on LeBron like his teams have the past couple years anymore.  Last year, even without the injury, felt like a transitional one to a different era of his career.

Maybe the anti-Lakers bias is in full-fledged mode right now.  But this lineup feels a bit far from a guaranteed Finals contender, and that’s not a good sign considering where their cap hold would be at with it.

OR, another mold might work.

The Lakers cleared max room.  I’ve spent a lot more than that above, and that’s without adding a max player.  That’s also by putting together a roster that isn’t guaranteed to be the best.


So the Lakers have to go make a bigger splash.

  1. Kemba Walker/D’Angelo Russell/Kyrie Irving-Rajon Rondo
  2. LeBron James-Rodney McGruder
  3. Kyle Kuzma-Reggie Bullock-Wayne Ellington-Talen Horton-Tucker
  4. Trevor Ariza-Wilson Chandler-CJ Miles-Maxi Kleber
  5. Anthony Davis-DeMarcus Cousins-Khem Birch/Dwayne Dedmon

But with this lineup, you’re spending even MORE money by adding a max player then having to fill out the rest of the roster.  It might be worth it.  As I said above, the first roster didn’t not provide enough impact.  You’re asking a lot from to-be 35-year-old LeBron with that squad.  Another star would help alleviate the load greatly.

If the Lakers do want a third star, they should go after a point guard with it. Obviously, as I’ll get to below, if you can get Kawhi Leonard you do it.  But anyone else you may have to think harder about.

If the Lakers sign Jimmy Butler or Tobias Harris or another second-to-third tier free agent that doesn’t play point guard, you’re handing out $15 million-plus to that guy.  And then you have to hand out $10-15 million to a good point guard, because we know you can’t run with a bad point guard on a LeBron team.  You have to go out and spend the money on Beverley.

So why not just take care of both of those issues at the same time, and sign a max-level player who plays point guard?

It’s going to cost a lot more, and I mean A LOT.  But man… Kyrie/Kemba/D’Angelo-LeBron-AD?  That’s the best team in the West almost immediately.

How realistic are any of these guys?  Kyrie seems locked into Brooklyn, while Kemba seems locked into the Celtics.  If Kyrie is a Net, that leaves Russell with a lot of suitors, and the Lakers seem to top that list.

Would Russell really want to go back after they shipped him out of there for nothing, black-balled his name and told him he was immature when he could easily go play with Devin Booker and DeAndr… wait, I know this isn’t happening so why am I getting myself excited?  Anyways, a return to the Lakers can’t be ruled out for Russell.  Basketball-wise, it’s great for both sides involved.  I just don’t know why he’d do that for them, when Phoenix (Ah God here we go again), Minnesota and Indiana both allow him to complete a dynamic duo and allow him to not have to play off someone (like LeBron, that’s kind of a big deal fit wise) as much.

If the Lakers do go out and get a max point guard, the numbers will be astronomical.  If they sign Russell, we’re looking at approximately $153.8 million to $156.8 million depending on whether they chose Birch or Dedmon (It’s a three million dollar difference).  If they sign Kyrie, we’re looking at approximately $154.6 million to $157.6 million depending on the Birch/Dedmon decision. And if they sign Walker, we’re looking at approximately $161.5 million to $164.5 million depending on the Birch/Dedmon decision.  Keep in mind these calculations subtract Beverley’s projected $13 million hit.  But also keep in mind this is simply pay roll.  The Lakers would be over the luxury tax threshold with all of these potential signings.  That would not be a small bill.

OR, the Lakers somehow land Kawhi Leonard, putting together easily the best team in the league (Three of the top six guys) and possibly the best collection of talent ever.

  1. Patrick Beverley-Rajon Rondo
  2. LeBron James-Rodney McGruder
  3. Kawhi Leonard-Reggie Bullock-Wayne Ellington-Talen Horton-Tucker
  4. Kyle Kuzma-Wilson Chandler-CJ Miles-Maxi Kleber
  5. Anthony Davis-DeMarcus Cousins-Khem Birch/Dwayne Dedmon

But my God would it be expensive.  Here we’re looking at $172.5 million to $175.5 million depending on Birch or Dedmon.  If the Lakers go here, it’s almost assured they’d sign Birch to alleviate costs.

This is a perfect example of why signing a max-level point guard instead of a max-level player makes more sense.  You kill two birds with one stone in signing Kyrie, Kemba or Russell.  Here, you still have to get someone like Beverley and pay that guy a lot.

At the same time, this is one case where it’d absolutely be worth it.  Kawhi and LeBron was a duo that was floated last summer; the Lakers were really interested in trading for him from San Antonio.  Kawhi and LeBron would have been insane.  Now throw AD in?  How do you stop that?

I think it’s unlikely Kawhi ends up with the Lakers, but is he going to meet with them next week.  Would there be a better basketball situation f0r him?  Probably not.

OR, the Lakers could panic.

  1. Patrick Beverley-Rajon Rondo
  2. Jimmy Butler-Rodney McGruder
  3. LeBron James-Reggie Bullock-Wayne Ellington-Talen Horton-Tucker
  4. Kyle Kuzma-Wilson Chandler-CJ Miles-Maxi Kleber
  5. Anthony Davis-DeMarcus Cousins-Khem Birch/Dwayne Dedmon

This involves the funny scenario which we thought had the highest odds of happening: the Lakers striking out and having to settle on someone a tad underwhelming.

Obviously getting AD makes the summer not as disappointing.  But adding Butler as the third star makes the least sense and feels like a classic reach/overpay.

I think Butler is a disaster paired with LeBron.  While he would bring defense to a team that needs it desperately, Butler is someone who needs the ball in his hands a lot, and isn’t happy not being the focal point.  Butler is not someone who’s going to play-off anyone, even if that is LeBron.  He’s not a fantastic catch-and-shoot guy, and isn’t necessarily lights out from three either.  He would bring some extra play-making, but I think his personality and playing style isn’t a good fit.

If the Lakers do reach for Butler here and give him the max, we’re looking at the same exact range as we are with Kawhi: $172.5 million to $175.5 million depending on Birch/Dedmon.  Would you really give Butler the max instead of Kawhi?  Do you want Butler at any price more than $22 million or so a year?  The Lakers aren’t going to be the only team asking themselves that starting Sunday.