Lakers gain star stability, shake up roster around LeBron James and Anthony Davis
NBC Sports' Dan Feldman rates each team's off-season based on where the team now stands relative to their position in the off-season. A “C” means that a team is in a similar position and from there notches pointing up or down.
LeBron James signed the Heat in 2010, took the stage in an induction / celebration rally, and stated that Miami would win "not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven" championships. The threat felt real. People feared the heat had just formed an invincible dynasty with LeBron, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh.
Four years later, LeBron played for the Cavaliers.
As much as LeBron, Wade, and Bosh, who signed with Miami, changed the paradigm, LeBron, who returned to Cleveland, really has put the NBA in its current state of superstar movement. By signing a number of short contracts with the Cavs and leaving for the Lakers in 2014, LeBron showed the power of flexibility. He held the feet of Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert to the fire, pulled out everything he could, and then pounced on a Lakers team that had stocked up on assets. Then he let the Lakers pool those assets for Anthony Davis.
That obviously worked out well for LeBron, who has won titles with both Cleveland and Los Angeles.
This is a flammable situation for the Cavs and any other star team following LeBron's lead. Many stars find that the grass on the other side is not greener. The burnout rate can be high.
But the Lakers have found rare stability with their stars.
After spending two years in Los Angeles, LeBron signed a two-year contract extension that begins next year. Davis spent one season with the Lakers and then another four years, the longest realizable term of his new contract.
This is not the norm.
So many high-end stars of the season (defined by the formation of an All-NBA team before and after the team change) have stayed with a new team since 2014, including the entire term of existing contracts: *
* I counted Blake Griffin's player option season, but not Davis, Jimmy Butlers, or Kawhi Leonard.
LaMarcus Aldridge filed for a deal in San Antonio after just two seasons, but he and the Spurs pulled it off. Blake Griffin is the only star on the map that had practically nothing to say. He signed a five-year deal to stay with the Clippers and was then traded in the first season. If the pistons do all they do, we'll see if Griffin stays in Detroit for five years.
But LeBron and Davis each devoted themselves to the Lakers for five years with virtually no restrictions.
This is a great blessing for the Lakers. They remain a championship candidate for years without distracting speculation about their superstars.
After LeBron and Davis were locked up, Los Angeles set about building around these two.
The Lakers keep all three RPG players under 30 off their playoff rotation. They re-signed Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (three years, $ 39,116,585 with a $ 30 million guarantee) and signed Kyle Kuzma for an extension (three years, $ 40 million with a player option). Alex Caruso also returns.
Los Angeles also added new faces to its supporting cast.
The Lakers exchanged Danny Green and the No. 28 for Dennis Schroder for the Thunder. Although Green has an excellent stylistic fit with stars like LeBron and Davis, he has shown signs of slip up by the age of 33. Los Angeles could definitely use a playmaker like Schroder, especially if he keeps up his career-best 3-point shoot from last season - and passes.
The signing of Wesley Matthews (one year, room exception) as another 3-and-D security guard mitigates the loss of Green. At the time, it was number 28 on a downward draft for a helpful veteran in Schroder. One call.
Giving Montrezl Harrell a 1 + 1 for the middle taxpayer exemption should have been more challenging. The reigning Sixth Man of the Year is a good player - especially in the regular season. His defensive flaws and limited outside shooting could really limit his post-season impact (at best).
Perhaps the Lakers appreciated getting another center-back in the regular season. With the brief turn of the bubble, Harrell could help keep Los Angeles' 16-game players fresh for the playoffs. It's easy to see that Schroder and Harrell are building a productive pick-and-roll partnership.
And maybe the Lakers are smart enough to find a sizable postseason role for Harrell. Davis can cover a lot of soil to protect the paint and expose the soil. LeBron can be the primary playmaker who uses the ball to get attention and set Harrell up.
But at this point in time, the Lakers are planning more of an RPG than their stars. While I don't know who else they could have gotten, the Lakers might at some point regret using their MLE at Harrell rather than someone who would be a better match for LeBron and Davis in the playoffs.
Marc Gasol is the better defender and 3-point shooter - if he has enough in the tank at the age of 35. He looked like toast to the Raptors in the playoffs. However, if you have a minimum contract of two years, it is worth finding out. The basketball intelligence and passing game of gasoline could be something special when combined with LeBrons.
Maybe Harrell is playing enough minutes in the regular season to save gas for the playoffs. Markieff Morris, who has re-signed for the minimum, could also help.
To make room for these newcomers, the Lakers let Rajon Rondo (Hawks), Avery Bradley (Heat) and Dwight Howard (76ers) go free and traded JaVale McGee for the Cavaliers.
This is quite a change.
The Lakers only give back 59% of their postseason minutes that went to non-All-Star players - the fourth longest ever recorded for a championship team: *
The NBA began tracking postseasonal logs in 1952.
The Lakers faced historically low levels of competition en route to their championship. That doesn't detract from their performance. But there's also a reality: The Lakers couldn't have run back the same team and assumed they would repeat themselves.
To their credit, the Lakers did not rest on their laurels. This supporting cast looks better despite my Harrell concerns.
However, this remains primarily a LeBron and Davis operation - and will do so for the benefit of the Lakers for years to come.
Low season class: B +
Lakers gain star stability, shake the squad around LeBron James and Anthony Davis originally appeared on NBCSports.com
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