0 of 3
Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images
The challenge awaiting the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2022 NBA offseason is astronomical.
They must navigate a tight financial crunch, a lack of draft assets, an uncertain future with LeBron James and major question marks around Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook to deliver a summer so productive they forget the colossally disappointing 2021-22 campaign ever happened.
It sounds impossible, but the James-Davis duo has proven to be a championship foundation before, so maybe the right kind of tweaks can elevate this club again.
1 of 3
Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images
The trio of James, Davis and Westbrook is as costly as they come.
Together, they count for more nearly $130 million on next season’s books alone, per Spotrac. Those contracts are more than enough to put LA on a collision course with the estimated $149 million luxury tax, and that’s before factoring in the money still owed to Talen Horton-Tucker ($10.3 million base salary) or Kendrick Nunn ($5.3 million) plus whatever they spend in free agency.
Admittedly, there isn’t much to spend, at least. They’ll have the taxpayer mid-level exception, but that’s it. If the front office doesn’t get any deals off the books, it will have to fill the rest of the roster with minimum pacts.
Last summer, the Lakers whiffed on the mid-level (given to Nunn, who lost the entire season to a knee injury) and on several minimum deals (DeAndre Jordan, Trevor Ariza and Kent Bazemore). They have to get more mileage out of those arrangements this time around and uncover as many bargains as possible.
2 of 3
Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images
The first item to tackle is whether to trade Westbrook.
The 33-year-old has just played one of the least productive seasons of his career and will be one of the NBA’s five most expensive players next season whenever he picks up his player option. He also looks like a fish out of water in this offense, since he isn’t a good enough shooter to add value off the ball and isn’t productive enough to spend too much time on it.
A trade feels like the best solution here, but that would require major concessions from the Lakers. They might have to give up a first-round pick or two. They might have to take back a bloated contract or two. They might have to do all of the above. The cost would be significant, and even if LA found a better fit, it wouldn’t walk away with a better player.
Aside from the Westbrook conundrum, the Lakers need to decide how hard they’re willing to push without any assurance from James on his future. He’s only signed for next season and can’t sign an extension before August.
Should the 37-year-old opt for greener pastures next summer, this franchise could be in a world of hurt if it sacrifices even more long-term assets prior to his departure.
3 of 3
Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images
Don’t look for splashes from this squad in free agency. There just isn’t enough money to get that done.
The Lakers seem likely to throw their biggest asset (the MLE) at Malik Monk and hope that’s enough after his breakout campaign.
The 24-year-old should command serious interest as a former lottery pick who just converted 47.3 percent of his field goals and 39.1 percent of his threes, and it’s possible LA won’t make the highest offer he receives.
Still, as long as the Lakers’ offer is close to the top dollar he commands, he seems a relatively safe bet to stick around. He sounds interested in staying, and our crystal ball sees him taking a short-term deal that allows him to re-enter the market in a year or two to sign a longer, richer deal with the Lakers.
That will be the biggest ripple as far as free agency goes. For some bonus offseason predictions, we don’t see a Westbrook trade or a James extension happening, but we do see LA trading into the second round of this draft to get younger and more athletic.