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A look at the Lakers’ possible roster moves this offseason

Kyle Kuzma attempts a shot against the Thunder while playing for the Lakers in 2020.
The Lakers could be in the market to reacquire forward Kyle Kuzma, who helped them win a title in 2020.
(Sue Ogrocki / Associated Press)
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Hey everyone, it’s Dan Woike of the L.A. Times, and welcome to a “ready for the weekend” edition of the Lakers newsletter, the one time each week I get to scour through the lyrics of songs that I love to make sure that it’s sorta safe for work.

There’s a ton going on with the Lakers right now. They’ve been hosting draft workouts with the near-certain anticipation that New Orleans is going to defer and take the team’s 2025 first-round pick and not No. 17 this year to complete the Anthony Davis trade. The Pelicans reportedly have done that. They had in-person, organization-wide interviews with a coaching candidate (Jim Borrego).

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And there’s this whole pesky improve-the-roster stuff that, you know, is the big priority this summer.

So, yeah, I’ve been busy. Let’s get to the newsletter.

Winning on the edges

Derrick Jones Jr., a player who had four different NBA employers before signing a minimum contract with Dallas last summer, looked as if he were in some kind of a trance as he walked off the court in Minnesota on Thursday night.

After the Mavericks bounced the Timberwolves from the playoffs and earned a spot in the NBA Finals, footage of Jones sort of gliding through the back of the building toward the locker room was shared on social media — the kind of image that reaffirmed one of the biggest takeaways of this postseason.

While the Mavericks, of course, don’t get to the Finals without Luka Doncic’s absurd shot-making and while they , of course, aren’t playing without hitting a home run on their Kyrie Irving bet, their work in building around their stars is a major reason why they’ve got a chance to win a title.

It speaks to the Mavericks’ front office and coaching staff figuring out how to optimize their role players, finding affordable pieces that might have been undervalued elsewhere in their roster construction around their superstars.

The team they beat, Minnesota, hit on their bigger transactions but also stumbled into a key piece in Nickeil Alexander-Walker, a huge reason for their sweep of the Phoenix Suns before he struggled in the conference finals.

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The Oklahoma City Thunder, the team Dallas dispatched before Minnesota, got big minutes from Isaiah Joe, who the Philadelphia 76ers flat-out released before he landed in OKC.

In the East, the Boston Celtics got a two-way star in their trade for Derrick White. The New York Knicks, one of the biggest stories of the first two rounds, showcased Josh Hart as a starring role player.

All of these players, their paths and roles on their current teams differing, made impacts toward winning with relatively low investment —White cost the Celtics a first-round pick, a swap and filler, and Hart cost the Knicks a late first-rounder.

While the trade-machine computations and jersey-swap photo alterations can have fans fantasizing about Trae Young or some other All-Star-ish player, the margins are where the Lakers’ roster has to improve most.

Rui Hachimura, a player they got for a handful of second-round picks two years ago, fit the bill in last year’s postseason. So did Lonnie Walker IV, who had a monster game against the Warriors in the second round.

Lakers forward Rui Hachimura, right, drives to the basket against Hawks forward Jalen Johnson.
Forward Rui Hachimura, driving to the basket against Hawks forward Jalen Johnson last season, could be one of a few players the Lakers trade to rebuild the roster this offseason.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
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But this season, the Lakers never got that kind of lift from players beyond their core stars. In their first-round loss to the Denver Nuggets, the Lakers’ bench players shot just 31.5% from the field. No one took over shifts in the kind of way you want your non-stars to in the postseason, the stretches that often decide who wins.

Trouble is, this summer, it’s not a particularly strong class of free-agent talent, leaving the Lakers — and every other organization — to hunt for these type of players.

With the Lakers currently set at guard, I mostly avoided backcourt players.

For our purposes, after talking this through with talent evaluators from multiple NBA teams, I’m going to break them into a few different categories.

The investments

Kyle Kuzma, Deni Avdija, Malcolm Brogdon, Keldon Johnson, Bruce Brown, Dorian Finney-Smith

These players are going to cost you something — a draft pick, maybe two — and outgoing salary that would alter the current roster in meaningful ways.

The Lakers know how Kuzma can impact winning — they’ve seen it — but the question would be about his desire to return to that kind of complimentary role after being a primary offensive option in Washington.

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Speaking of the Wizards, Avdija is a player a lot of scouts and executives like because of his smarts and toughness. But, if other people like him, that certainly means the Wizards like him too. That means he’ll be pricey.

With Brogdon, you’re taking on some injury risk for a player who has affected games on both ends of the court in the past. Maybe his expiring deal with the Portland Trail Blazers lowers the price tag below a first-round pick.

Some of the shine is off of Brown after he left Denver and ended the season in Toronto, his three-point shot cratering this season. His $20-million team option is one of the fun offseason subplots in free-agent geekery.

Raptors forward Bruce Brown, center shoots between Orlando's Caleb Houstan, left, Moritz Wagner.
Raptors forward Bruce Brown shoots between Orlando’s Caleb Houstan, left, Moritz Wagner. Brown is the type of two-way player the Lakers might try to acquire this offseason.
(Phelan M. Ebenhack / Associated Press)

And Johnson is in a fascinating spot, relegated to a bench role last season in San Antonio as Victor Wembanyama blossomed. Is Johnson an empty-calories scorer who doesn’t impact winning or is their two-way potential?

Finney-Smith was shooting the ball incredibly well last season for Brooklyn before a prolonged slump over the final two months. Also, like some of the other players on this list, there’s question whether all the miles spent as a primary defender have taken a toll on his body.

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In all of these scenarios, the Lakers are almost certainly sending out at least one first-round pick, and to make salaries match, players from a group of Hachimura, Jarred Vanderbilt and Gabe Vincent (and maybe D’Angelo Russell if he exercises his player option). And remember, those are the kinds of players the Lakers acquired for the same reasons that they’d now be targeting guys from this group.

The ready-made, free-agent wings

Isaac Okoro, Naji Marshall, Buddy Hield, Kelly Oubre Jr.

Okoro would be pricier — a restricted free agent who showed real offensive growth while always possessing the defensive tools teams value. Would Cleveland just match an offer at the tax-payer midlevel? The general sense is that there would at least be conversations, so there’d possibly be a window for a team to land the 23-year-old wing.

Marshall is a favorite of some evaluators because of his toughness, adding to it a shooting explosion this season, when he made nearly 39% on low-volume chances. He’s a natural target for a lot of teams, a player who could use a change of scenery from New Orleans because he has played behind guys such as Brandon Ingram, Trey Murphy III and Herb Jones.

Is it possible to have a Lakers offseason without mention of Buddy Hield? Of course not.

Hield’s Philadelphia teammate, Oubre, was one of basketball’s biggest bargains last season and is in line for a nice raise this summer. It’s unclear whether he played himself out of the Lakers’ price range.

The bargain bigs

Day’Ron Sharpe, Xavier Tillman

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Tillman has been in and out of Boston’s rotation since the Celtics acquired him from Memphis, but he has the heft and defensive versatility for a spot as a situational backup center.

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Assuming Brooklyn re-signs Nic Claxton, Sharpe could be a target for teams hunting for a young backup big at a reasonable trade cost. He’s primed for more production should he find increased opportunity.

The big swings

Chuma Okeke, KJ Martin

Okeke has dealt with injuries throughout his career in Orlando, and his shooting has never really made it worthwhile for him to have a real role. But the restricted free agent projected as a defensive stopper out of college and is just 25.

Martin, a terrific athlete, has the tools to be a multipositional defender and rebounder, but he has basically stopped shooting three-pointers over the last two seasons, which limits the unrestricted free agent’s offensive impact.

This list is hardly exhaustive, the hunt for useful role players is an ongoing and evolving one, everyone looking for ways to replicate the success of the surviving teams in the NBA playoffs.

Song of the week

Evil Spawn” by Waxahatchee

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I’m a big fan of Waxahatchee, Kathryn Crutchfield’s voice being one of the most distinctive in music, and as I wrote this newsletter, I worked my way through her latest record. It’s an easy spin, the kind of music you can put on and forget about the skip button.

In case you missed it

Lakers coaching search picks up steam, James Borrego interviews today

Agent says Bronny James staying in NBA draft: ‘Lakers need to look at Bronny like everyone else’

Plaschke: Who will draft Bronny James? The Lakers should just say no

Like Caitlin Clark, LeBron James started pro career 0-4. Lakers star hopes ‘she kills’ in WNBA

Lakers guard Austin Reaves fails to qualify for Korn Ferry Tour event

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Bill Walton, UCLA legend, NBA star and Pac-12 advocate, dies at age 71

Appreciation: Bill Walton’s kindness and wonderful wackiness made us the grateful ones

Until next time...

As always, pass along your thoughts to me at daniel.woike@latimes.com, and please consider subscribing if you like our work!

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