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Newsletter: Lakers newsletter: How the Lakers rebuilt their roster to win now

Russell Westbrook leans forward in his chair to answer a question from a reporter.
Russell Westbrook answers a question from a reporter during his introductory news conference.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Hi, this is Dan Woike, Lakers beat writer for the Los Angeles Times, here with your Lakers newsletter.

Remember me? Summer is over and my white linen pants are in storage. The Margaritaville machine is all packed up. The kiddie pool has been deflated and my laptop, excitingly, is once again opened.

Welcome back to the Lakers newsletter — Season 2 for me — where a lot has changed since we last talked.

While I was in Japan covering the Olympics (more on that to come), the Lakers completely tore down and rebuilt their roster, getting more talented, more skilled and more, um, experienced in a series of deals that ensured the team will be very different this season.

So as we get ready for training camp later this month, let’s catch up on what the Lakers did and why they did it.

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Acquiring Russell Westbrook

Russell Westbrook holds up his Lakers jersey
Russell Westbrook holds up his Lakers jersey
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Traded to the Lakers by Washington in a five-team trade for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Kuzma and Montrezl Harrell. The Lakers’ 2021 first-round pick, Isaiah Jackson, was also part of the deal, landing in Indiana.

The defining moment of the Lakers’ offseason came when the team cashed in nearly all of its their chips for a third superstar. And Westbrook is undoubtedly one of those. His weaknesses as a shooter combined with his gravitational pull as a player — the way he plays, Westbrook puts his imprint on teams — allow for some really credible questions to be asked

Does he fit with LeBron James? Can he help off the ball? Will he defend?

With the clock ticking for James, who believe it or not is aging, the Lakers decided they needed to be more dynamic to win another ring. They sacrificed depth, shooting and above-average wing defense to do it — Harrell probably shouldn’t have been in there 2021-22 plans anyway.

Westbrook gives the Lakers more talent. He makes them more exciting. He ensures they’ll be even more interesting.

But only one question matters: Will the Lakers be good enough to win a title? Figuring out the right ways to unleash Westbrook will determine whether or not that’s a “yes.”

Signed Carmelo Anthony and Trevor Ariza

A pair of veterans with a lot of big-game experience join the roster, a pair of predictable signings based on their relationships with either the city (Ariza) or James (Anthony). In Ariza, the Lakers get what once was one of the NBA’s most versatile defensive options. While he has slowed over 17 years of NBA play, he can still hit some threes and play some defense (at least he could last season).

Anthony was one of the safest bets to become a Laker, and in some ways one of the safest offseason signings. After rough stops in Oklahoma City and Houston, Anthony figured out how to be a contributor without being a star, and was a positive for Portland during the last two seasons. He’ll float to the corner and be asked to hit threes. Not much else.

It’s easy to see how both players will fit with what the Lakers want to be. It’s hard to know just how much skill and athletic deterioration the Lakers see.

Signed Kendrick Nunn and Malik Monk, re-signed Talen Horton-Tucker

Talen Horton-Tucker is defended by Orlando Magic center Wendell Carter Jr.
(Associated Press)

They’re not all old.

Nunn, Monk and THT figure to be a part of the Lakers’ rotation, and with so much of the roster on the other side of 30, these three should have plenty of opportunity during the regular season. That should help coach Frank Vogel, who got his well-deserved contract extension this offseason, figure out which of them are ready for the playoffs.

Nunn has had the biggest taste of the postseason, but he has flashed the ability to score only in the playoffs while not doing much of anything else. Horton-Tucker has big steps to make on defense and as a spot-up shooter and a decision-maker, but his ceiling still feels pretty high and far away. Monk had a great season shooting the ball, and shooters are always welcome. He’ll have to prove that he can fit in defensively if the Lakers end up counting on him in big moments.

Still, these three signings are huge. They’re players with room to grow, and they’re also, and this is especially true in Horton-Tucker’s case, the Lakers’ most tradeable if a move has to be made down the road. The Lakers better be right about Horton-Tucker — they’ve valued him, kept him out of trade talks and, now, paid him.

Signed Wayne Ellington and Kent Bazemore

Either of these players could end up in the starting backcourt alongside Westbrook, a pair of low-budget signees who have applicable skills.

Ellington has battled injuries to sneakily be one of the highest-percentage shooters from three-point range in the NBA over the last decade, but he has never consistently found a role on a team. (Defense matters.) The Detroit Pistons were a pretty bad defensive team last season, and they were even worse in Ellington’s minutes.

Bazemore is maybe a safer, albeit lower-volume shooter, and definitely a better defender. He has been an inconsistent shooter, but the looks should be as open as they were last season when Stephen Curry was stretching defenses.

With so much defensive talent out the door, there seems to be a need for someone like Bazemore — maybe even more than there’s a need for Ellington despite the shooting challenges of any Westbrook-James-Davis lineups.

Signed Dwight Howard, Rajon Rondo and DeAndre Jordan

Rajon Rondo will be back in a Lakers uniform next season.
(Associated Press)

When Rajon Rondo retires, he’ll have played more games with the Lakers than any team other than the Celtics. That’s wild. Midway through this season, Dwight Howard will have played more games for the Lakers than any other team outside of the Magic. And DeAndre Jordan, one of the most underrated Clippers of the last two decades, built his career inside Staples Center.

They’re all back. And it’s hard to know exactly what that means.

For one, it probably means the Lakers will part ways with center Marc Gasol, who is still on the roster and under contract. Two, it probably means that Davis will still have some protection in the middle, keeping him from having to play a lot of center — even though all of the Lakers’ best lineups will probably be with Davis at center.

As far as Rondo goes, he’ll provide some playmaking depth — an actual passer on a bench full of scorers. The bigs will play roles, but Rondo seems like more of an insurance policy.

Summer cramped

One thing you need to know about being in Tokyo for the Olympics was that my hotel room was small. I normally don’t do pushups or yoga in my room or anything like that, but that’s because I’m lazy. This time, it was because everywhere I turned, there was another wall.

Yet the tiny room, the locked-down city, the long bus rides, the empty stands — it was all more than worth it to cover my first Olympics.

I owe a huge thanks to Broderick Turner for more-than-holding down coverage of the Lakers’ offseason while I tried to Google translate Uber Eats menus. And if you’re not following along on his summer adventure in Europe, then you’re not using Twitter to its fullest capacity.

Song of the week

Phoebe Bridgers — Kyoto

The basketball arena in Japan was about 45 minutes outside of Tokyo, and I’d often curl up in a ball in the back and listen to a playlist I made for the trip with songs that either were about the country or reminded me of the country (i.e. the “Lost in Translation” soundtrack). One of my favorites was the first single from Bridgers’ last album. She’s terrific — I saw her live a lifetime ago when we all still went to concerts — and her soft voice and cutting lyrics were the perfect accompaniment for a trip on the Tokyo freeway.

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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