Following Kawhi Leonard‘s decision to snub the Los Angeles Lakers to join cross-city rivals, the Los Angeles Clippers, Rob Pelinka and Co. moved fast to form a competitive roster in an alternative manner.
The Lakers signed the likes of Danny Green, Quinn Cook, DeMarcus Cousins, Avery Bradley, Troy Daniels, and Jared Dudley, whilst also retaining the talents of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, JaVale McGee, Rajon Rondo, and Alex Caruso. All construct a deep, experienced roster that is expected to challenge at the very top of the NBA in the upcoming season.
Many are praising the Lakers’ front office for the moves made so far. The atmosphere surrounding the franchise is a lot more positive than it was just a few months ago. It’s debatable whether the Lakers will be favourites to win the 2019/20 NBA title, but they should be there or thereabouts, depending on health.
We have brought some UK fans on board to give their views on a variety of topics, including; Kawhi Leonard, the Lakers’ off-season moves so far, the last roster spot, expectations moving forward, and more. Please welcome Mark, Jonathan, Ryan, and Timi.
Q: On July 10, Kawhi Leonard opted to sign for the Los Angeles Clippers over the Lakers and Raptors, what were your thoughts on his decision?
Mark: “Initially I was gutted. The prospective fit of Kawhi alongside AD and LeBron was so tantalising. In the end though he chose the Clippers, so I can only pity him.”
Jonathan: “My first reaction to Kawhi signing with the Clippers was like a gut punch. I think most Laker fans bought into the reports linking him to the Lakers because numerous high profile reporters who seemed to be in the know leaned heavily towards the Purple and Gold. After the initial shock wore off and the Lakers landed some very solid pieces who fit in within the team dynamic and direction the gut punch turned into optimism for the coming season.”
Ryan: “I was annoyed with the length of time it had taken for the decision. I did feel like it had been one big game and that he probably had no intention of coming here in the first place. At the same time I wasn’t all too disappointed as it allowed us to go out and gather players to build a better team with depth.”
Timi: “Honestly at first I was disappointed but then I started to think about all these great duos in the league, and how exciting the NBA is going to be! I’m a Lakers fan first but I care about the whole league. Plus, the Lakers did well to build a solid team that I think can go up against anybody. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of competition.”
Q: Following Leonard’s decision, the Lakers took an alternative route and built a deep roster. We’ll get into specific players soon, but was this a good route for the franchise to take? Is it better throughout an 82-game regular season, plus playoffs, than Kawhi?
Mark: “I would take Kawhi over the alternatives any day of the week and twice on Sunday. You can have all the depth you like, good luck beating Kawhi, AD and LeBron.”
Jonathan: “I definitely think that the Lakers made the right decision in going for depth rather than adding another max player. Maybe if they were given the choice they might have chosen another max guy but with Kawhi taking so long most of the top players came off the board. I am firmly of the belief that Kawhi was the only player worthy of the Lakers giving up all of their cap space.”
Ryan: “Kawhi can’t play all season, he was having more nights off than anyone else this past season and missed a full season through injury not that long ago. I’m glad we’ve been able to add depth with quality players who can perform well instead of hedging our bets on a big 3, where we weren’t guaranteed to have all 3, all season.”
Timi: “I think that time will tell, but let’s not forget that Kawhi himself needs load management. Having a deep team around 2 superstars, and a couple guys who could have star seasons in Kuz and a healthy Boogie, is nothing to complain about. If Kawhi is on the table you go for him, but given what the Warriors went through, perhaps the alternative is better.”
Q: The Lakers’ first signing after the news was Danny Green, who was the last premier “3 and D” player left on the market. In the guard category overall, the purple and gold secured KCP, Cook, Rondo, Caruso, Bradley, and Daniels. What are your views on each signing? Is that enough shooting around LeBron and AD?
Mark: “Signing Green felt like a small victory and an important one. The other signings are OK – Rondo aside. I just don’t get re-signing Rondo. For the likes of KCP, Cook and Bradley, there is potential value there, but they all need to have bounce-back seasons. Fortunately, that is made a lot easier when you’re playing with 2 superstars.”
Jonathan: “I am hopeful that the likes of Danny Green and Avery Bradley can add the defense and 3-point shooting we need and I feel the likes of Quinn Cook, Jared Dudley and Troy Daniels can give us extra shooting off the bench. I think the Lakers added the perfect amount of fire power and defense to the roster to compliment LeBron and AD. One more solid Small Forward would round out the roster nicely.”
Ryan: “I feel like we are still lacking one player, ideally it’s Iggy as I feel his playoff and big game experience could be key in the last few months of the season. I wasn’t overly happy with the idea of KCP coming back as I’m not too sure what he adds at all. Rondo could be a great addition if he understands he’s for use in the second unit. Cook I really like and can be a great asset in the long run as can Caruso.”
Timi: “I think there’s plenty of shooting to go around. Danny Green is one of the best in the league, Cook and Caruso are also snipers (more than 40% from deep). But then you’ve got guys like Bradley, KCP, Kuz who can all put up shooting numbers above league average. Let’s not forget that Rondo shot 36% last year, although at very low frequency. At the very least, he’ll be able to knock down the open shot, which I think is all we’ll need from him.”
Q: DeMarcus Cousins has joined the party too, on a cheap deal. Was this a good move for the Lakers? With JaVale McGee re-signing, who do you think should start at center?
Mark: “Signing Cousins was a great move. The upside could be phenomenal. I would try and ease Boogie into the starting lineup. One thing we learned last year is that JaVale can contribute, but he cannot play starters minutes.”
Jonathan: “If the Lakers value floor spacing then signing Cousins was essential. While Davis can shoot from the 3-point line, he seems to do most of his damage in the paint. Having JaVale start would lead to a clogged lane and would affect the floor spacing. I firmly believe Cousins should be the starter and hopefully he can return to the beast we saw in Sacramento and New Orleans.”
Ryan: “I’d start AD at 5 but he’s said he doesn’t want to play there. I think it’ll be difficult to play AD, Bron, and Boogie as they’re all going to operate in the same areas. If you can’t convince AD to play the 5 then I’d play JaVale and have a duo of Boogie and Rondo leading the second group.”
Timi: “I think Cousins could be the most underrated signing of the off-season. If he’s healthy there’s no debate: he starts. When last healthy he averaged 26/12/5, and was the best big man in the league. People are acting like he’s still hurt, but he’s not only healthy but has lost weight! I can’t wait to see him out on the court in October.”
Q: Alongside Zach Norvell Jr, the Lakers signed Kostas Antetokounmpo on a two-way contract. This means that Giannis is going to be a Laker in 2021, right? In all seriousness, what do you think of the Kostas Antetokounmpo signing?
Mark: “You could argue that getting Kostas Antetokounmpo is a little like signing KCP a few years ago. We had the roster and cap space back then and it gave us a channel to LeBron. Let’s see if he gets a workout with Kobe? (Or tacos with LeBron?).”
Jonathan: “Kostas Antetokounmpo is all potential at this moment in time. He is a low risk, high reward signing. I don’t think he will ever be Giannis but he has the physical tools that usually translate well in the NBA. The main reason the Lakers signed Kostas however is to have a line to Giannis for free agency in the future. Hopefully Kostas can develop nicely with the help of Phil Handy and become a good player but I wouldn’t hold my breath.”
Ryan: “I think he’s a project and a good long-term project who could be a huge asset to the team in a few years, and naively I do believe it’s being used as part of a long term plan for Giannis at the same time.”
Timi: “Haha tampering alert!! No but seriously I hope it works out for him. I question how much time he’ll get for the Lakers, but if he shines for South Bay who knows. One thing that could help is being around guys like Caruso and Cook, who will know what he’s going through. And hey, if he gets a KCP deal in before the 2020/21 season, then we know what’s about to go down!”
Q: There is 1 roster spot available, who do you think the Lakers should fill it with?
Mark: “The Lakers should keep the roster spot open for Iggy, for as long as that is possible.”
Jonathan: “If he gets bought out, Andre Iguodala would be the perfect signing to back up LeBron. He would be a crucial piece in the playoffs. I wouldn’t be against the Lakers getting Carmelo Anthony providing he accepts a lesser role off the bench. If Melo can shave off the pounds like Boogie Cousins has and plays a role then he can possibly help the Lakers. If he refuses then I’d go after someone like Vince Carter. I’d love to see a motivated Vinsanity chasing a ring in his last season.”
Ryan: “Wait for the Iggy buyout and if it doesn’t come then make a play for Livingston, simply because of what he can bring in terms of experience for the latter part of the season.”
Timi: “If he becomes available, it has to be Iggy. A veterans veteran, who can play top defense, comes alive in the Playoffs, can shoot an open jumper, and is crazy clutch! I understand Memphis trying to trade for him, but I hope they do allow him to move on if they can’t get a good deal, which seems unlikely.”
Q: Now we know the makeup of the roster going into the 2019/20 campaign, how many wins are you expecting? What is your minimum expectation for next season?
Mark: “I would hope this team gets above 45 wins. My minimum expectation is to beat the Clippers. If that means getting to the NBA Finals, all the better. No good setting expectations low. We probably have 2 years left of LeBron, our expectations should be 2 Finals appearances and 1 Championship.”
Jonathan: “I think if the Lakers stay injury free they can get 55+ wins. They need to make sure not to run AD or LeBron into the ground but I can see them being a very good regular season team. Anything short of the Western Conference Finals would be a big let down. This team is built to win.”
Ryan: “55 if AD and Bron can remain healthy, maybe more if the second unit can do what they couldn’t last season and contribute to whatever the first unit lay out. If all parts contribute and we find the right system and if LeBron playing the point can work defensively then I think 55 is a good target.”
Timi: “I think 53 wins in the regular season. There will be some trials early on, but we’ll head into the postseason behind Houston, Utah, and Denver, who I think are more equipped for the regular season, and take the 4th seed. The minimum expectation is the WCFs, barring catastrophic injury. I think we’ll get the 4th seed, but the postseason? Well, that’s a different story entirely..”
By Matt Evans (@mattyyyevans)