The Los Angeles Lakers entered this season with high hopes and expectations, fresh off winning their 17th NBA championship. They look poised to lead the Western Conference once again but their year came to an early end after losing to the Phoenix Suns in the first round of the playoffs.
This was a tough season overall for the reigning champions. They have to endure multiple injuries and play over a third of the season without their top two players. It's hard to win in that situation.
Then again, it seems like they dug themselves into this hole with the moves they made the past summer, and it'll be now up to Rob Pelinka to surround LeBron James with better players going forward.
What Should The Lakers Do This Offseason?
Don't get me wrong, I do believe the Lakers were stacked this season. They brought in the players they wanted in Montrezl Harrell, Dennis Schroder, Wesley Matthews, Marc Gasol, and even Andre Drummond.
That doesn't mean that they played up to the level you'd expect from them, nor that they were properly and timely used by coach Frank Vogel, who was often exposed when he needed to make adjustments.
The Lakers will always be an appealing market and playing next to LeBron and Davis will certainly help their case, but the Lakers have just around $10 million in cap space and a mid-level exception worth around $5 million for next season.
Also, 7 players - or 8 if Gasol decides to retire - will hit free agency and there isn't much you could do to keep them around unless they take a pay cut. With that in mind, this is what Rob Pelinka should do:
Give Up On Kyle Kuzma
Kyle Kuzma had his chance to prove his worth and he failed over and over. He made great strides as a defender and took one for the team by taking less money in his contract extension, and for that, he should be thanked... and shown the door.
Kuzma will never be the third wheel they need for their offense. Even when he slid into the starting lineup, he was hot for one second and then completely pedestrian for the next three quarters.
He's got some trade value due to his youth and 'upside' but it seems like he is what he is at this point. He's making north of $13 million and, attached to that 22nd pick - and even Montrezll Harrell if he opts in on his deal - could be a solid trade asset.
Make A Big Trade
With that in mind, it's clear that the Lakers need to move some spare parts to get another star into the Staples Center. They no longer have the plethora of assets they had when they traded for Anthony Davis, so that will make it a little tricky this time.
As of now, Harrell, Kuzma, and their first-round picks are the only moveable assets they have. They could sign-and-trade Alex Caruso and/or Talen Horton-Tucker (both will be free agents) but that would mean parting ways with two pieces they viewed as crucial for their project.
The reality is that there's no way they can bring in an All-Star kind of player unless they move all of those players, but it's clear that you can't rely on a 36-year-old player - as legendary as LeBron is - and an injury-prone star to lead your team over and over.
Obviously, players like Bradley Beal, Stephen Curry, or Damian Lillard would be out of the question due to their salaries - assuming they would want to leave their teams, which is unlikely - but there could still be some valuable players out there like Zach LaVine, who recently sold his place in Chicago.
Stay Away From Dennis Schroder
Dennis Schroder never wanted to play for the Lakers. He - literally - said that he didn't want to play for them just a couple of weeks before the Oklahoma City Thunder traded him away. Then, he took them out of his bio on the eve of a potential season finale.
Schroder declined a huge contract extension and wants to have a bigger role. Well, so be it. The Lakers shouldn't overpay for a player that's not good enough to be a starter and that's just proven to be effective coming off the bench. Do you want to play big minutes? So be it, but do it elsewhere.
The Lakers need to address their playmaking issues and players such as Kyle Lowry and Chris Paul - who's said to be ready to opt out of his deal - will be up for grabs, and that should be their primary focus in the offseason.
The team will have to fill plenty of roster spots with all their impending free agents, but adding another solid player via trade, signing a true point guard, resigning Andre Drummond, and keeping LeBron and Davis should be more than enough to have a championship-caliber team regardless of the other pieces you put around them.