The Los Angeles Lakers were able to successfully pivot away from Russell Westbrook, because this roster never really needed Russ. While the intention was right in looking for a third star, the only way adding one would’ve helped is if the team didn’t have to give up a bunch to get one, or if that player was still a third star. Seeing as neither of those parameters were met, it was a disaster.
Now, a couple of seasons removed from that deal, the Lake Show’s two superstars are two years older, and could use another heavy lifter. Christian Wood is not that. Neither is Gabe Vincent, Taurean Prince, or Cam Reddish. Re-signing Austin Reaves, D’Angelo Russell, and Rui Hachimura were all good moves, and the role players might be able to produce like a third star collectively, but that’s contingent upon LeBron James and Anthony Davis’ health.
Those two are able to wallpaper over myriad weaknesses, making the game infinitely easier for the other three guys on the court. However, who’s making it easier for them? Sure, the moments when one of the role guys catches fire enable James and Davis to get a breather, but there needs to be someone who can get those guys easy buckets, as well.
James resorted to too many contested stepbacks a season ago, and that needs to change. It’ll ultimately fall on him to make that adjustment as the team is still its best self when LeBron has the ball, but he can’t do it for four quarters anymore. Either he fulfills this pipedream of moving off the ball a little more, or he simply plays fewer minutes. The two-man game with Davis is lethal, yet so is a pick-and-roll with Davis and any unselfish playmaker.
Putting James in the corner for a couple of plays isn’t sacrilegious if he’s not going to move off the ball. However, it is if Davis is screening for D’Angelo or Reaves. The spacing provided by Wood, Vincent, and others is going to be a boon for AD pick and rolls. It’s a great offense in its own right, and could be a viable second action for the regular season and playoffs.
But who is that third guy?
The sneaky thing about all these free agency moves by Rob Pelinka isn’t the depth, or the shooting, but rather how good these guys are going to look solely by sharing the court with James and Davis. It might not be enough to land a third superstar, and that’s OK, because a talented borderline all-star could work.
Think Mike Conley five years ago, or even CJ McCollum. As a Trail Blazers fan, it made me shudder just writing it, because, no way, but also he’d be perfect. Say the Pelicans season goes south (highly likely), McCollum’s value will never dip lower, and it’s the exact type of trade the Lakers pull off all the time (much to the chagrin of the rest of the league).
Los Angeles still needs a contingency plan, and Christian Wood is not it. The front office can’t be as wide-eyed and hopeful as the fanbase, because last year felt like more of an aberration than a reliable path to the Western Conference Finals.
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