Lakers Successfully Pivot After Losing the Kawhi Sweepstakes

The Lakers didn’t land Kawhi Leonard, but they successfully pivoted after seeing the free agent pool thin during the waiting period.

It would have been easy for Los Angeles to panic after the Clippers acquired both Leonard and Paul George, but there were enough rotation-level players left on the market to round out the Lakers’ roster, and with the trade for Anthony Davis officially complete, LA still had plenty of cap space to work with.

The Lakers quickly responded, signing Danny Green, DeMarcus Cousins, Rajon Rondo, JaVale McGee and Quinn Cook the day after Leonard announced his decision. They also nabbed Avery Bradley on Monday, proving that their front office had a plan in place should Leonard sign elsewhere.

Throw those names into the mix with Kyle Kuzma, Jared Dudley and Troy Daniels, and the Lakers have a quality rotation surrounding LeBron James and Davis.

Cousins can potentially outplay his one-year, $3.5 million deal based on his health. The big man averaged 16.3 points and 8.2 rebounds in 25.7 minutes per game for 30 contests with Golden State a season ago. If he can provide similar production for LA over more games, the signing will pay off.

Green is still a capable perimeter defender and was the second-most efficient player in the league on catch-and-shoot 3-pointers for players who attempted at least three per game last season, according to NBA.com. The shooting guard also has championship experience, something that will help the team during a stretch run.

Danny Green’s Catch-and-Shoot Splits Attempts Per Game 3-Point %
2016-17 (Spurs) 3.9 39.0
2017-18 (Spurs) 3.8 37.2
2018-19 (Raptors) 4.5 47.4

 

The Raptors forced defenders to converge on Leonard and Pascal Siakam last year, giving Green solid looks. He’s going to have a similar situation in Los Angeles with James and Davis, so expect for the guard to deliver strong numbers from behind the arc next season.

Behind Green, the Lakers brought in capable role players like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who returned to the team on a two-year, $16 million deal to provide some familiarity. He struggled last season on both ends of the floor, but his off-court problems might have impacted his production. Caldwell-Pope should bounce back thanks to the security of a two-year deal and a relatively clean slate.

Rondo also returns to the group on a less costly deal spanning two years. He’s still a strong passing guard and can be the lead ball-handler for a bench unit. The Lakers will be counting on Rondo to create for Davis and Cousins when James is off the floor. As for McGee and Dudley, they’ll provide frontcourt depth.

Bradley was never special offensively, but he was able to knock down perimeter shots regularly. After being traded three times in the last two years, Bradley should benefit from having new Head Coach Frank Vogel put him in a position to succeed in LA.

Avery Bradley’s Defensive Splits Defensive Rating
2016-17 (Celtics) 108.7
2017-18 (Pistons/Clippers) 108.3
2018-19 (Clippers/Grizzlies) 110.2

 

Bradley’s profile also allows the Lakers to be flexible on the perimeter defensively. He’s not the stopper he once was, but he’s a player who can guard multiple positions without being totally compromised. With James likely taking lesser defensive assignments to preserve his health, Bradley’s contributions on the perimeter will be important.

Cook and Daniels will provide spacing for LA. Both are career 40-percent or better 3-point shooters and will be able to take advantage of defenses crowding James and Davis. Cook has valuable playoff experience with the Warriors, while Daniels has also played postseason minutes during his career.

With Green, Cook and Daniels, the Lakers have already crossed their shooting threshold from last season. Here’s how the team’s best floor-spacers from last year looked as compared to the current Lakers.

 Last Year’s Lakers (2018-19 3-Point %) “New-Look” Lakers (2018-19 3-Point %)
Alex Caruso (48 percent) Alex Caruso (48 percent)
Lance Stephenson (37.1 percent) Danny Green (45.5 percent)
Mike Muscala (36.8 percent) Quinn Cook (40.5 percent)
Rajon Rondo (35.9 percent) Troy Daniels (38.1 percent)
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (34.7 percent) Rajon Rondo (35.9 percent)

 

This table doesn’t even include Davis, Cousins or Dudley, who are capable of effectively spacing the floor. While all three struggled last season, they should bounce back with the presence of James. He’s going to be able to provide better looks for everyone, especially if he is LA’s starting point guard.

Kuzma, the lone player left from the young core that LA blew up in order to acquire Davis, may be the key to how the Lakers manage the roster on the court. At times last season, he was a dynamic scorer, but he struggled with his shooting and passing throughout the year. Kuzma clearly has the tools, but he’ll need a ball-handler with him on the floor at all times until his game fully develops.

But for now, he just has to prove that he’s able to be the third option on this team — a team that lost out on the best player in free agency, but still managed to emerge with a well-rounded roster that fits with their stars.

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