The Los Angeles Lakers were going to land a superstar this offseason. Even though Magic Johnson publicly tasked himself recruiting a max contract player within two summer. Only July 2nd, it was confirmed that LeBron James agreed to a four deal to join the most storied franchise in the NBA. Very few people expected James to come to L.A without another superstar. Not that the Lakers have not been active in the offseason, they opted against signing a max contract star this summer to focus on next summer’s free agents. Despite revamping their roster into a playoff team, they are still missing a pivotal piece.
Johnson and Rob Pelinka remade their roster by keeping their young core of Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart, and Lonzo Ball intact. They are now surrounded by veteran players who can mentor this young group and can all help propel the Lakers to the postseason after five barren seasons. With LeBron at the helm, one would expect players to flock so Southern California. And they have. Except Lance Stephenson, JaVale McGee, Rajon Rondo, and Michael Beasley were not the veteran players that anyone had in mind. The re-signing of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was a given the second LeBron signed with the Lakers. I mean c’mon, Magic Johnson met Rich Paul and Maverick Carter in the middle of a game to discuss KCP’s deal. They were all signed to one year deals so the Lakers will still have the cap space to make upgrade their roster with another superstar next summer. They accomplished their goal in signing the best player on the planet. Spirits are high among the Lakers faithful as their team is expected to make the playoffs for the first time since the 2012-13 season. Though, there is still a hole within their lineup that is yet to be taken care off. The Lakers still lack a competent starting center.
LeBron was not initially happy about being a power forward though the former MVP has adjusted to the position in some small-ball lineups. Now, I would not be surprised to a Lakers game in Mid-December where he plays heavy minutes as a stretch 5. That may be fine for their own version of the “Death Lineup” but they still need someone to be a rim protector. They need a rim-running center who can give LeBron a break and guard some of the more burly players on a nightly basis. JaVale McGee simply is not that guy. He is a locker-room presence who’s done an excellent job to rebuild his image from the Shaqtin’ A Fool MVP days. He is a hard worker both on and off the floor. Coming off the bench, McGee will be an energy guy but not a rim-protecting starter. Mortiz Wager was drafted with the 25th overall pick in the 2018 draft. He will be a reliable player in the future but the German center simply is not ready to play against the likes of Anthony Davis, Clint Capela, or Rudy Gobert. Kuzma and Michael Beasley are defensive liabilities as power forwards. All hell will break lose if they are asked to play as a center.
Julius Randle would have been a pretty decent option to have on their roster. While he may not be a center or have the defensive instincts; Randle is blessed with a rugged body. He won't be able to protect the rim, but if he has the right mindset, I feel as though he can at least try to slow down and impede some of the other bigs in the league. He's shown he's more than willing to work his butt off. As a starter in his last season with L.A., the former Wildcat averaged 18.6 points, 9.1 rebounds and 3.1 assists. The Pelicans were able to get him on a bargain - two years for just under $18 million. Seems hell of a lot better than KCP's re-signing for $12 million.
This is far from the final Lakers roster we will see this season. Players will be up for grabs before the trade deadline with others also likely to be available as buyout candidates. When LeBron returned to the Cavaliers, he spoke about wanting to play with and groom with the young core that was present there. By the come February, the locker-room was overcome with veteran players that were better suited alongside The King. It’s possible that the same would happen with the Lakers. That being said, Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka are strong personalities that James respects. The same can’t be said for Dan Gilbert. Finding such a player though will not be easy as nobody wants to help the Lakers, for obvious reasons. Till then, it’s up to Luke Walton to experiment and tinker with different lineups. Playing James at the center spot is inevitable – provided they find the right opponents to exploit. LeBron James will always present a mismatch regardless of where he is positioned on the floor. It is a testament to how unique a player he is. The ball is now on Luke Walton’s court to figure out how to maximize these mismatches without letting it bite him in the back.