NBA Roundtable: What's Next for the Lakers?
NBA Roundtable: What's Next for the Lakers?

This article is part of our NBA Roundtable series.

Welcome to an offseason edition of the RotoWire NBA Roundtable.

Each week, our NBA staff gets together to answer questions about the biggest topics of the week, both in fantasy basketball and the league overall.

This week, we look back at a strange Finals, analyze the Lakers' acquisition of Anthony Davis, and look toward the 2019-20 NBA season.

When we look back at the 2019 NBA Finals in five or 10 years, how will this series be remembered and contextualized?

Nick Whalen: The Warriors losing two Hall-of-Famers to catastrophic injuries – and the subsequent fallout – is what will be remembered most, but that shouldn't necessarily take anything away from the Raptors' title. On an individual level, these Finals will be remembered as a massive turning point in Kawhi Leonard's career – the moment he truly forced his name into the best player in the world discussion and elevated his global profile.

Shannon McKeown: The 2019 Finals will be remembered for two things: Kawhi Leonard's greatness, and the fact that the Warriors should have won their fourth championship in five years, if it weren't for injuries.

James Anderson: An example, like the 2011 Dallas Mavericks, of a one-superstar Finals champion. An example of the potential payoff in "going for it" in one season. The first year of a 4-5 year run where the Raptors were always in the Conference Finals and end up winning 2-3 total titles. The example of the worst injury luck for any NBA Finals team.

Ken Crites: You can't predict health.  If any team loses their star(s), they are vulnerable, no matter how historic the dynasty.

Alex Barutha: It could signal the end of the Superteam Era, which started with the Heat's Big 3. The Warriors' collection of talent and overall dominance created a fatalistic attitude towards who could actually win the Finals over the past few years. Assuming Durant leaves, the league's elite players will generally become more spread out again.

Mike Barner: I think it will be remembered for two things: First, the injuries to Durant and Thompson that played a key role in stopping their three-peat. Second, for the stellar performance of Kawhi Leonard in what was a risky trade that paid off for the Raptors.

Jeff Edgerton: It will be considered a hollow victory for Toronto that played out due to extenuating circumstances. The Durant injury and the one-year rental of Kawhi Leonard dictated the flow of this drama, and to consider it some sort of 'end of an era' would be irresponsible and overplayed.

Adam King: Unfortunately, I think it will be remembered for the injuries to Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson. While that was an obvious factor in Toronto's victory, injuries are a part of the game and the Warriors have certainly had a good run over the past few years when it comes to health in the finals. I will remember it for being a highly competitive series in which the better team, from top to bottom, was able to reach its potential.

Alex Rikleen: The long-term perception of this year's finals is very dependent on future events, which I think is pretty unusual. If Kawhi leaves Toronto, then this year is likely to be remembered similarly to 2004, 2006, and 2011 – years between dynasties when a semi-random, one-time-only champion was able to swoop in. If Kawhi stays and the 76ers and Bucks lose some key contributors, then this could be the start of a new Raptors dynasty. What happens with Durant, Klay Thompson, the Warriors, and the Lakers are also key.

Did the Lakers give up too much to acquire Anthony Davis?

Whalen: The Lakers gave up way too much, but through poor drafting and asset management – among other things – they put themselves in a position in which they had to submit to nearly anything the Pelicans demanded. Pick swaps and deferments six years into the future are never a good idea, but the Lakers have the ultimate win-now mandate, and they simply couldn't risk missing out on Davis.

McKeown: There's certainly an argument for both sides, but I lean towards the Lakers not giving up too much. Los Angeles has a limited window to take advantage of signing LeBron James. The Lakers needed to become a true championship contender overnight and they did so with the acquisition of Anthony Davis. It's rare for two of the top 7-8 players to be on the same team.

Anderson: Yes. Linda Rambis simply got outmaneuvered by David Griffin. Both teams had to make this deal, and Griffin would have done it with fewer picks involved. The only people associated with the Lakers who this trade won't hurt are LeBron, Rich Paul and Jason Kidd.

Crites: No, for two main reasons.  First, Ball and Ingram are wildly overrated. Second, Davis has said he wants to sign a long-term with the Lakers.  LeBron is on the clock, they can't waste another year.

Barutha: No. When LeBron is on the team, it doesn't matter where the team was going before he arrived, and it doesn't matter where it might go after he leaves. You do everything you can to get top talent around him because he's your single best shot at winning a title. And while the Lakers gave up an unprecedented haul to acquire Anthony Davis, having two legitimate MVP-caliber players on one roster for the foreseeable future is worth essentially any price.

Barner: I don't think so. As much upside as Ingram, Ball and Hart have, the Lakers need to win now and they weren't going to do that next year without bringing in another superstar like Davis. If all goes as planned, the picks that they gave up outside of this year's selection won't be that high, so again, players that might not have a significant impact during the LeBron era.

Edgerton: If they are able to woo Kyrie or Kemba Walker into the fold, then no. Your big questions have to be answered in the backcourt. If they can answer those problems, then I think they can right the ship.  

King: It's hard to make a definite call given the draft picks will not convey for a number of seasons. Having the number four pick in the upcoming draft appears to have been the tipping point, giving the Pelicans more options as they look to rebuild while also trying to avoid bringing Zion Williamson into a losing culture. The package seems about right given the current climate, but is certainly dependent on how the Lakers build the roster around their two superstars.

Rikleen: Yes, but barely, which is basically the same thing as "no". They gave up so much in this trade, it's hard to imagine that either Josh Hart or the 2023 or 2025 pick-swaps made that much difference in the Pelicans' willingness to agree. Every other team was negotiating for a potential rental, while the Lakers were negotiating for perhaps the next six years of control. And while I think they should have been able to get him for a little less, at the end of the day, the Lakers are the only team with two consensus top-seven talents on their roster, entering a season when no other team has two consensus top-15 players. That is worth more than any pick-swap or Josh Hart.

With Davis now in the mix, if you're the Lakers would you pursue a third high-level free agent, or would you spread out your remaining cap space and spend it on multiple, lesser players?

Whalen: The smart move would be to utilize that remaining cap space on several high-level veterans, some of whom may even be willing to take a discount. With that said, I have little-to-no trust in the Lakers to make the right personnel choices, so there's an argument to be made that splurging on a third star may be the safer avenue. Still, when taking into account that the Lakers have to build nearly an entire roster from scratch, it's difficult to justify relying on mid-level exception and veteran's minimum guys to play starting-level roles.

McKeown: Pursue a third star. There will be plenty of veterans chasing a ring who will be available on the cheap, especially during the in-season buyout market. The Lakers should target all of the top free agents: Leonard, Kyrie Irving, Kemba Walker, Jimmy Butler, D'Angelo Russell (please make this happen), Khris Middleton, etc.

Anderson: Spread it on 2-3 other players. If they give near max money to another player, I think they could miss the playoffs by having the worst players 5-12 on any Western Conference roster.

Crites: Stars-And-Scrubs rosters make for terrible team chemistry. A third near-max free agent will force a paper-thin depth chart. Spread out the money and get. some. shooters.

Barutha: Go for the third near-max free agent – someone like Kemba Walker or Jimmy Butler. LeBron has won all three of his titles with two max-level players next to him. As he gets older, I think that has to continue to be the case.

Barner: Unless they can sign Leonard, I think they'd be better offer trying to spread the money around with some quality depth. The West is no cakewalk, even with the injuries facing the Warriors, so they can ill afford a significant injury to LeBron or Davis during the regular season.

Edgerton: I think we'll see either Kyrie or Kemba Walker in a Lakers uniform next year.

King: I would be looking to bring in a number of role players as opposed to another star. The Lakers' roster is basically down to the bare bones right now and as the Raptors demonstrated, roster construction can be crucial to achieving the ultimate goal.

Rikleen: The Lakers should try to spread it out on 2-3 lesser players, for two reasons. First, we've seen what happens when LeBron is playing with a team that doesn't have enough depth – he eventually checks out. Second, a lack of depth killed a lot of potential contending teams during this most recent playoffs, including the Warriors and the 76ers. They have no help coming through the draft. They need more than three good players.

What are your expectations for Golden State next season with Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant likely out for most, if not all, of 2019-20?

Whalen: If Thompson is able to return healthy before the playoffs, they'll be in the mix in the West, but I think the title chase will be in a one-year holding pattern. Injuries were the reason Golden State lost the Finals, but the degradation of its bench played a major factor. Whether the Warriors can re-tool around Curry and Draymond Green with a limited budget will determine their ultimate ceiling next season.

McKeown: Sneak into the playoffs via the 6-8 seed and play far above their seeding once healthy. I expect Steph Curry and Draymond Green to both have crazy, possibly career-best seasons, statistically.

Anderson: I expect this to be a chill year, kind of like LeBron's first year with the Lakers. There's much more to be lost than gained by rushing back Klay and Durant (assuming he is back). I think Steph will get a lot of maintenance days, and they will pick in the lottery before entering 2020-21 as one of the favorites to win the title.

Crites: Klay's injury was the truly depressing occurrence. But Golden State had to assume Durant was leaving, right? Either way, I can still see them making the West Finals. Curry is going to shoot a ton next season.

Barutha: If Thompson returns healthy near the end of the regular season, I expect Golden State to still make it to the Western Conference Semifinals. Steve Kerr is still one of the best coaches in the league, and Steph Curry can still play at an MVP level.

Barner: I think they still find a way into the playoffs, but they could finish around the sixth or seventh seed. Curry and Green are going to have monster seasons, but if they pay up to retain Durant and/or Thompson, they won't have much to invest in players who can help stem the tide while they are out.

Edgerton: They will find a way to win. If they opt to bring back Cousins, you've still got a solid core with Curry, Green and Boogie.

King: I will almost certainly be putting a sneaky bet on the Warriors to ascend the mountain once again. This is not to say they will definitely win the 2019-20 championship, but they will likely find themselves in the playoffs and could have Klay Thompson back on the floor as early as February or March. I would expect them to close out the regular season strongly, somewhere around the sixth or seventh seed, positioned well to make another run at the title from the lower-half of the bracket.

Rikleen: A Steph Curry-Draymond Green pairing might be enough to make the playoffs, even with a weak bench and in a tough Western Conference, but it would be a brutal slog. If Durant stays, the Warriors best bet would be to max Curry and Green at 60 games and accept a lottery birth. If Durant leaves, then they can at least improve their bench a little bit. In that case, they could aim for a five or six seed and hope that Klay Thompson is able to contribute enough by the playoffs to get them into the second or third round.

Knowing only what we know now, as of June 18, do the Lakers deserve to be the favorites to win the 2020 title?

Whalen: The overall favorites, no. I think the projected stability of the Bucks, Sixers, Rockets and Nuggets should put each of them in the same tier as, if not ahead of, the Lakers. With LeBron and Davis in the fold and the unknowns surrounding Kawhi, I understand the rationale, but the West will be deep again, and in order to make it through, the Lakers will need to do something they haven't done in a decade: build a competent roster from top to bottom.

McKeown: Yes, but only because there's so much money being bet on the team. The true favorites, not Vegas odds, would likely be the Bucks or Rockets.

Anderson: Absolutely not. The Bucks, Raptors, Sixers and Rockets should have better odds and the Nuggets, Blazers, Jazz, Thunder, Spurs, Warriors, Clippers should all have similar odds to the Lakers. The Lakers will be the most top-heavy team in the league, meaning they basically NEED 70+ games for James and Davis, and they need to earn at least a B+ in what they do the rest of the offseason. If they miss either of those benchmarks, they just won't have enough talent night to night.

Crites: No, that's ridiculous. Will LeBron exceed his 55 games played from last year?  He'll be 35 in December. Will Davis stay healthy? We saw how bad last year this organization was at filling out the rest of the roster. Why should we believe they'll do better this time around?

Barutha: Yes. Their top-end talent is unmatched. They also have twice as many head coaches as every other team in the league.

Barner: Yes, but only because there are so many big names who are free agents that could significantly impact the landscape of the league.

Edgerton: I think that's entirely premature, and all you have to do is refer to the Thunder as a perfect example of what might happen in LA. Having two elite players on your squad isn't a perfect recipe for success.  Add in Kyrie or Kemba and that further complicates the effort. Either way, they have to find a backcourt solution.

King: I would almost guarantee they make the playoffs but having them as the favorites is a bit rich for me. Until we know which players they are going to acquire to round out the roster, there is still too much uncertainty.

Rikleen: Yes. A lot will change over the next month. But, for now, the Lakers have two of the seven best players, while no other team has two top-15 guys. And while nothing is certain, the only way I see a Western Conference team passing the Lakers is if the Clippers get Kawhi. If Kawhi stays, then the Raptors should be the favorites. If the 76ers keep Jimmy Butler, Tobias Harris and J.J. Redick, then they should be ahead of the Lakers. If the Bucks can keep their key contributors, then they should be about even with the Lakers.

Other than the Lakers, which team(s) that missed the playoffs this season do you see taking a significant step toward contention in 2019-20?

Whalen: The league should be as wide open as it's been since the end of last decade, so it'll be interesting to see how that impacts certain teams' offseason plans. The Mavericks and Kings are two non-playoff teams that will be in the mix out West, but with the Lakers likely to rejoin the postseason field, it's tough to pick out which of this year's playoff teams will drop out – especially if Kawhi ends up with the Clippers. Things should remain more consistent in the East, however, with teams like Atlanta, Chicago and New York at least another year away from shifting out of a rebuild.

McKeown: The teams I expect to show growth next year are the Mavs, Bulls and Hawks. It seems like everyone has already forgotten that Dallas added Kristaps Prozingis. He and Luka Doncic make an intriguing duo, and Dallas has tons of cap space to add other pieces. The Bulls were very competitive after acquiring Otto Porter. An upgrade at point guard and the return of Wendell Carter could lead to huge strides. Meanwhile, Atlanta has a great young core led by Trae Young, John Collins and two top-10 picks in the upcoming draft.

Anderson: I think the Mavericks (Doncic becomes an All-Star playing next to Porzingis), Pelicans (Zion and great depth around him) and Hawks (more talent and normal year-over-year improvement for their young players) could all take big steps forward and make the playoffs after missing last season.

Crites: How about the Grizzlies? I'm excited to see what a healthy Jaren Jackson can do with Ja Morant and whatever they get for Mike Conley.

Barutha: The Kings and the Mavericks showed competitiveness last season and should be gunning for free agents. Fox + Bagley and Doncic + Porzingis are great starting pieces. My guess is they'll enter the bidding for guys like Jimmy Butler, Khris Middleton, Tobias Harris, as well as a variety of role players.

Barner: This might be the Bulls fan in me talking, but I could see a path in which they challenge for a playoff spot in the East. If they add a competent point guard and have some improved luck in the health department, they could have a dangerous roster in what right now looks to be a weak bottom part of the conference. I think it's much harder to make up ground in the West, especially with the Lakers expected to be back in the playoffs.

Edgerton: Honestly, i think the Pelicans got the better end of this deal. A core of Ball, Holiday, Ingram, and Zion Williamson looks like a great combo to build around.

King: The Hawks have a solid young core and improved as last season progressed. They also have a number of picks in the upcoming draft which they may or may not use to acquire established players or to move up in the draft. In the West, I could see the Mavericks, Pelicans, and Kings all pushing for the postseason. The Mavericks will be rolling out the pairing of Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis, while the Pelicans will be running with almost a completely different roster. The Kings, meanwhile, were the big improvers from last season and with another year of experience under their belt could hover around the eighth seed once again.

Rikleen: The Pelicans. None of the non-playoff East teams have any chance to become legitimate contenders next season.Out West, the Kings, Timberwolves and Mavericks could all make the playoffs, but none are likely to make deep runs. The Pelicans, however, have infinite assets, one of the best defensive backcourts in the league, and some legitimate star-caliber players in Jrue Holiday and Zion Williamson. I don't expect them to make a deep playoff run, but of the teams that just missed the playoffs, they have the best chance by a fairly large margin.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Nick Whalen
RotoWire's NBA Editor and host of the RotoWire NBA Podcast. NIck was awarded the FSWA Best Podcast of the year in 2017 and 2018. Many years ago, Stromile Swift gave Nick his unbelievably sweaty headband after a preseason game. Despite its failure to match his school colors, Nick went on to wear that headband for the entirety of his sixth grade basketball season. Catch Nick on Twitter @wha1en.
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