Editor’s note: This is the Monday, Jan. 23, edition of the Purple & Bold Lakers newsletter from reporter Kyle Goon. To receive the newsletter in your inbox, sign up here.
What are Lakers fans relishing more: The winning record the team picked up this week? Or that the front office finally pulled the trigger on a trade?
WEEK IN REVIEW
• Monday, W, Lakers 140, Houston Rockets 132
• Wednesday, L, Sacramento Kings 116, Lakers 111
• Friday, W, Lakers 122, Memphis Grizzlies 121
• Sunday, W, Lakers 121, Portland Trail Blazers 112
As of Monday morning, the Lakers (22-25) are in 12th place in the Western Conference standings, and they are 11 games behind the first-place Denver Nuggets (33-14). They’re one game behind the Golden State Warriors (23-24) for a play-in slot (seeds 7-10) and two games behind the Clippers (25-24) for a top-six spot.
HIGH POINT: A wild comeback in Portland is close, but it doesn’t get much better than beating the Memphis Grizzlies, one of the West’s legitimate contenders, at home in an unlikely one-point win. Dennis Schröder’s steal-and-score off Desmond Bane was the difference, and the Lakers overcame a season-high 39 second-chance points by the towering Grizzlies. A halftime spat between former NFL tight end-turner-sports talk personality Shannon Sharpe and the entire Memphis roster (and Tee Morant) was a splashy tabloid-worthy bonus to the evening.
LOW POINT: The Lakers’ one loss of the week stung, as their half-court offense again looked stodgy in the closing minutes against Sacramento. Kendrick Nunn (happy trails in D.C.) made a key shot – the NBA last two-minute report later acknowledged a foul should have been called – but Max Christie was forced to foul and a clear path violation all but sealed the Lakers to their third close defeat in a four-game stretch.
TRENDING TOPIC: So a decision has been made: The Lakers are going to make moves to win now. Or at least a “move,” after acquiring Rui Hachimura for Nunn and a handful of second-round draft picks.
In Hachimura, the Lakers bring in a player with many needed and promising qualities: height, length, youth and (hopefully) shooting. But barring a run still unseen in his career, Hachimura seems highly unlikely to push the Lakers from scrappy to contender. This season hasn’t seen him rebound, guard or shoot from deep like a great 3-and-D wing – the most reasonable interpretation of the deal is that it balances the Lakers’ roster by adding size and it is a flier on a player who could still develop.
With those expectations tempered, a question quickly comes to mind: “What’s next?”
With respect to Rob Pelinka and the front office (no deal is easy or comes together quickly, even the small ones), the Lakers have more needs than size. And people who understand the salary cap better than I do seem to think adding Hachimura on an expiring contract sets up the Lakers for a certain path to use their salary cap space.
Hachimura will tie up a good chunk of the Lakers’ estimated $33 million in cap space, about $18.8 million until the Lakers either renounce his restricted free agent rights or sign him to a new deal. The Lakers understand that they can likely re-sign Hachimura this summer below the value of his cap hold, which will give them a little more breathing room with cap space if they clear their books of all their other free agents.
But Hachimura could give them latitude to operate over the cap between the deadline and free agency, buoyed by cap holds for their free agents and the full mid-level and biannual exception. That might mean retaining the Bird Rights for Russell Westbrook. Could Russ come back for a third season, against all odds? In that scenario, managing their assets prudently might mean so, signing Westbrook to a more manageable (more tradeable) deal in line with his role. Pieces from Spotrac and The Athletic seem to vouch for the over-the-cap route.
If not, it would be interesting to see if the Lakers revisit trading Westbrook, who has been at times a spark, and other times a detriment. Nothing illustrates the dichotomy of his two modes better than the Lakers’ last two wins. He was at the heart of the victory over Memphis, scoring 29 points and defending Ja Morant on his last shot of the game. Then in Portland, he was a huge reason why the Lakers wound up in the 25-point hole at halftime, shooting 3 for 13 from the field while attempting off-target jumpers or easily-blocked layups. Darvin Ham wound up benching him down the stretch, and he finished at minus-13 overall.
It often feels that there’s no in-between for Westbrook – he’s spectacular or brutal. If the Lakers want to make a playoff run, can they rely on him in big moments? Or should they still try to split up his salary to find a few serviceable role players?
Nothing else has really changed: The Lakers still have first-round picks in 2027 and 2029 that they can trade, but they’d rather wait for a surefire star. Patrick Beverley ($13 million) and Lonnie Walker IV ($6.5 million) are the team’s most tradeable contracts if they want to get someone who makes a chunk of change.
While the Lakers are only out three second-round picks and an estimated $3 million to add to the luxury tax bill, it is a good sign for fans that the team’s braintrust is willing to expend resources on this year’s roster, which is clawing in spite of its many injuries. LeBron James has been an unquestioned All-NBA-level player in the last month, helping the team go 10-9 without Anthony Davis in the lineup. The players have shown competitive fire for this season – this is the first time the front office has as well.
READ OF THE WEEK: Schröder and Ham have a working relationship and a friendship that goes back a decade. I talked to them about how unflinching honesty has strengthened their bond, and why Schröder decided to come back to L.A. after his self-described lowest point in his career.
HEATING UP: In the Lakers’ last two wins, Schröder has played an extremely prominent role. Besides the game-winning play against the Grizzlies, he dished out eight assists against a defense that was loaded up against LeBron and daring other Lakers to make plays. He also had 14 points during the critical third quarter against Portland, helping the Lakers crawl back from a 25-point deficit. His shooting has been subpar (15 for 39) but he was a plus-20 last week and dished out more assists (21) than anyone except LeBron.
COOLING DOWN: This is not a performance-based assessment, but it’s worth considering how Juan Toscano-Anderson is affected by the Hachimura acquisition. Not only is Hachimura bigger than JTA, he packs more scoring punch and value as a shooter (in theory). Toscano-Anderson took eight shots across four games last week, making just one 3-pointer. Already a low-minutes contributor, he could be bumped out altogether once Hachimura is ready to play.
INJURY REPORT: Davis (right foot stress reaction) worked out on Saturday with teammates in the “Stay Ready” group, a great indication that he’s getting close to returning for the Lakers. There’s a good chance he’ll come back before having an official practice (a back-to-back this week and a travel day on Friday to Boston tightens the schedule this week, as well as a back-to-back in New York next week). Walker (left knee tendinitis) and Austin Reaves (left hamstring soreness) are also supposed to be reevaluated this week after their respective timelines were pushed back a week. The earliest Hachimura could play with the Lakers is Wednesday against the San Antonio Spurs, pending a physical.
QUOTABLE: For a player who has had significant ebbs and flows this season, when he’s riding high, Beverley never lacks for confidence. On Sunday night when a reporter mentioned Damian Lillard’s “slow shooting night,” Beverley bristled at the characterization, then wanted more credit after the reporter noted that he was a plus-27 in the game: “Nah, just say I did a good job on Dame. That sound better.”
AHEAD OF THE CURVE: Is this the week A.D. comes back? The specter of his return might not be feeling quite so dire after a 3-1 week. But the need for Davis will likely feel pronounced this week with games against the Clippers, Spurs and Celtics who all have solid big men. The longtime goal for Davis has been to be healthy for the five-game road trip starting in Boston, a market that is always a spicy matchup for the Lakers. Davis was a force in the previous meeting with Boston last month, helping push the game to overtime (but missing on a chance to win it in regulation). It would be wrong to expect Davis to immediately step in as the MVP candidate player he was when he got hurt more than a month ago (Davis’ returns from injury have always felt rusty), but they need him to compete with teams as deep and big as the Celtics.
COMING UP (All times PT)
• Tuesday, vs. Clippers, 7 p.m. (TNT)
• Wednesday, vs. San Antonio, 7: 30 p.m.
• Saturday, at Boston, 5: 30 p.m. (ABC)
– Kyle Goon
Editor’s note: Thanks for reading the Purple & Bold Lakers newsletter from reporter Kyle Goon. To receive the newsletter in your inbox, sign up here.