The Lakers Can Still Improve Their Roster. Here’s How.
Late Sunday evening, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Darren Collison had made his decision to stay retired for the remainder of the season, determining that if a comeback was in the cards, it would have to wait until the summer. The Lakers and their fans have been, well, concerningly reliant on successfully recruiting Collison since his rumored return. There is no question the Lakers need to improve from now until June. Los Angeles is in desperate need of a reliable secondary ball handler behind LeBron James, their offense struggling mightily when James is off the court. In fact, the Lakers net rating when Anthony Davis is on the court and LeBron is not, is a -7.4. That is not a good sign. If not only to take Rajon Rondo completely out of the rotation, adding a solid backup guard to the rotation would solve many of the problems that continue to hinder Los Angeles this season. Since Collison is no longer an option, who can the Lakers turn to, to improve their biggest weakness?
Now don’t get me wrong, Dion Waiters is not exactly the ‘playmaker’ that the Lakers lack. He can, however, create his own shot, handle the ball and, theoretically, provide defense against elite wings in the playoffs. Think Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. Memphis waived Waiters after acquiring him from Miami in the Andre Igoudala trade. Sunday night, Woj and Brian Windhorst from ESPN also reported that the Lakers are expected to have ‘exploratory talks’ with Waiters. Waiters has ties to the Lakers as he is a former Rob Pelikna client, and a current Klutch Sports client. Despite being suspended twice and appearing in limited games, Waiters has been able to shoot 47% from three point range this season. That mark would improve the Lakers current back court shooting. If he can fix what seems to be an attitude issue, he could solve a big problem for the Lakers.
Tyler Johnson was recently waived as well, the Phoenix Suns cut him loose despite having over $7 million left on his contract. Johnson missed most of last season after undergoing knee surgery, and this season has averaged a measly 16.6 minutes a game, shooting the worst mark of his career from three at 29%. Despite this, he is an above average ball handler and plays with heart. If you ask Heat fans, they will likely praise Johnson for his time in Miami. These poor numbers could also be indicative of him playing in Phoenix. Not many have success while playing for the Suns. Surprisingly, good coaching and spacing matters, folks. Johnson could be another viable option to take some of Rondo’s minutes.
Trey Burke was waived by the Philadelphia 76ers following their trade to acquire Alec Burks from the Warriors. Burke is known mostly as a shooter, and in 25 appearances for the 76ers this season he shot a little over 42% from 3. He is also another strong ball-handler that could help initiate the offense for LA. Burke, however, is a bit of a defensive liability and is not that much of a different player than current Lakers guard Quinn Cook. Clearly, Frank Vogel does not think Cook should be playing over Rondo. Would this move really help the Lakers improve? Unless they decide to take a chance, Burke might not be the best option.
J.R Smith has not played in an NBA game since November of 2018, but the Lakers are reportedly bringing in the guard for a workout. Smith is a former teammate of LeBron James and won a title with him in Cleveland. J.R was a intricate piece of that miraculous comeback against the Warriors. If Smith is anywhere near the player he was then, the 37.4% career shooter from behind the arc could be a great 3 & D option for Los Angeles off the bench. Provided, that is, he can stay focused and keep an eye on the clock.
Alex Caruso simply needs to be getting more minutes. At the end of the day, the most obvious solution to the Lakers biggest weakness currently sits on their bench. Rajon Rondo is currently getting 21 minutes per game compared to Caruso’s 18.2. And it’s not that close. Frank Vogel is keeping Rondo in the game for too long of spurts and allows the offense to sputter for too long. The team shoots 35.6% from deep when Caruso sits and Rondo plays. Conversely, they shoot 36.8% from behind the arc when Caruso is on the floor and Rondo isn’t. The Lakers simply improve offensively when Caruso is playing. Additionally, the Lakers are averaging 1.11 points per attempt on drives and .96 points per shot on jumpers while Caruso is on the floor. Comparatively, the team scores just 1.04 points per shot on drives and .90 points per shot on jumpers when Rondo is in the game. Vogel needs to move Rondo to a role similar to Jared Dudley, that of a glorified assistant coach (Love you, Dudz). Alex Caruso deserves, at a minimum, 25 minutes per game. It can’t be more obvious to the Lakers coaching staff and front office.
The Lakers need to address what happens to the offense when LeBron sits, whether they sign someone or not. Rajon Rondo cannot be getting 15 to 20 minutes a game, especially when he is often a team-worst in +/- in comparison to minutes played. He is a liability offensively and defensively, kills spacing, and often single-handedly halts any momentum the Lakers have. If the Lakers do not sign a veteran guard, Frank Vogel needs to give Rondo’s minutes to players within, such as Alex Caruso, as well as Quinn Cook, or maybe even someone from the South Bay Lakers, like Talen Horton-Tucker. Whatever it may be, Vogel needs to find a solution fast to the Rondo problem, because the rotation as presently constructed is not built to succeed against the elite come playoff time.
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