How will Los Angeles shape its roster around its new first-year head coach?

In 2015, Steve Kerr had quite a bit in common with JJ Redick today. Though he had front office experience with the Phoenix Suns, the bulk of Kerr’s post-playing career had been spent in the broadcast booth. That didn’t prevent him from becoming the top coaching candidate of that cycle, and he was ultimately offered two jobs despite no experience as a head or assistant coach at any level. One belonged to the Golden State Warriors. The other belonged to the New York Knicks. We obviously know how well it turned out for Kerr in the Bay Area. Derek Fisher, another no-experience coach, took the Knicks job and lasted less than two years.

Is Kerr a better coach than Fisher? Probably. But if Kerr had taken the Knicks job, it’s safe to say he wouldn’t be on a Hall of Fame coaching trajectory either. As much importance as we assign to coaching hires, they ultimately don’t matter if the team in question can’t get the roster right. Redick’s success in Los Angeles, first and foremost, is going to come down to the group of players that Rob Pelinka and his front office manage to provide.

So what kind of offseason is in store for the Lakers? Well, The Athletic’s Shams Charania, Sam Amick and Jovan Buha offered insight into their plans, though somewhat indirectly. In their story on Redick’s hiring, they put the following nuggets of information out:

The development of Austin Reaves, Rui Hachimura and Max Christie is a priority. This was reported across several outlets during the team’s pursuit of Dan Hurley as well.
Redick plans to involve Anthony Davis more in the offense, particularly late in games.
Alleviating the ball-handling duties LeBron James is currently responsible for, provided he stays, is a major goal. The Lakers want to keep him fresh going into the playoffs.
OK, so what can we take from all of this? It’s hard to say for certain, but we can start with a rumor that a player himself generated. Soon after Redick was hired, Atlanta Hawks point guard Trae Young tweeted an hourglass. Young’s fit makes sense based on several of these criteria. At the very least, he’d make regular-season life easier on James. He’d also go a long way in maximizing Davis offensively given his passing, especially on lobs.

Is a Young trade feasible without including those three core younger players? Potentially. It would depend on Young’s trade value around the league. The Lakers have three first-round picks and three swaps to dangle. They could match money if D’Angelo Russell opts into the final year of his deal by combining him, Gabe Vincent, Jarred Vanderbilt and Jalen Hood-Schifino. That would hard-cap them at the second apron because they’d be aggregating salary, but it’s doable. Such a move, if Atlanta is amenable, would allow the Lakers to keep Reaves, Hachimura and Christie in place.

Of course, Atlanta’s other top point guard, Dejounte Murray, was a deadline target of the Lakers and comes at a much more manageable $25.4 million cap cost. That’s a deal the Lakers could potentially match with just Russell and Vincent, though the draft capital involved would have to be greater than otherwise planned in order to account for the absence of the top Laker youngsters in the deal.

Neither scenario is necessarily ideal for the Lakers. The Hawks would likely push for Reaves or Hachimura in a potential Young deal. He’s also a defensive liability. Murray isn’t a great 3-point shooter, and he isn’t known for creating the sort of passes that get Davis easy points (specifically on lobs) in the the way that Young is.

It seems as though point guard is going to be the priority here. The reporting doesn’t state outright that offense will outweigh defense in discussions, but it certainly seems that way. It would take a substantial point guard upgrade to truly ease LeBron’s workload. The kinds of players who could actually do so while playing strong defense are probably just out of Pelinka’s price range.

Figuring out what exactly is on the table here will determine just how far the Lakers can go. Are they really willing to trade all three first-round picks to give Redick an immediate winner? The Athletic’s reporting stated that “Los Angeles is confident he can be their version of Erik Spoelstra or Steve Kerr – a culture-setter who can grow with the franchise for over a decade.” That doesn’t take a stance on the issue specifically, but it hints that the Lakers are thinking longer-term. If they commit to keeping the younger players in place, that might mean that the Lakers want to grow without ever rebuilding. A trade involving one or two picks rather than all three appears likelier.

That’s not the end of the world. James and Davis offer such a great starting point that cherrypicking viable role players instead of star-hunting could very easily prove more beneficial in the long run. They didn’t have a third star during the 2020 championship run, for instance. Malcolm Brogdon could probably be had for far less than Murray, and while he isn’t a high-usage ball-handler, he can at least keep the trains running offensively. Collin Sexton was reportedly a deadline target for the Lakers as well, and he comes with real two-way promise under the right circumstances.

The wing market is typically less kind. That would especially be true if the Lakers need to use one of their wings to match salary on something bigger. Ball-handling tends to be a relatively available and cheap commodity. The Lakers know that, having spent real assets on Dennis Schroder, Russell Westbrook and Russell in recent yers. Wings are much harder to find. Most championship teams develop their own. The Lakers seem prepared to bet on Redick’s developmental acumen.

We are still in the earliest and most uncertain stages here. James isn’t even a lock to return. He has a player option that he could exercise at any time. He hasn’t, and until his future is secured, the Lakers have to be flexible about what life after him might entail. The Redick hire seems to have been made partially with that thought in mind, but there’s no easy way to project their roster at this point. We know the broad strokes of how Redick wants to build but are still lacking details on how he plans to do it.

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