Rob Pelinka couldn’t directly address any of the rumors about his team during a Friday night televised appearance in Las Vegas.
He clarified, however, that the Lakers were not done.
“We still have work to do,” he said during the fourth quarter of an NBA Summer League game.
What the Lakers have done and what they have left to do was a frequent topic of conversation during the first weekend of the Summer League.
It started Friday night when LeBron James and Russell Westbrook attended the Lakers opener in Las Vegas where the two stars never recognized each other. The awkwardness became the story of the game, people are still talking about it Sunday when the Lakers played again.
The problem, in addition to last season’s failures, was James’ not-so-secret desire to bring Kyrie Irving to the Lakers to replace Westbrook.
Rival scouts and executives, who spoke on condition of anonymity, are split on whether the Lakers can get a deal done for Irving, with James’ looming deadline for a contract extension in early August seen as a date. key.
A league insider pointed to the Lakers’ current salary cap sheets – Anthony Davis is the only player signed beyond this season that represents a significant investment, although Talen Horton-Tucker has an $11 million player option dollars he can exercise next offseason. The lack of long-term money on the books speaks to the team’s desire to remain flexible as James and Davis age.
It could mean stepping out of their current star-focused state – three players from Westbrook, James and Davis swallowing up the team’s entire salary cap space. Or it could leave the door open for a simple overhaul, perhaps with Irving, alongside James and Davis.
Most league insiders thought any potential deal between Irving and Los Angeles would be on hold until the Nets trade Kevin Durant. And with the impossibly high asking price for the 33-year-old 12-time All-Star, if and when a Durant deal will be anyone’s guess is anyone’s guess.
If the Lakers move to other targets — Buddy Hield and Eric Gordon are the most mentioned names — it could also force the team to ship more first-round picks.
The general sentiment among scouts and league executives is that the Lakers, so far, have done well in free agency given their constraints.
“I really like what they did from last year,” an Eastern Conference team executive said.
The most controversial decision was the team using its biggest free agency spend, except for mid-tier ratepayers, on the guard of Lonnie Walker IV.
Critics pointed to his inconsistencies behind the three-point line while playing for San Antonio.
“How did the teams not understand now that you have to surround LeBron with shooters?” wondered an NBA insider.
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Defenders of the decision to sign Walker point out that last season’s 31.4% shooting from deep is an anomaly. Scouts praised his athleticism and character, although there were questions about his decision-making on both sides of the ball.
A former NBA head coach said he thinks Walker could be an explosive scorer off the Lakers bench, replacing some of the production the team got from Malik Monk last year.
Another league insider pointed to the lack of shooting, in general, in this class of free agency within the team’s price range. Guard Donte DiVincenzo, who has only a slightly better career three-point percentage than Walker, was considered but ultimately bypassed due to injury concerns. He signed with the Golden State Warriors for $4.5 million.
The Lakers got high marks in the league for getting Damian Jones and Thomas Bryant to sign minimum deals to play center. An insider who worked with Jones last season in Sacramento said he saw him as an improving player despite being a six-year veteran. Bryant’s offensive value alongside a healthy Davis should give the Lakers some space with plenty of upside coming from a serious knee injury two seasons ago.
Likewise, Juan Toscano-Anderson’s toughness and attitude enjoys considerable support in league circles, although some worry about diminishing athleticism. Still, as a willing defender, they viewed the signing positively.
Troy Brown Jr. received mixed reviews from scouts and executives, with concerns centering on his preparation for a big role, especially on a team with high expectations. Brown shot nearly 38% from three points after Christmas last season and his fans believe he is the type of player who can help a team win with his versatility.
“I have a little love for Troy,” said a scout. “Knows how to play. Jack of all trades, master of nothing. Worried about his shot, but a good enough one [minimum-contract] player. Size, length, cheek on both sides. I like this movement.
As for Lakers rookies, point guard Scotty Pippen Jr. has impressed scouts with his defensive toughness, with one scout comparing him to New Orleans guard Jose Alvarado. Cole Swider’s shooting was as good as advertised, but defensively he has a lot of work to do, and second-round pick Max Christie is seen as a long-term project that needs to find his shooting touch, despite his defensive will and its rebound. ability has looked good in the Summer League.
“Just wait till he takes on the NBA bodies,” one scout said skeptically.
The Lakers are currently armed with an empty spot on the roster, though they could create a second by waiving forward Wenyen Gabriel. They can only use their veteran’s minimal exceptions to sign players.
Trades are always a possibility — Horton-Tucker’s contract makes him a likely part of any major deal that doesn’t include Westbrook. And if Westbrook is back – always such a big one – a source thinks the Lakers’ success would always come down to him.
“I still think it’s up to Russ,” the insider said. “AD and LeBron can’t carry them all the way. Russ has to give entry-level production and they need guys who are going to outperform their contracts. I think Lonnie, Troy and Thomas Bryant have the chance to do that and be good actors for them.