After waiting almost an entire week during 2019 NBA free agency, Kawhi Leonard finally made his decision and it was not at all in favor of the Los Angeles Lakers.
Leonard chose to take his talents to the other basketball team, the Los Angeles Clippers. He shocked the world as it was being reported that it was a 50/50 race between the Lakers and Toronto Raptors. In the end, it seems as though Leonard was toying with both teams as the Clippers were his true desired destination.
The only problem was the Clippers did not have another All-Star player to pair Leonard with until they traded for Paul George moments after his decision was announced. With George on the roster, Leonard felt as though it was the perfect situation for him to step into. The reigning Sixth Man of the Year, a defensive powerhouse point guard, another Sixth Man of the Year candidate, and now a six-time All-Star player coming off an MVP-caliber season all on one team.
With Leonard off the market, the Lakers were forced to kick things into overdrive and put their near max-contract slot to good use. However, by the time Leonard had made his decision, a fair amount of players had already committed to deals elsewhere. Players such as D’Angelo Russell and Jimmy Butler had already moved on and the Lakers were left with a much less exciting crop of free agents.
That brings up the question: Was it worth waiting on Leonard for the Lakers?
The answer is a resounding yes and it is not even close. The chance to create a trio of three of the NBA’s top-seven players is something that does not come around very often — if ever. There is an argument to be made that LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Leonard would have been the best Big 3 the league had ever seen.
So, with Leonard moving on and the Lakers left to pick up the pieces, they finally filled out their roster for the 2019-20 NBA season and here are the grades:
Troy Daniels: One-year, $2.1 million deal
There is not much to say when it comes to Daniels. He does one thing and he does it extremely well. He is not a good defender, passer, playmaker or initiator but can shoot the lights out. Daniels is a 40% three-point shooter and the Lakers were able to grab him on a veteran’s minimum deal. It is a low risk, semi-high reward signing.
Jared Dudley: One-year, $2.6 million deal
While Dudley is not the best signing when it comes to on-court production, he is an incredible addition for a team with championship aspirations such as the Lakers. The reason being that Dudley is one of the smartest basketball minds in the league and is also a marvelous locker room presence. Last year when the Brooklyn Nets were in the midst of an eight-game losing streak, he led a players-only film session and they proceeded to rattle off seven straight wins. He is the type of player who is willing to put his body on the line for his teammates and is not afraid to get his hands dirty if need be. Plus, he is a 39.2% career three-point shooter, so opposing teams will not just be able to sag off him in the event that he is on the court.
Danny Green: Two-year, $30 million deal
Green was the team’s first signing after missing out on Leonard and he was by far the best 3-and-D player left on the market. They addressed a major need by acquiring Green as he finished the 2018-19 season with the second-highest three-point percentage (45.5) in the NBA and will fit incredibly next to James and Davis. He was top-six in both Offensive Rating (117.7) and Defensive Rating (104.3) for the Raptors and will look to bring that same two-way skillset to the Lakers. Some might believe that Green was overpaid as he will be making $15 million per season but in a market where Bobby Portis and Trevor Ariza are making $31 and $25 million over the next two seasons, they could have done much worse.
Quinn Cook: Two-year, $6 million deal
Cook is an incredible shooter and is a very capable pick-and-roll ball handler, especially since he will be conducting those with Davis and James. While the Golden State Warriors did not run pick-and-rolls very often, Cook was their most frequent pick-and-roll ball handler and scored 39.8% of the time which is in the 68th percentile and higher than players such as Russell, De’Aaron Fox, and Jrue Holiday. He is also a 41.8% career three-point shooter and still has room to improve at only 25-years-old. The problem with Cook lies in his lack of defensive capabilities and with the Lakers not much having much point guard depth, he will need to drastically improve. Cook had the worst Defensive Rating on the Warriors last season (112.1) and was also bottom-four in Defensive Win Shares (0.027). The good news is that new head coach Frank Vogel and assistant coach Lionel Hollins specialize in defense and they should be able to work with Cook now.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope: Two-year, $16 million deal
Before this signing, the Lakers were doing well. Caldwell-Pope was likely coming back regardless of whether or not they landed Leonard, so the fact that they gave him $8 million per season is outrageous. Sure, the Lakers need wings and depth, but they could have put that money into someone such as Marcus Morris — who signed a one-year, $15 million deal with the New York Knicks. The argument can be made that Morris would not have signed with the Lakers regardless, but it most definitely would have been a much better investment. To be clear, the Lakers are not at fault for signing him, but they are simply at fault for giving him as much as they did. He was bottom-five in Defensive Rating for the Lakers (110.1) and had a Net Rating of -3.7. There is some form of a silver lining as he is a career 34.5% three-point shooter and finished last season with an above-average Effective Field Goal Percentage (53%). If all goes well, he will be able to improve upon those numbers and serve as a viable option on the perimeter, allowing James to work.
DeMarcus Cousins: One-year, $3.5 million deal
The Lakers signing Cousins was both expected and surprising at the same time. After refusing to offer Cousins a deal last offseason, they brought him in with the help of Davis. The Lakers signing of Cousins was one that was worth every penny. It is a low-risk, extremely high reward signing and there is a very small number of ways in which this could be a disaster for them. If Cousins somehow reverts back to his All-Star form — which is unlikely — then the Lakers have a legitimate Big 3 in Cousins, James and Davis. On the other hand, if he gets re-injured or just flat out has a bad season, then the Lakers can let him go at the end and will still have JaVale McGee to pick up his slack. An Achilles injury has a two-year recovery window and Cousins rushed back to be with the Warriors. Now, he will be two years removed from his Achilles injury, have a full offseason to recover his quad, and get legit playing time on a team that could use some more star power. Cousins averaged 16.3 points, 8.2 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.3 steals, 1.5 blocks and 0.9 triples on 48% shooting from the field in only 25.7 minutes last season. Extrapolate those numbers across 36 minutes and he averaged 22.8 points, 11.5 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 1.9 steals and 2.1 blocks which is undoubtedly an All-Star caliber season. This was by far the team’s most intriguing signing and the upside is huge.
Alex Caruso: Two-year, $5.5 million deal
Caruso was someone the Lakers needed to bring back, not only because they lacked point guard depth but because he has earned a spot. He is not the flashiest of players but he quietly had an incredible second season on the defensive end, finishing top-five in both Defensive Rating (102.4) and Defensive Win Shares (0.100) on the roster. He does not commit many turnovers, can shoot the ball at an effective rate, and has solidified himself as a fan favorite. With Cook and Rondo heavily lacking when it comes to defense, Caruso might be their best option.
Rajon Rondo: Two-yearr, $4.4 million deal
The Lakers managed to scoop up Rondo with a veteran’s minimum deal and that is about all he is worth. On the surface, it looks as though Rondo had a good first season with the Lakers, averaging 9.2 points and 8.0 assists on 35.9% shooting from beyond the arc. However, when looking deeper into the 2018-19 season, the Lakers were outscored by 8.4 points per 100 possessions when he was on the floor. Rondo also had the worst Defensive Rating (113.3) on the roster and had the second-worst Net Rating (-8.6) above only Moritz Wagner. It does not end there as Rondo also managed to finish the season with a below-average Effective Field Goal Percentage (46.4%) and True Shooting Percentage (47.3%). While he might have been one of the only decent options at point guard left, that does not mean he was a good signing. There is an argument to be made that Rondo hurt the team more than he helped and if so, he should not have received the chance to do so again.
JaVale McGee: Two-year, $8.2 million deal
McGee was the team’s best offseason signing last year outside of James and it is safe to say that he earned another shot. Before going down with pneumonia midseason, McGee was in the discussion for the NBA Defensive Player of the Year award and he was thriving in former head coach Luke Walton‘s offense. This season, McGee might even have a larger role and if not, he has proven that he is very capable of making the most of his minutes. He is a great insurance policy for Cousins and should serve as a good interior defensive presence alongside Davis.
Avery Bradley: Two-year, $9.7 million deal
The Lakers used their full room exception on Bradley and it is completely understandable. There were not many –if any — better players on the market than Bradley and he will provide them with some much-needed guard depth. Bradley’s most notable skill is his ability to defend at an elite level but he did not do that very well last season. He finished with a bottom-four Defensive Rating (111.11) on the Memphis Grizzlies and also managed to put up the worst Defensive Box Plus-Minus of his career (-2.1). However, it was an odd year for him as he split the season between the Clippers and the Grizzlies and never really got things going. On the bright side, Bradley still shot 35.1% from the three-point line and averaged 16.1 points in his 14 games with the Grizzlies. If Vogel and Hollins can help bring the defensive monster back out of him, then he could make a big impact on the Lakers.