The season didn’t end quite as planned for the Los Angeles Lakers, but then, unless you win the championship, when does it? Despite flaming out in ignominious fashion courtesy of the Denver Nuggets, they still demonstrated a terrific turnaround in the latter stages of the season, going from a team which was up against it to make the postseason to an NBA Conference Finalist.
Despite LeBron James’ comments about his future, which got tongues wagging in a big way, he’ll almost certainly be back in Los Angeles next year alongside Anthony Davis. And while those two are clearly the focal point of the team, it was the vastly improved supporting cast around them that really initiated the turnaround in their season.
This offseason, they’ll have plenty of decisions to make surrounding that supporting cast and who to bring back next year. These are the three players whose return to the team in 2023-24 the Lakers should prioritise.
This one is something of a no-brainer. Austin Reaves was having a solid season already up until the All-Star break, but once Russell Westbrook was traded he took it to a new level. By season’s end he was the clear best player on the team outside of LeBron and AD, with his poise with ball in hand, excellent decision-making and hot shooting making him far more than just a role player.
Reaves has developed into a key piece of the Lakers’ puzzle moving forward, and at just 24 years of age he still has plenty of scope for further improvement. Reaves was earning just over $1.5 million this season , well below what he will now demand, but this is one player who the Lakers should be more than happy to fork out for.
When the Lakers acquired Rui Hachimura from the Washington Wizards in January, there was a lot of expectation surrounding what the number 9 pick from the 2019 draft would be able to provide. Some of that expectation was probably overblown; though a solid mid-range shooter, he hasn’t exactly set the world on fire in his career to date and isn’t exactly the kind of player to turn the fortunes of a franchise around.
None of that has changed since that trade, but he doesn’t need to be a franchise-changer to provide value to the Lakers. He demonstrated himself to be a solid player off the bench, with his potential to score in bunches making him an important X-Factor for the Lakers. At this stage in his career, Hachimura is the kind of player whose minutes will probably fluctuate each game depending on his offensive output, but as the playoffs went on – and particularly the series against the Denver Nuggets – he was a consistent presence on the floor, with his minutes in that series reading, chronologically, 28, 30, 34 and 42. At just 25 years of age Hachimura still has room for growth, but even as the player he is now, he is a valuable contributor for the Lakers, and one they should focus on bringing back in 2023-24.
Dennis Schroder made his way to the Lakers after a short stint with the Houston Rockets, and proved himself to be an important piece on their roster throughout the course of the year. He started somewhat sporadically and mostly came off the bench in the playoffs, but he was still playing solid minutes and was one of a handful of players who could join James, Davis and Reaves on the court in the closing minutes.
Schroder is a good defender, with his athleticism and ability to slip around screens making him hard to get away from for opposing guards. He is an efficient enough shooter to demand attention from opposing defenses, and though he needs to be a little more willing to take open shots at time, he does also have the ability to defer to the better players on his team that many NBA players notably lack. The Lakers won’t need to break the bank to keep him, and his experience and defensive nous means he’s another who they should focus on holding onto.
Not all is lost for the Los Angeles Lakers – in fact, far from it. Hard as it may be to compute after a 4-0 series loss, they appeared very much a potential NBA Finals team despite having put together a large portion of their roster on the run during the regular season. With LeBron and AD coming back next year, if they can re-sign the above names they should go into the 2023-24 season with high aspirations.