Lakers valued continuity over stars and won

Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports
The Lakers stuck to their plan of trying to retain their core players while improving their supporting cast and won big in free agency.

The Lakers articulated unequivocally what they planned to do once NBA free agency began.

“Keeping that continuity is going to be very important, said Rob Pelinka, the Lakers’ vice president of basketball operations and general manager.

Pelinka said those words a day after the Denver Nuggets swept the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals just over a month ago. Pelinka reiterated that message this week following the NBA Draft. And Pelinka backed up those words with action on late Friday afternoon when the NBA started its free agency period.  

The Lakers retained one of their key trade-deadline acquisitions (Rui Hachimura) with a generous deal that matched his value as a young and versatile wing player (three years, $51 million). The Lakers bolstered their backcourt with a key contributor to Miami’s NBA Finals run (point guard Gabe Vincent) with an offer the Heat could not eclipse (three years, $33 million). And they bolstered their wing depth with a trusted veteran (Taurean Prince), an impressive young player (Cam Reddish) and a quality backup center (Jaxson Hayes).

No doubt, the Lakers still had more work ahead. That’s why they spent Saturday finalizing a two-year, $33 million deal to retain point guard D’Angelo Russell as ESPN reported. The Lakers then later secured Austin Reaves to a four-year, $56 million team-friendly deal after continuing to blossom as a team-oriented scorer, passer and defender. 

Nonetheless, it only took one day for the Lakers to ensure their strategy became a winning one. Though the franchise has tied the Boston Celtics for an NBA-record 17 championships by drafting or acquiring stars, the Lakers prioritized maximizing their depth over chasing another star to complement LeBron James and Davis because of specific circumstances.

They experienced the consequence of having a third star when Russell Westbrook’s acquisition two seasons ago coincided with role adjustments on a roster that lacked depth. They also experienced the benefits of having more roster balance when their trade-deadline moves last season helped them advance to the Western Conference Finals after spending the first half of the season toward the bottom of the standings. And by sticking to their philosophy in free agency, the Lakers arguably could stay in championship contention.

James and Davis might be a year older, but they will feel more refreshed with a recharged offseason and a more balanced team that will ease their workload. The Lakers have some new players to incorporate, but they already have a handful of incumbent role players that can foster familiarity. And Lakers coach Darvin Ham will enter his second season inheriting a more complete team while having a firmer grasp on rotations and playcalling.

To ensure that identity, the Lakers stormed out to free agency with a strong start because they had a specific purpose.

After becoming impressed with how Hachimura grew as a perimeter scorer and defender with increased consistency than during his four seasons in Washington, the Lakers wasted little time in giving him an offer. The Lakers did the same thing to Vincent, which “made him feel wanted” according to a league source because of how quickly they expressed interest and outlined his role  after receiving mixed messages from Miami with its limited spending power and from Toronto because of its want to retain Fred VanVleet. It wouldn’t be surprising if the Lakers worked as aggressively with Prince and Reddish. In one day, the Lakers already found a great fit for their $12.5 million non taxpayer mid-level exception (Vincent) and their bi-annual exception worth $4.5 million (Prince)

Lakers fans should not sweat it that they didn’t handle their other tasks on the first day of free agency. The Lakers still secured their prized young player (Reaves), a dynamic playmaker (Russell) and a backup center (Hayes).

There was no reason to think the Lakers couldn’t finish the job following their strong start. They continued pursuing their free-agent priorities for a full 48 minutes. Expect the Lakers will do the same thing on the court next season.

Mark Medina covers the Lakers for The Sporting Tribune. Follow him on Twitter and on Instagram.