With only five players on their roster heading into free agency, the Los Angeles Lakers hit the ground running by signing four players on day one, headlined by the return of a critical member of their recent championship team in Dwight Howard. The Lakers let go of another crucial member as Alex Caruso agreed to sign with the Chicago Bulls for $37 million across four years. LA looks to fill that void with the acquisitions of Trevor Ariza, Wayne Ellington, and Kent Bazemore, meant to provide perimeter defense and three-point shooting that the team sorely needs. Caruso was a valuable piece and deserved every penny of the deal he signed with the Bulls, but despite having Caruso’s Bird Rights, the price to keep him proved to be too steep.
The Lakers officially have nine players on their roster, so one can expect the purple and gold to be active in the coming days as they continue their bargain shopping for more players willing to sign for the veteran minimum. They also have the Taxpayer’s Midlevel Exception, which they can use to fill out a starting five that already includes Russell Westbrook, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Dwight Howard. The Lakers did not attract any big-name free agents on day one, but they did fill in some of the roster gaps they had from last year. Let’s grade each of the Lakers’ signings so far.
Kent Bazemore – B-
Bazemore is a solid defender who had one of the best shooting seasons of his career in 2020-21, shooting over 44 percent from the field and 40 percent from three-point land. Baze is an energy guy off the bench, but he found his shooting touch last year playing alongside Steph Curry and looks to continue his good shooting as he joins the Lakers. Depending on who the Lakers sign in the coming days, Baze may not play much but is a guy that can positively impact a team with his energy off the floor. Good pick-up, but I would be surprised if he finds the expanded role he is looking for with the Lakers this season.
Wayne Ellington – B+
Wayne Ellington: B-plus. Ellington shot 42.2% from three last season while playing for the lowly Detroit Pistons. The Pistons had no real plan as to how they would approach rotations last year, so the fact that Ellington shot the ball at a high clip is impressive. He did not get much playing time towards the end of the season, but Wayne managed to knock down shots when given the opportunities. Alongside Westbrook, James, and Davis, Ellington should average more than last year’s six three-point attempts per game. The Lakers were looking at a trade for Buddy Hield last week, who shot 39% from three last season. Ellington is the kind of spot-up shooter that the Lakers need alongside their big three.
Trevor Ariza – A-
Ariza has a reputation of being a sniper from beyond the arc because of his time with the Mike D’Antoni Houston Rockets. In reality, he is 35% for his career, which is at par with LeBron James’ career percentage. Like LeBron, Ariza is a good shooter but not a great one, but shooting is certainly not why the Lakers pursued him. The Lakers need wing defenders with size to match up with the best of the west. Ariza has the length and experience to go up against Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and Luka Dončić for stretches of games. He did not find a groove offensively with the Miami Heat last year, but Ariza will be shooting wide-open corner threes with this team, shots he can certainly make with efficiency. If the Lakers do not find a younger player in free agency, Ariza should start shooting guard on opening night.
Dwight Howard – A
As early as last year’s opening night match-up with the Clippers, the Lakers missed Dwight’s energy and defensive intensity. Howard looks to reduce the minutes Anthony Davis plays the center position while giving Russ and Bron a lob threat off their penetration. Dwight helped bring the Lakers a championship, and with the emergence of Nikola Jokić, Rudy Gobert, and DeAndre Ayton, Howard’s services will be more than welcome this year. The Lakers should have never let him go in the first place, and it’s good to see Dwight back in the purple and gold.
With several roster slots left to fill and many veteran players out there, trust that the Lakers will make more moves in the coming days. The bubble champs are far from becoming a team to fear in the West, but veteran free agents have certainly taken notice with the moves made to open free agency. The Lakers will be the team to watch as guys they are linked to players such as Carmelo Anthony, Patty Mills, and Rudy Gay. These acquisitions could give them the necessary firepower to be able to contend for a championship once again.