Los Angeles Lakers 2024 NBA offseason preview: Everything revolves around LeBron James

2023-24 season: 47-35

Highlight of the season: Anthony Davis staying healthy. This isn’t a joke, but rather an expression of joy given that Davis remains one of the best and most entertaining players in the league. For fans to see him for 76 games is genuinely a highlight for everyone.

Extremely predictably. As soon as the Lakers were scheduled to meet the Denver Nuggets in the first round of the playoffs, their season was over. Despite having a mountain of talent on their roster, the pieces never fit collectively, which is something the Nuggets are capable of exploiting against everyone.

This marks two consecutive seasons where the Lakers have made the playoffs after having to survive via the play-in tournament, which almost certainly means changes are coming in Southern California. The organization simply cannot look fans in the face and justify how a roster led by Davis and LeBron James can't get a top-six seed, even in a loaded Western Conference.

Head coach Darvin Ham was relieved of his duties Friday. His substitution patterns and overall rotation during the regular season led a lot to be desired, and his defensive approach proved problematic when point production was often in dire need.

Ham wasn’t helped by the fact that the Lakers were one of the worst 3-point shooting teams in the league, at least in terms of volume. They launched just 31.4 attempts per game, lacking the necessary high-volume shooters to help space the floor. General manager Rob Pelinka has some work to do this summer.

The larger question, of course, is whether James is returning. He holds a player option worth $51.4 million and can hold the organization hostage until he learns of its offseason plans.

Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (23) checks the scoreboard in the first half of Game 5 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series against the Denver Nuggets, Monday, April 29, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (23) checks the scoreboard in the first half of Game 5 against the Denver Nuggets on Monday, April 29, 2024, in Denver. The Lakers were eliminated from the playoffs with a 108-106 loss. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

A real 3&D wing. The Lakers ranked 15th in offense and 16th in defense this season, so both sides of the floor could use a boost. They have their interior attack working, but need a wing who can defend at a high level while connecting on a large volume of 3s. The challenge for the Lakers, of course, is that such a player is extremely expensive and rarely available.

The presence of James puts the Los Angeles Lakers in a precarious position. Their 2020 NBA championship and 2023 Western Conference finals appearance offer the impression they are still a contender, just as James' production presents as superstar. Except, his elite status and theirs have winnowed at the same rate, and both are staring at his 40th birthday through a rapidly closing window.

Barring an unforeseen divorce from James, who again owns a $51.4 million player option for next season, the Lakers will try once again to build a winner around him and Anthony Davis. Everyone in L.A., including the front office, has felt that pressure for some time, and it has yielded a total of two playoff series victories in the past four years. They ran it back last year and ran into the same problem. Time to try something — anything — else, but there is only so much you can do when the faces of your franchise are going gray.

— Ben Rohrbach

No. 55.

This is a weird situation, because the Lakers might also have the 17th selection, if the Pelicans decide to defer the selection to 2025, which is within their right to do so. This was an agreed upon wrinkle from the Anthony Davis trade, when the Pelicans received a haul of draft compensation. Essentially, the Pelicans can choose to take the selection this year, at No. 17, or hope the Lakers get worse next year, and thus pick up their 2025 unprotected first-rounder. More than likely, the Pelicans will defer and the Lakers will keep No. 17 this year.

If Bronny James does elect to stay in this draft, the Lakers would be favored to draft LeBron's oldest son. Agent Rich Paul said Bronny's decision would be based on the best team fit and not draft position. Drafting 55th, the Lakers could take a swing on the 6-3 guard, with Bronny and LeBron becoming the first father-son duo to share the court in the NBA. — Krysten Peek

It’s not just James who has to make a call on his future. D’Angelo Russell has a player option worth $18.6 million, which he is likely to decline given that he had a strong offensive season. Christian Wood, Jaxson Hayes and Cam Reddish also have the chance to become free agents, as they too hold player options.

This all really boils down to James. If he declines his option, along with the others, the team will have cap space to pursue a temporary re-tool. If he doesn’t, the team will function as an over-the-cap franchise, which seems the likely scenario. Should everyone return, with Russell at a higher salary, the Lakers will be deeper into the first apron tax penalty, which means less roster upgrade flexibility.

Key free agent

Taurean Prince (UFA)

Beating the Denver Nuggets. That might sound awfully simplistic, but the Nuggets have become the ghosts who will haunt this organization until they’re taken down.

The obvious move is bringing James back. He's still playing at an elite level, and his success raises the floor for others. Fantasy managers can feel comfortable selecting James in the third round next year. And while Davis and Russell had their best fantasy campaigns in years, I'd explore including Russell or Austin Reaves in a trade package to bring in a true point guard who can reduce the demand on a soon-to-be 40-year-old LBJ.

It was clear this team needed another leader in the locker room, so the Lakers dismissed Ham on Friday. Perhaps a new voice can lift L.A.'s offensive ceiling moving forward. — Dan Titus