The defending champions have been eliminated.
In losing to the Phoenix Suns in Game 6, the Los Angeles Lakers become only the seventh team in NBA history to get knocked out in the first round of the playoffs the season after winning the championship.
The Lakers will now shift their attention to the offseason, where they'll have some key decisions to make.
The 2021 NBA Draft
Picks: No. 22
Prospects to target: Chris Duarte (Oregon), Jared Butler (Baylor), Jaden Springer (Tennessee)
The Lakers will have the 22nd pick of the 2021 NBA Draft, where diamonds are found in the rough.
On my 2021 NBA Draft Big Board, I had Stanford freshman forward Ziaire Williams as the 22nd-best prospect in this draft and while I am personally high on Williams as a high-risk, high-reward project for fringe contenders or fringe playoff teams, I don't believe he would be the best fit for the win-now Lakers.
Our other draft expert, Eric Fawcett, had Florida freshman guard Tre Mann as the 22nd-best prospect on his 2021 NBA Draft Big Board, and while it became clear in the playoffs that Los Angeles could use another bench scorer and offensive initiator for the second unit, I still believe it would be better off targeting a more mature player that may be able to contribute right away.
Realistically, the Lakers may just end up trading this pick for an asset that can contribute quicker than a rookie, but should they make a selection, Oregon senior forward Chris Duarte would make perfect sense alongside LeBron and AD. At 23 years old, the 6-foot-6 Canadian sharpshooter is one of the oldest players in this draft class and his ability to defend multiple positions on the wing and knockdown catch-and-shoot 3s is an ideal pairing for a team looking to get back into title contention.
I expect Duarte's name to pick up some steam once the pre-draft process begins, but if he were to be available for the Lakers at their pick, they would be silly to pass on the NBA-ready talent.
- Kyle Irving (@KyleIrv_)
Upcoming free agents
The Lakers don't have to worry about LeBron James or Anthony Davis leaving this offseason, but they do have a few important pieces of their rotation entering free agency.
The most notable is Dennis Schroder, whom the Lakers acquired in a trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder in the offseason. Schroder started in all 61 games he appeared in this season, averaging 15.4 points, 5.8 assists and 3.5 rebounds on .437/.335/.848 shooting splits.
According to ESPN's Brian Windhorst, the Lakers offered Schroder a four-year, $84 million extension earlier in the season that he turned down.
In addition to Schroder, Wesley Matthews, Alex Caruso, Jared Dudley, Markieff Morris, Andre Drummond and Ben McLemore will be unrestricted free agents at the season's end. Kostas Antetokounmpo, Devontae Cacok and Talen Horton-Tucker will be restricted free agents while Montrezl Harrell has a player option worth $9.7 million for 2021-22.
|Unrestricted Free Agent(s)||Restricted Free Agent(s)||Team Option(s)|
|Dennis Schroder||Kostas Antetokounmpo||Montrezl Harrell|
|Wesley Matthews||Devontae Cacok|
|Alex Caruso||Talen Horton-Tucker|
According to RealGM's Keith Smith, the Lakers are expected to have little-to-no cap space in the offseason.
- Scott Rafferty (@crabdribbles)
What will the roster look like around LeBron James and Anthony Davis?
As Scott mentioned in the "upcoming free agents" section, there could be a lot of changes coming to this roster, especially following a first-round exit in a season where many considered the Lakers to repeat as champions.
Of course, injuries played a huge part in that, but even with Davis missing playoff action, the role players around LeBron did not step up in a time of need and that made all the difference in the first first-round exit of his career.
With Schroder reportedly turning down that $84 million extension and then performing the way he did in the postseason, will Los Angeles even come close to an offer he would accept? Although there has been a report from ESPN's Dave McMenamin that the team may offer Drummond another contract this offseason, he didn't exactly do a lot to earn a favourable deal. Is that something the franchise intends to follow through on?
With a number of veterans headed for free agency, will the team elect to completely re-shape the roster around LeBron and Davis, knowing LeBron's title window may be closing?
The Lakers will need to take a long, hard look at this current roster and decide what's best for the future alongside their superstar duo.
How fast is LeBron James' title window closing?
For the first time in his career, James has fallen in the first round, bringing a blemish to his previously perfect 14-0 record. The series against the Suns also marked the first time in James' career that his team had fallen in a 3-2 hole in the first round, which was uncharted territory for a superstar who typically waltzes his way into the Conference Semifinals.
NBA.com's Carlan Gay detailed the areas of LeBron's game that were on the decline in this series, but was it a product of his lingering ankle injury that sidelined him for 26 games over the home stretch of the season? Or is Father Time finally catching up to his unattainable target?
LeBron's averages of 22.2 points, 8.2 assists and 6.8 rebounds per game would be the best playoff numbers of most players' careers, but that's actually subpar for the all-time great. His scoring and rebounding averages mark the lowest of his playoff career and we never truly saw him flip the playoff switch as we had seen in... literally every other year he's been in the postseason.
Maybe it was the ankle. Maybe it was the shortest offseason in the history of professional sports. Maybe the 36-year-old is finally slowing down.
Whatever the reason was - it will, of course, have the biggest impact on the Lakers' future going forward.
One key stat
Last season, Davis went from shooting 34.9 percent from midrange and 33.0 percent from 3-point range in the regular season to 49.6 percent from midrange and 38.3 percent from 3-point range in the playoffs. This season, he went from shooting 34.8 percent from midrange and 26.0 percent from 3-point range in the regular season to 25.0 percent and 18.2 percent, respectively, in the playoffs.
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