Its Premature to Determine if James Harden can Solve Lakers

It’s Premature to Determine if James Harden can Solve Lakers’ Sluggish Offense

The Lakers and Clippers typically have similar preferences when it comes to players. Both teams were interested in Kawhi Leonard during free agency, but the Clippers ultimately signed him. They also pursued Paul George through trade at different times, and he is now a Clipper. The Lakers looked into acquiring current or former Clippers players like Nicolas Batum, Reggie Jackson, and Marcus Morris, but they ended up on the opposite team. Russell Westbrook did play for the Lakers, and Ty Lue almost became their coach before joining Doc Rivers’ staff in 2019. Going back further, there was the Chris Paul debacle. Historically, when both the Lakers and Clippers target the same player, that player usually ends up on the Clippers. However, the Clippers are currently having difficulty finalizing a deal for James Harden. The sticking point in negotiations is Terance Mann, and the 76ers are not backing down. The Clippers have temporarily stepped back from the negotiations, leaving room for another team to potentially swoop in and acquire Harden. Should the slow-starting Lakers be that team? It’s a complex question, especially since the Lakers won’t have the ability to match salary until several months later due to the contracts they signed in July. However, they are likely well-informed about Harden’s current state, as Rob Pelinka, the Lakers’ general manager, was once his agent. If Pelinka was interested in acquiring Harden, he could have created cap space to pursue him during the summer. Additionally, Harden’s recent reunion with a former teammate didn’t go well. The Lakers’ offense has underperformed in the early games, ranking 21st in the league. While they had a better outcome against the Sacramento Kings, their core problems remain. The team excels when LeBron James is on the court, but struggles when he is off it. If James plays fewer minutes this season, someone will need to step up. The Lakers signed Russell Westbrook with tradeability in mind, and Austin Reaves is better suited for a medium-usage, high-efficiency role rather than being a full-time point guard. Both players have struggled at the start of the season, and the team appears to lack collective shooting and athleticism. Harden is known for elevating the offense, and he has not played for an offense ranked lower than seventh since 2015 (excluding the 2021-22 season). Last season, Philadelphia lineups featuring Harden without Joel Embiid ranked in the 73rd percentile offensively, with 117.1 points per 100 possessions. Harden rarely misses games, which is beneficial for both the Lakers and Clippers. Additionally, James serves as a backup plan in case Harden underperforms in the playoffs. With Anthony Davis, Harden would have an even more dangerous pick-and-roll partnership. Davis’ skills near the rim would complement Harden’s passing abilities, and their chemistry could open up scoring opportunities for James. The pairing of Harden and James would be lethal, as both players excel at hunting mismatches against weaker defenders. James is highly skilled as a short-roll playmaker, and he has effectively screened for Kyrie Irving in the past. While there might not be much offensive overlap between them, the defensive side could pose challenges. Harden is not known for strong on-ball defense, and James prefers to conserve energy for offense. It would be unrealistic to ask a nearly 39-year-old player like James to engage in more than “help” defense on a nightly basis. Jarred Vanderbilt has proven effective against high-usage ball-handlers, and his offense caused problems for the Lakers in the playoffs. With Harden on the team, the Lakers’ defensive unit would require more protection. The proposed foursome of James, Davis, Harden, and Reaves lacks sufficient shooting. Davis and James are known to have shooting limitations, and Harden has never averaged more than two catch-and-shoot attempts per game. Reaves, who excels in the mid-range, would lose scoring opportunities while watching Harden dominate the ball. Reaves has struggled from the three-point line so far this season, raising doubts about his shooting abilities. The Lakers would benefit from a speedy player who contrasts the more deliberate styles of James and Reaves. While they had that with Westbrook, they would need someone who can also shoot and play point-of-attack defense. Finding a player with shooting, speed, and defense is rare and expensive on the trade market. The Lakers signed Gabe Vincent with hopes that he would fulfill these requirements, but he has yet to prove himself in three games. The cost of acquiring Harden would be significant. The Lakers would need to wait until December 15th, when most of their signed players from last summer become trade-eligible. Rui Hachimura is a potential player to match salaries, but losing him would be a developmental setback for the Lakers. However, his playoff shooting from last year was unsustainable, and his offensive style may no longer be necessary. The Lakers could also offer draft picks to match the Clippers’ offer of an unprotected first-round pick and potential swaps. Max Christie and Jalen Hood-Schifino are young players who could potentially appeal to the 76ers. However, a third team may be necessary to facilitate the trade. The 76ers are focused on avoiding long-term salary commitments while pursuing 2024 free agents. Neither Russell nor Hachimura have expiring contracts, so the Lakers would need to find a big contract to satisfy Philadelphia. The Charlotte Hornets might be interested in trading Gordon Hayward for Hachimura if they view him as a long-term project. The Detroit Pistons also have expiring contracts that could be part of a trade package, including Joe Harris, Alec Burks, James Wiseman, and Monte Morris. The San Antonio Spurs usually don’t like helping the Lakers, but they could offer players like Doug McDermott, Cedi Osman, and Devonte’ Graham. Any team involved in the trade would likely request draft compensation from the Lakers, who do not have much to spare. Despite appearances, the Lakers are relatively well-positioned to rebuild after the James-Davis era if they choose to do so. They have two…

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