The first three weeks of the 2018 NBA free agency concluded with the Los Angeles Lakers losing two of their key big men – Julius Randle and Brook Lopez. Randle ended up joining the New Orleans Pelicans on a two-year, $18 million deal, while Lopez signed a one-year, $3.4 million contract with the Milwaukee Bucks. The departure of both big men was somewhat expected since, during the 2017-18 NBA season, the Lakers have already revealed their plan to go after two-maximum salaried players this offseason.
However, LeBron James was the only max free agent who joined the Purple and Gold. After successfully acquiring James, the Lakers chose to sign JaVale McGee, Lance Stephenson, and Rajon Rondo instead of bringing back Brook Lopez and Julius Randle. McGee may have been a two-time NBA champion, but no one can deny the fact that Lopez is a better center than him on both ends of the floor. Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report revealed why the Lakers decided to let Lopez and Randle go.
“To an extent, Johnson and Pelinka created the center issue by letting restricted free agent Julius Randle walk to the New Orleans Pelicans and incumbent starter Brook Lopez join the Milwaukee Bucks for $3.4 million instead of the $4.4 million the Lakers have to spend. The Lakers didn’t want to bring back players who were expecting significant minutes, according to the second team executive. They are more interested in seeing what their young core can do alongside James.”
— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) July 18, 2018
One Lakers executive reportedly told Bleacher Report that the team plans to create their own version of the Golden State Warriors’ “Death Lineup” with LeBron James, Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, and Lonzo Ball. The Lakers won’t have a problem executing the system since they have Luke Walton, who served as an assistant in Golden State for two years, as their head coach. With their desire to replicate the Warriors’ strategy, Pincus believes the “Lakers’ best and only choice” is to use James as their small-ball center.
James is undeniably an incredible player on both ends of the floor, but forcing him to exert more effort on defense while being the main scoring option will definitely take a huge toll on his body. The reason why the “Death Lineup” perfectly works for the Warriors is that Draymond Green, who plays as their small-ball-center, is only tasked to focus on the defensive end, while Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Kevin Durant take responsibility on the offensive end.
Brook Lopez may have been an odd fit in the “Death Lineup,” but Julius Randle could be the perfect player to play as the Lakers’ small-ball center. Randle offers the same set of skills as Draymond Green, and his frontcourt tandem with James could pose a huge threat to opposing teams. However, as of now, the Lakers should make the most out of the current talent they have. Only their performance in the 2018-19 NBA season will prove if they made the right decision to let Lopez and Randle go or not.