Rob Pelinka: Lakers reached offseason goals but ‘actively searching’ for another center

LAS VEGAS — Although the Lakers have been unanimously considered one of the winners of the offseason, vice president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka said Sunday that the organization is still looking to add another key piece to its roster.

The Lakers re-signed Austin Reaves, Rui Hachimura and D’Angelo Russell; signed Gabe Vincent, Taurean Prince, Jaxson Hayes and Cam Reddish; and drafted Jalen Hood-Schifino (No. 17) and Maxwell Lewis (No. 40) in the offseason, improving a group that lost to the champion Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference Finals.

The team’s one remaining hole is at center, where they only have two traditional options in Anthony Davis and Hayes. Pelinka made it clear that the organization is looking to add another big with their 14th overall before training camp in late September.

“We’re actively in the market to add another big one,” Pelinka told a group of reporters at halftime of the Lakers’ 93-75 summer league win over the Charlotte Hornets on Sunday.

The Lakers are considering using more two-big lineups next season, which is the foundation of their championship run in the 2019-20 season. The hope is that the athletic 7-foot Hayes can complement Davis like Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee did that season.

“I think the addition of Jaxson Hayes was the key to that,” Pelinka said. “I think Jaxson, a lot like maybe Dwight Howard in that stretch for us: big body, rim protector, active roller. … But we’re also looking to add another center.”

Centers Christian Wood and Bismack Biyombo are in consideration for the 14th spot on the roster, according to team sources who were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter. The Lakers had interest in Dario Saric before he signed with the Golden State Warriors earlier this week, those sources said. Pelinka clarified that Los Angeles is hoping to find a player who is different from Hayes from a skill perspective.

“I think dimensionalizing the skills of that position would be important,” Pelinka said. “So we don’t want to sign someone who replicates the skill set that Jaxson Hayes has. So if we can diversify that big position and have different looks, that would be good.”

Biyombo is a hard-nosed rim protector who blocks shots, rebounds reasonably well and sets solid screens. He is a relatively limited offensive threat, especially outside the paint. Wood, who played with Davis in New Orleans during the 2018-19 season, is a capable scorer and shooter. Despite his impressive numbers per game (16.6 points on a 62.2 true shooting percentage and 7.3 rebounds with Dallas last season), is a below-average defender and has switched teams at a somewhat alarming rate for a player of his talent (seven teams for seven seasons).

The Lakers are expected to use the veteran’s minimum on any big they sign, though they could technically increase that number because they’re not using their full non-taxpayer mid-level exception on Vincent. Vincent’s 2023-2024 salary is expected to start at around $10.5 million, about $1.9 million below the $12.4 million starting cap for the full non-taxpayer. Los Angeles has flexibility in free agency and ultimately the buyout market, according to Pelinka.

“With the new CBA, you can ultimately use the mid-level tool even for trades,” Pelinka said. “Not quite yet. But we were conscious of keeping some space and using it. It could come in handy. For example in the buyout market.”

Lakers GM Rob Pelinka, center, and coach Darvin Ham watch the team during summer league play. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar sits on the far left. (Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)

In addition, Pelinka first addressed Hayes’ arrest in 2021. Hayes was sentenced in June 2022 to three years of probation, 450 hours of community service and one year of weekly domestic violence classes after pleading no contest to two misdemeanor charges . a domestic incident followed with her boyfriend in Woodland Hills, California, in July 2021.

“I think the most important thing is that we take these things very seriously and do a full vetting process,” Pelinka said. “Jaxson has been very sincere (with) his apologies about dealing with it and has moved beyond it where he’s played a year or two in the NBA after that. It was something that we felt he owned, took responsibility for it and will be a better person on the other side of it.”

On arguably the most significant matter for next season’s team, Pelinka declined to comment on the status of LeBron James, who hinted at retirement after the Nuggets swept the Lakers in the conference finals. Behind the scenes, the team has continued to operate as if James will play next season, with players and coaches referencing him when discussing next year’s group.

“We’ve said before we want to let LeBron talk about his plans and his future for himself,” Pelinka said. “It’s been great interacting with him during the offseason. … It’s also been nice just to see him celebrate the roster when we completed it. A bunch of Instagram posts and different things celebrating his teammates. And it’s just that’s the leader LeBron is. He knows how to encourage a group and bring them together, and we’re just happy to have him behind that.”

Pelinka offered promising health updates on James (torn tendon in his right foot) and Davis (bone spur and stress reaction in his right foot). James and Davis played in every playoff game despite their lingering ailments. James told ESPN he had to have an MRI on his foot and have surgery this summer.

“We feel good about the offseason and the treatment that AD and LeBron are getting,” Pelinka said. “All the reports have been good about both of those injuries, in terms of guys being able to move past them.”

James missed 13 straight games from late February to late March due to his foot injury. The 38-year-old returned earlier than expected and never looked like his pre-injury version (perhaps outside of his masterful Game 4 performance against Denver). He was clearly limited physically in the playoffs.

Meanwhile, Davis missed 20 straight games from mid-December to late January with his foot injury. Since the 2019–20 season, Davis has missed at least 26 games in each of the three subsequent seasons. The Lakers have a significant decision to make regarding his future in a few weeks: Davis is eligible for a three-year, $167.6 million extension starting Aug. 4.

Pelinka cited the league’s collective bargaining agreement as a reason he can’t talk about the team’s intentions with Davis, but spoke highly of his superstar big man. Davis and James each have two years remaining on their deals with the Lakers, including both having a player option for 2024-25.

“I wish the CBA allowed us to talk about negotiations … but there are pretty strict rules around that,” Pelinka said. “… But couldn’t think more highly of Anthony Davis as a Laker and as a player. He’s helped deliver a championship to our franchise. He’s been an incredible captain and leader. We saw last year, willing to playing through a tough foot injury to get our team to the Western Conference Finals. So just love having him as part of our team.”

In addition to keeping their core, one of the Lakers’ goals is to add more 3-point shooting with their new pieces. Los Angeles was ranked No. 28 in 3-pointers per game. 100 possessions, 27th in 3-point attempts per. 100 possessions and 25th in 3-point percentage last season. (Those percentage ranks jumped to 15th, 15th and 11th, respectively, among the 16 playoff teams.) Perimeter shooting has long been a weakness in the James-Davis era.

Vincent and Prince, in particular, are upgrades over their predecessors (Dennis Schroder and Troy Brown Jr., respectively). Vincent is a career 33.9 percent 3-point shooter, but shot 37.8 percent in the Finals with Miami. Prince is a career 37.2 percent 3-point shooter who shot 38.1 percent last season. Hayes has flashed some 3-point ability but doesn’t project to a floor-spacer; Reddish has been a low-volume, below-average 3-point shooter in his first four seasons.

“It was really important,” Pelinka said of the Lakers adding shooting. “I think, you know, we’re hoping to get good shooting years out of Gabe Vincent, Taurean Prince and also Cam Reddish. I think it’s guys like LeBron and D’Angelo and our playmakers as well, I think , will create an open look for those guys in the corner. I think with the right distance and gravity that AD commands, those guys will get an open look.”

Given the Lakers’ need for shooting and spacing around James and Davis, the Reddish signing was a bit of a surprise. Reddish has bounced around with three teams over his first four seasons and is a career 32.2 percent 3-point shooter. He has yet to prove he is a rotation-caliber wing, let alone one on a contender.

But the Lakers are confident that assistant coach Chris Jent, who had a good relationship with Reddish when he coached him in Atlanta as part of Lloyd Pierce and Nate McMillan’s staffs, can help unleash the potential that made Reddish the No. 10 in 2019. .

“I think all the tools are there for Cam,” Pelinka said. “We have an assistant coach on Darwin’s staff, Chris Jent, who had Cam when he was with the Atlanta Hawks. He was a member of their staff and had a really good run with him where he had some really meaningful and impactful games in the playoffs, where Cam made a difference I believe Darvin and his staff can take a guy like that and get him back to playing confident basketball, efficient basketball.

“This was somebody who was a (top-10) pick in the draft just a couple of years ago. So it’s there, and I’m excited for him to show it.”

Pelinka is betting that Reddish fits into his vision of a bigger roster that could better compete with the Nuggets. Los Angeles has a chance in the coming days or weeks to bolster those odds with additional size.

“We want to be in the NBA Finals next year,” Pelinka said. “And so the goal was to keep that roster, the core part of it, intact and add to it. We felt like we were able to accomplish that goal.”

(Top photo of Rob Pelinka introducing Lakers draft picks Jalen Hood-Schifino, right, and Maxwell Lewis in June: Ringo Chiu/SOPA Images via Associated Press)

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