NBA: Lakers Climb Up ESPN’s Latest Future Power Rankings

The Lakers’ current situation feels pretty dire. Even after an encouraging performance against the Timberwolves on Friday, the team sits winless and their highest-paid player struggles to be productive regardless of role.

But looking ahead, things aren’t looking quite as bleak as they did earlier in the year. Russell Westbrook is on an expiring contract, LeBron James has signed an extension and the Lakers owe the Pelicans one less draft pick in the June draft future.

So these factors likely contributed to the Lakers actually moving up ESPN’s latest future power rankings, jumping two spots from 18th in March this year to 16th. Here’s ESPN’s Andre Snellings’ explanation:

The Lakers are the most talked about franchise in the NBA due to the underdog supporting cast around aging MVP LeBron James and Anthony Davis. However, Russell Westbrook’s massive, expiring contract could be the key to reconfiguring the roster later this season. That potential flexibility and upside, plus the remarkable sustainability of LeBron’s run at the top of the league (and the precipitous fall of some teams before them), was enough to see the Lakers move up a few spots since last ranking.

ESPN divides its overall rankings into five subsections: Player, Management, Money, Market, and Draft. The biggest change from their March rankings to their October rankings is the cash portion, described as a “projected salary cap situation”; Ability and willingness to exceed the cap and pay luxury taxes.”

In the spring, the Lakers ranked 22nd in the league in money while moving up to ninth in the latest rankings. That’s probably fully explained by Westbrook’s contract between the two leagues expiring.

The Lakers also jumped six spots in the draft rankings from 29th to 23rd, another change related to the one fewer draft pick they owe the Pelicans and the 2029 draft pick they own (and can act). The Lakers also had minor improvements in players (from 18th to 16th) and management (from 24th to 20th), and no, I’m not kidding about the latter.

It underscores that the Lakers are in a better position going forward now than they were earlier this year. Even if it doesn’t and shouldn’t feel like it right now.

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