The Los Angeles Lakers’ offseason started earlier than expected after the defending champs were knocked out of the 2021 NBA playoffs in the first round. General manager Rob Pelinka will look to improve the roster this summer but it appears unlikely that the roster will see an overhaul.

LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Kuzma and Marc Gasol are all under contract for the 2021-22 season. Their salaries add up to just a few million dollars short of the projected salary cap, giving the Lakers little money to spend on free agents. That could force Pelinka to keep players headed for free agency, even if it means overpaying them.

Dennis Schroder appears to be at the top of that list. The point guard was a disappointment in six playoff games, averaging 14.3 points and 2.8 assists per game on 40.0% shooting. Schroder turned down a four-year, $84 million contract offer during the regular season, an indication that he won’t give the Lakers any sort of discount. 

Schroder hurt his value in the playoffs, but the Lakers probably can’t afford to let him walk. Los Angeles has no means of replacing his production in the regular season, during which he averaged 15.4 points and 5.8 assists while taking some of the offensive playmaking load off James’ shoulders. 

Magic Johnson added to the intrigue with Schroder, criticizing the point guard Friday on local radio.

“Schroder, I don’t think he’s a Laker,” Johnson said. “That’s just my opinion. I don’t know if they’re going to sign him back or not. I don’t think he brings the winning mentality and attitude that we need.

"He had a chance to show that in this series and, to me, he failed in this series. But again, if he comes back a Laker, I’m going to support him, I’m going cheer for him and all that, but I just don’t think he’s a Laker.”

Montrezl Harrell is another free agent that had a different level of production in the playoffs. The Sixth Man of the Year in 2020 only played 39 postseason minutes, and L.A. was outscored by 18.9 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor. 

Harrell has a $9.7 million player option for next season. The backup center seemed frustrated with his diminished role, though he might not want to leave that much money on the table and take his chances on the open market.

Talen Horton-Tucker is a restricted free agent. The second-year player saw an increased role on the team during the Lakers’ title defense and is viewed as a starter down the line. It’s difficult to see Los Angeles parting ways with Horton-Tucker unless he signs a large offer sheet from another suitor.

Horton-Tucker and Schroder might be the Lakers’ best hope of upgrading the roster in the near future, whether they improve their play or are part of a trade. Before the trade deadline, Los Angeles reportedly turned down the opportunity to deal Horton-Tucker, Schroder Caldwell-Pope and draft compensation for Toronto Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry.

After trading a haul of future draft picks for Anthony Davis in the summer of 2019, the Lakers aren’t allowed to trade a first-rounder for another few seasons. 

The Lakers could use their mid-level exception or sign veterans at the minimum salary to improve their three-point shooting. Los Angeles shot 29.9% from three-point range in the playoffs, and the team’s inability to make open looks was a large part of its undoing.

Alex Caruso, Wesley Matthews and Markieff Morris are also headed for free agency. Caruso has been an important role player for the last couple of seasons. It's unclear what the price tag would be for Matthews and Morris.

Andre Drummond, the Lakers’ midseason acquisition, is unsigned and often did not appear to be a good fit when Davis was healthy. The center was also benched in the team’s final playoff game.

Kyle Kuzma #0 of the Los Angeles Lakers talks to Wesley Matthews #9 Andre Drummond #2 and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope #1 after a stop in play against the Houston Rockets Kyle Kuzma #0 of the Los Angeles Lakers talks to Wesley Matthews #9 Andre Drummond #2 and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope #1 after a stop in play against the Houston Rockets Photo: Getty Images | Harry How