Former Cavaliers wing may be the answer to the Lakers' problems

Dylan Windler, Los Angeles Lakers
Dylan Windler, Los Angeles Lakers / Meg Oliphant/GettyImages

The Los Angeles Lakers are no strangers to former Cleveland Cavaliers players.

Taurean Prince spent time in Cleveland and is now a key rotation piece. Last season they signed Tristan Thompson for the playoffs and relied on him in a few key moments. Isaiah Thomas, J.R. Smith, Channing Frye and Luol Deng have all played for the Lakers in recent seasons after passing through Cleveland.

Of course, LeBron James may have spent a minute or two in Cleveland in his career before landing in Los Angeles. Impossibly, at 39 years old he remains one of the best players in the league and is putting up All-NBA numbers for the Lakers this season.

The Lakers need help this year

The problem for the Lakers is that LeBron is no longer enough. Nor is Anthony Davis, healthy and playing at an elite level this season. The issue has been the supporting cast, which has been inconsistent and ill-fitting around those two stars.

The Lakers made it to the Western Conference Finals last season, and entered this year after an active offseason expecting to push for another playoff run this year. Instead, despite health from LeBron and Davis, and despite a run to the In-Season Tournament Championship, the Lakers are stuck at .500 and are fighting simply to make the In-Season Tournament.

Head coach Darvin Ham has been under fire lately for his inability to find lineups to unlock this team's potential. The formula around LeBron has been obvious for two decades: put a rim protector behind them, then surround him with shooting and perimeter defense.

The problem that Ham and the Lakers have run into is that the players available have drastic strengths and weaknesses. D'Angelo Russell and Christian Wood are floor-raisers on offense but defensive soft spots. Jarred Vanderbilt and Cam Reddish are defensive options that kill the Lakers' spacing. Rui Hachimura has regressed back into the disappointing former lottery pick he was before his late-season hot streak in L.A. Gabe Vincent remains sidelined by injury.

If the Lakers have exhausted the options on the main roster, they may have just signed a player to a two-way contract who could be the solution that they need. It's a name familiar to fans of the Cavaliers: Dylan Windler.

Dylan Windler deserves a shot

Windler was drafted by the Cavaliers with the 27th pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, but injuries completely marred the start to his career and he wasn't able to gain traction. He always looked like a viable "second draft" candidate for a team willing to take a shot on the two-way potential he showed in college and during dominant showings in the G League.

It was another dominant game in the G League that caught the eye of the Lakers. In a game for the Westchester Knicks a week ago, Windler put up 23 points along with a G League record 33 rebounds.

Windler profiles as an ideal NBA wing. He is 6'6" with a long wingspan, a smooth jumper and good defensive chops. He plays hard, fights on the boards, and looks like the kind of low-usage 3-and-D wing any team could need.

The Lakers owe it to themselves to give him a try. It may be that the games lost to injury become too much and he never restarts his NBA career, but it also may be that he is finally healthy and ready to make an impact at the NBA level. The wings the Lakers keep cycling through aren't getting it done; perhaps Windler can.

The upside is that the Lakers find a long-term rotation player, a wing who can hit 3-pointers at a fast clip and with accuracy, won't be killed defensively and helps them rebound. Those players are incredibly valuable. If it doesn't work, at least the Lakers gave it a shot, and their low investment would allow them to move on easily.

The Lakers are already relying on one former Cavaliers draft pick in LeBron James. Could they try leaning on another to see if that Ohio-to-Malibu pipeline has more to offer them?

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