Rob Pelinka offers insight into how Lakers plan to go back to model from 2020 title team

Mike Battaglino
4 Min Read

Jaxson Hayes could turn out to be one of the most impactful acquisitions made by the Los Angeles Lakers this offseason, with general manager Rob Pelinka saying the 23-year-old big man fits into their plan to replicate the success of their 2020 NBA championship team.

“I remember scouting him when he was at Texas, obviously his dad was an NFL player, and so he has a toughness and an aggression to his game,” Pelinka said of Hayes in an ESPN interview. “Coach [Darvin] Ham and I talked a little bit with Anthony [Davis] about going back to the model we had in 2020 when we won a championship where we had guys like Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee playing alongside of A.D., and we identified early in the free agent process for us is that Jaxson is that type of player.

“He’s a big kid, rim protector, plays with a high level of energy and he’s also a really good screen setter, so when you have guards like D’Angelo Russell that really want to operate in the pick-and-roll and have Austin Reaves as a secondary ball-handler, we thought Jaxson would be a good fit with those guys with the way he plays.”

Hayes, who received a two-year-contract as a free agent, is arguably the least heralded addition the Lakers have made during a busy offseason in which they have also acquired Gabe Vincent, Taurean Prince and Cam Reddish. Los Angeles also was able to re-sign Reaves, Russell and Rui Hachimura, so it will come back this season with almost all of the key players that helped it reach the 2023 Western Conference Finals.

The Lakers were swept by the Denver Nuggets to fall one step short of the NBA Finals, and Hayes is being looked at as someone who can help them take a stronger step toward another championship.

Hayes, who was the No. 8 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft out of the University of Texas, played four seasons with the New Orleans Pelicans. He had an early-season elbow injury in the 2022-23 campaign and wound up playing a career-low 47 games and averaging career-lows of 5.0 points, 2.8 rebounds and 0.4 blocks per game.

Despite the drop-offs, the Lakers reportedly view the 7-footer as similar to Howard, a longtime NBA veteran who played a key role on the 2020 championship team. Los Angeles reportedly also is looking to add another big man, with Tristan Thompson among those being considered.

In addition to possibly playing Hayes and Davis on the court at the same time, the Lakers also reportedly are about to give Reaves a bigger role in the offense. The emerging 25-year-old has point guard skills the Lakers believe they can use to their advantage.

All of these positive developments bode well for the return of LeBron James, who hinted at retirement following the playoff loss to the Nuggets and has not officially said he will return for what would be his 21st NBA season. Pelinka said the organization was excited to see James’ social media posts about the Lakers’ offseason acquisitions and that the 38-year-old has been working behind the scenes to prepare for the season.

Hayes, whose father Jonathan played 12 seasons as an NFL tight end, said it will be “surreal” to be on the same team with James, and it looks like he might get that chance in an important role too.

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Mike is a veteran journalist who has covered the NBA for almost three decades. He remembers the birth of "Showtime" and has always admired the star power the Lakers have brought to the game.