In a week of waiting for Lakers fans, today is the day the entire league waits. Today is the prelude to the free agent frenzy that teams have waited years for. Stories about where Lebron, Wade, and Bosh would end up this Summer started circulating the day after they signed their short term deals back in the summer of 2006. And now, big names like Dirk, Pierce, Amar’e, Boozer, and Joe Johnson have joined the party and are also high priority players that teams will look to add. So when the clock strikes midnight on the east coast, the phone calls will begin and some of the league’s biggest stars will be courted and recruited and asked to changed teams (or stay with their current ones) to start their careers fresh with the goal of winning (and making a boatload of cash) at the front of everyone’s minds.
But the Lakers have their free agency questions as well. They may not be looking at grabbing the big name to bolster their championship hopes – the rest of the league is trying to catch the Lakers in this regard – but they do have issues to work out in terms of their head coach, players to make decisions on, and a budget to look at when deciding what they plan to do in this summer of change. So with all that in mind, let’s take a look at the Lakers situation on the eve of free agency.
What to do with your own free agents?
Here’s a quick review: The Lakers have six free agents. Farmar and Morrison are restricted free agents that the Lakers can either offer contract tenders or renounce their rights and turn into unrestricted free agents. Fisher, Powell, Mbenga, and Shannon will be unrestricted free agents that will be free to sign with whatever team offers them a contract once the clock strikes 12 tonight (9 on the west coast).
Now that we’re up to speed on the Lakers FA situation, the question is who stays and who goes. The only player that the front office has openly said they’d like to have back is Fisher. So, we can only assume that the Lakers will look to make a deal with Fish early in the process to make him a Laker for at least another year.
As for the other players, I would not be surprised to see them all on different teams next year. While Farmar and Brown have shown flashes and were solid contributors to the the Lakers in their two championship runs, they’re both players that are looking for more money and (for Farmar at least) bigger roles on whatever team they play for. I still think there’s a chance that Shannon comes back, but a lot of that will be determined by what offers he receives from other teams and what the Lakers are comfortable paying him beyond what he was slated to make next season had he not opted out. Sad to say, I expect both Mbenga and Powell to be on different teams next year. I liked both of these players for their hard working styles and positive attitudes, but both players are likely looking to provide more of a contribution than “practice player” and hope to see more playing time than they have in their tenure with the Lakers. Plus, money may be a factor as the Lakers drafted Derrick Carracter who, if he makes the team, could fill the same role that Powell or Mbenga provided the Lakers this past season.
So, by my calculations, the Lakers are likely to lose at least 5 of their free agents with the possibility that Brown and one of Powell/Mbenga (with Powell being the frontrunner) also returning. That means the Lakers have some holes to fill that were not addressed in the draft.
What free agents do the Lakers target?
If you haven’t done so already, you need to go read the posts that the K-Bros put together over at Land O’ Lakers on the free agent guards and front court players that the Lakers could be looking at as additions to the team. They’ve done their homework on this and have used solid criteria on paring down their list to reasonable and realistic options.
In my opinion, the Lakers will likely be looking to add at least one backcourt player and surely one frontcourt player in free agency. The key to these players will be their versatility and how many roles they can fill for a team that likes to has specific needs but still does have a lot of talent returning. For example, I think Steve Blake is a very good option for the Lakers as he can come in right away and play PG in relief or in place of Fisher (moving Fish to a back up role) and soak up 20-25 minutes a night of work at the point. I also think Raja Bell is a very good option for the Lakers as he’s a player that defends well, shoots the three at good clip, and can play SG and SF for sure, and may even be able to play some PG in the Triangle. Both Bell and Blake are practical players that make a lot of sense based off cost – neither should demand more than a portion of the mid-level exception, and Bell may even be a minimum salary player – and from the standpoint of their status as veteran, no nonsense players that are proven to be guys that only care about winning and playing their role the best way that they can. As for front court players, the names Kurt Thomas and Craig Smith are ones that I think would fit quite well with this particular group of Lakers. They too are hard working players that have proven their worth in this league and could contribute in part time roles.
However, there are sexier names out there – namely, Tracy McGrady and Mike Miller. Both of their names have been linked to the Lakers over the past few weeks as both have said that they’d like to join a “winner” and are willing to take pay cuts to do so. Personally, I like Miller much more than McGrady. Miller possesses an all-around game, is a great shooter, and has a pedigree as a performer that could really help the Lakers on the wing and in the back court. In certain situations, I could even see him as a primary ball handler on offense (a de facto PG) while defending wings and having another player (Sasha?) defend the opposing teams’ point man. But, realistically this is a pipe dream. Miller is still a serviceable player that could help a lot of teams at both SG and SF. He’s a starting caliber player that would maybe see 20 minutes a night from the Lakers. There’s a dollar value on those types of players and, for a tax paying team like the Lakers, it’s less than the mid-level that Miller could demand from several other teams. As for T-Mac, I’d be okay if he signed for the minimum, but would not want the Lakers to pay any more than that. He’s injury prone and would be making a big adjustment from being the player with the ball in his hands a great deal to the player that spots up and slashes from the weakside. How well he’d fit in that role is a mystery, but for a cheap price, I’d be willing to find out.
So much still depends on Phil’s decision.
Despite everything that’s been said in the above paragraphs, the biggest free agent of them all is Phil Jackson. The Lakers are a different team without him at the helm and if he doesn’t return it’s a step backwards for the Lakers franchise. This entire roster is built for the Triangle and has been groomed to play in that system. So, while it’s nice to discuss if Blake, Bell, T-Mac, or Miller are the next Lakers, the bigger question is if Phil will remain one. We should know the answer to that question on Friday, but this really is the biggest decision of them all. Here’s hoping that Phil gives it one last run and that he can come to an agreement with Dr. Buss to coach the Lakers at least one more year and try to lead this team to a third straight championship.