It’s no secret that the Lakers need to improve their team. Draft night came and went with the Lakers grabbing two experienced college players that have some promise, but should not be seen as solutions to this problem. The Lakers need more than two rookies, they need contributors that can improve the talent base of the roster.
With the draft in the rearview mirror, the Lakers move on to phase two of the improvement plan: free agency. They’re not armed with many resources but the ones they possess can net them some talent if used appropriately.
First on the agenda is figuring out the players whose rights they still hold through Bird exceptions. Ramon Sessions tops this list and Mitch Kupchak has openly stated that he’ll be calling Sessions’ representatives at midnight tonight to make his pitch. Both sides would like Sessions to re-up so this will mostly come down to what’s most important to Sessions. Does he want big money? A long term deal? He has some leverage over the Lakers due to Steve Blake being the only seasoned PG on the roster with Darius Morris and Andrew Goudelock offering potential at the position (in vastly different ways, I should point out) but not much else at this point. I expect the Lakers to move quickly on Sessions and to put the ball in his court to make a decision on how he’d like to proceed. His decision to opt out was a difficult one and now he’ll have another on his hands in navigating the market to find his value.
Second on the list of in house targets that can be retained is Jordan Hill. The Lakers have the luxury of being a bit more patient with Hill as his price is essentially fixed. The CBA states that when a player on his rookie contract has his team option declined (as was the case with Hill; the Rockets declined it before he was traded), that he cannot be resigned to a higher dollar amount than what his option year was to pay him.
So, whether Hill stays with the Lakers or not he knows what his earning power is. This makes negotiating simple and allows the Lakers to profess to Hill that they like him while also informing him that they’ll be patient in their approach with him. (Update: I’ve since learned that Hill can sign for more money with another team should they offer him a contract more than the declined player option amount the Lakers are limited to. Also, Dave McMenamin tweeted that Golden State may show interest in Hill – with the ability to spend up to the full MLE – while reiterating that there’s mutual interest between Hill and the Lakers for him to return.)
Moving to outside the organization, the Lakers are armed with few resources. They have the mini-mid level exception which will be valued at approximately $3.1 million dollars and will look to use it on a priority target. In past seasons the Lakers went after the guy they wanted quickly – Radman, Ron-Ron, Blake, and McRoberts were all signed relatively quickly to their mid-level deals – and I anticipate the Lakers will try to do the same this off-season. The list of FA’s isn’t extremely promising, but there are names on the market that can help the Lakers.
As I’ve said, one of the Lakers biggest needs is finding a wing that can play shooting guard to back up Kobe and, potentially, play other positions in order to give the team lineup versatility. They could also use another big man, as relying solely on what’s in house (without Hill, their only backup bigs are McRoberts and recent draftee Robert Sacre). My ideal scenario is the Lakers targeting a wing early with their mini-MLE and then using their veteran exceptions to sign another big (and potentially another wing besides their initial target).
The hope is that the Lakers can find young players that’s ready to contribute right away but those are few and far between, especially in the Lakers price range. OJ Mayo, Nick Young, and Lou Williams are examples of guys that the Lakers would want, but will surely find higher value contracts than the Lakers can offer. So, I’d look more closely at veteran players that are past their prime but still able to contribute meaningful minutes (in other words Jason Terry types). We just saw how impactful players of this ilk can be (see Battier, Shane), so snagging one could be of great benefit to the Lakers.
Ultimately, unless there’s a major trade, there won’t be any big fireworks for the Lakers this evening. They’ve been doing their due diligence on free agents and surely have a few in mind that they’re targeting. Maybe tonight brings a key signing or two or maybe it will be early next week. But, we’ll have some new Lakers to talk about soon enough, I’m sure.