I have no complaints as to how the Lakers’ off-season has progressed.
Steve Nash has been acquired. The Lakers summer league team – though oh-fer through their first two contests – is showing some positive returns with their young players. Devin Ebanks’ return isn’t yet official, but reports say he’ll sign his qualifying offer soon to return for his third campaign with the team. And while there’s no other big move to report, the Lakers are, reportedly, actively exploring all their options to hit another homerun this summer. There’s no reason to feel bad at this point in the process.
There is still work to be done, however. In several recent interviews, Mitch Kupchak has mentioned that the Lakers must improve their bench and I couldn’t agree more. While getting Ebanks in the fold should provide a capable player on the wing, there’s still a need to find another player who can play behind Kobe and/or Ron to help give the Lakers proper depth. The same can be said of finding more help behind Pau and Andrew to help give the front court the bodies they need to keep everyone fresh next season. Because while rookie Robert Sacre has shown to be a banger in Las Vegas, he looks more like a 5th big man rather than one that can step in and fill any sort of meaningful role next year.
That leaves the Lakers wanting at least one wing and one big man to help fill out the roster going into next year. Who would be good fits, though? Let’s look at some options and gauge how realistic they may be.
- OJ Mayo/Courtney Lee: I’m grouping these two together because they represent the types of players fans should realistically forget about. After Eric Gordon’s contract is resolved (after signing an offer sheet with the Suns, the Hornets have said they will match), these two players represent the best names on the SG market. They will command more money than the Lakers can pay and it’s really that simple. Coming off their rookie contracts, these two would both be wise to find contracts that can maximize their earnings on teams that are competitive. The Lakers offer the latter, but can’t pony up the dollars.
- Grant Hill: Hill is said to be deciding between several teams or simply retiring. As a minimum contract player, he’s certainly in the Lakers’ price range and his familiarity/friendship with Steve Nash could help the Lakers snag him. Hill could be a good reserve SF in 15-20 minutes a game – playing defense, hitting mid range jumpers, and filling the lane on the break. He’s old, but doesn’t have as much mileage on his legs due to the multiple injuries that robbed him of his prime years. I’d think the Lakers have a realistic shot of signing him if he decides he wants to play next year.
- Mickael Pietrus: I’ve read that there’s mutual interest for him to return to the Celtics so his inclusion here may be all for naught. However, last year Pietrus played for the league minimum and may fall into that category again next year. Even at a little bit more than that (say $2 million), he’s a good value as a defensive wing that can shoot the three pointer fairly well (35.7% career average). He has playoff experience, has shown is not scared of big moments, and by all accounts is a good teammate. If he wiggles loose from the C’s, I wouldn’t mind looking at him closely.
- Brandon Rush: Rush is a restricted free agent so signing him away from the Warriors seems unlikely. Stealing a RFA from a team typically means overpaying and the Lakers have no such luxuries. That said, seeing what it would take to get him would be worth while. He’s one of the best three point shooters in the league (41% career average, 45% last season), has good size, and can play either wing position. His defense isn’t especially strong but he has the physical tools to at least be passable on that end of the floor & will be held accountable to do so on the Lakers. Again, it seems unlikely the Lakers could sign him outright and his price tag may end up being too high even if they could. However, he’s the type of player that could really help the team and if there’s not a lot of interest for him on the open market (combined with the glut of wings the Warriors have on their roster), exploring trying to secure him would be nice.
- Other names that fit the guard/forward profile are Carlos Delfino, Martell Webster, and CJ Miles. If any of them could be signed for the minimum, I’d be okay with any of this trio. They’re all capable pros that offer solid skill sets that can help the team. I’d prefer the guys mentioned earlier over them, but I’m not so picky that I’d turn any of these guys down.
- UPDATE: In the comments, Jodie Meeks and Ronnie Brewer were mentioned so I’ll touch on them here. I’d be happy with Meeks, though he’s a SG prospect only and isn’t that strong a defender. His shooting ability would definitely help the Lakers and I’d welcome the floor spacing his presence could add. As for Brewer, he’s an intriguing defender because he can swing between SG and SF on that end of the floor, guarding the other team’s primary threat. He’s not a floor spacer at all but his slashing and ability to make smart cuts would help an offense – especially one with one on one threats that occupy the D like the Lakers have. If either could be had for the minimum, I’d welcome either with open arms as both could help – though in different ways.
- As for Big men, the pickings aren’t nearly as deep (which, in itself, is saying something), especially when you consider the Lakers are likely looking only at minimum salaried players. Recent reports have the Lakers interested in Antawn Jamison and Jermaine O’Neal. The former could provide a nice offensive boost to a reserve unit that sorely lacked punch. Jamison can still score and still has some range on his jumper (though his efficiency has decreased steadily in recent years). What Jamison doesn’t do is guard anyone and considering the level of responsibility big men have in Mike Brown’s defensive schemes that would be a problem. Jermaine O’Neal does play defense, but he’s perpetually injured. He’d help the Lakers if their quest is to acquire more players from the 1996 draft to go with Kobe and Nash, but beyond that I’d question how dependable he’d be. The Lakers need dependable bodies to back up their bigs (remember Theo Ratliff?) and O’Neal has more questions than answers when analyzing if he could do so. If I had to choose between these two, I’d choose Jamison for his shooting and scoring pop and hope that the Lakers’ D wouldn’t suffer so much since he’d likely be flanked by either Pau or Bynum at all times. Even he has his risks, though.
- The player the Lakers would likely be best off getting to fill the role as the additional big man would be their own free agent Jordan Hill. He’s as known a commodity the Lakers can realistically get at this point and has already proven he can play next to either Bynum or Gasol as the third big man in the rotation. When you add him to Josh McRoberts (who I haven’t given up on at all), the Lakers could have a decent duo of back ups that offer a nice cross-section of skills teamed with high activity. If the only big man the Lakers signed this summer were Hill, it wouldn’t be all that exciting but it would be useful.
The market has slowed down and it seems that all teams have taken a step back to reexamine needs while trying to best sort out player values. This may ultimately be to the Lakers’ benefit as players and their agents find that the money they seek isn’t there for them. If you recall, this happened two years ago with Matt Barnes and the Lakers ended up with a solid contributor for a very good price. If they same thing shakes out this year, the Lakers could find themselves with two (or more) contributors added to their roster for minimum (or slightly more) value contracts who end up being rotation players.
Considering the payroll issues the Lakers face and the fact that they may not want to use their mini-MLE this year, spending little but getting viable contributors is the best case scenario. That said, getting those contributors isn’t an option. The Lakers must find some in order to be on comfortable footing with the other top teams (namely Miami and OKC) next year.