The Lakers did not retain their main free agent target. And while that’s disappointing on a variety of levels and is a major step backwards in building a contending team, it doesn’t mean the Lakers can (or will) just sit on their hands for the rest of free agency. After all, as it stands now, the Lakers only have 8 players on their roster (not counting recent draftee Ryan Kelly) and need to fill out their roster with bodies — preferably some who can, you know, actually play basketball.
In other words, the team still has work to do.
If there’s one thing we know for certain it is that the team is looking to add players who fill dual needs while also fitting into Mike D’Antoni’s approach to the game. What this boils down to is finding players who are comfortable on the perimeter, players who can shoot and/or defend ably enough to earn minutes in diverse lineups. Most of these players will be classic wings — either small forwards or shooting guards — but don’t rule out signing another perimeter oriented big man or a point guard, both positions that can allow some roster lineup flexibility and versatility.
Knowing these things, here are 5 names that make some sense.
1. Carlos Delfino. The Argentinian swingman offers a nice perimeter game and defensive versatility (he can guard either wing position). He has a good, but not great, outside shot and can use the threat of his jumper to create offense off the dribble. He also has some big game experience, playing both in the NBA and internationally for his native Argentina and would be a very good get at this stage of free agency. One of the reasons Delfino is still available, however, is that he’s coming off foot surgery stemming from an injury that ended his season. That surgery is supposed to keep him on the shelf for 4-6 months which should keep him out of action through training camp and, potentially, into the start of the season. Needless to say, for a team that needs a solid contributor in that spot, having him out for that long is a major deterrent. However, of all the players still out there, he’s one of the better ones when healthy and if you’re willing to wait on him, the odds of getting a solid rotation players are high. (Update: Reports say that Delfino will sign with the Milwaukee Bucks. As noted above, he would have been a nice fit and removes another wing option from the market. At this point, options on the wing are narrowing quickly so the Lakers would be wise to move quickly on other options.)
2. Corey Brewer. Brewer is another wing player who can fill a real need. Brewer is not the most polished offensive player, providing most of his effectiveness in the open court as a finisher on the fast break or on leak outs. He’s a below average three point shooter however, and that limits his usefulness on offense in the half court (though he can still get baskets as a slasher off the ball). Where his value comes is on defense where he can ably defend both back court positions and even slide up to checking SF’s if they’re not of the power variety. In a way, his game reminds a lot of Trevor Ariza’s when he first came to the Lakers. He can do damage in the passing lanes and offers good length and athleticism, but his offensive game compromises spacing and can hinder his team’s effectiveness on that end. All that said, the Lakers are need of players who can do what he does on defense, especially with Steve Nash at the point (Brewer could slide over and defend PG’s while Nash guards a lesser wing offensive player).
3. Sasha Vujacic. Yes, the Machine is looking for a return the NBA and the Lakers are supposedly on his list of teams he’d like to play for. We know Sasha’s strengths and weaknesses pretty well, so there’s no need to get into them with great depth right now. He’s a good shooter and showed a penchant for making good plays off the dribble, but those skills were often combined with too many forced shots and attempts to create something out of nothing. Defensively he was always more of an irritant than a player who got pure stops, but his effort on that end was admirable, if not always smart. It remains to be seen how, if at all, a couple of seasons in Europe has affected his game positively, but at the worst he’s a fringe rotation guard in the role of Jodie Meeks who offers a bit more size to the position. Sasha also understands what it means to play for the Lakers (and the drama that can come with it), is still a guy who has the respect of Kobe and Gasol, and never seemed to treat big moments as something to run from (for better and for worse).
4. Lamar Odom. If we’re talking former Lakers, why not mention my favorite lefty. Odom has had an up and down couple of seasons since being traded to the Mavs (mostly down), flaming out in Dallas and coming into camp with the Clippers last October woefully out of shape. However, as the season progressed, Odom did start to find his stride and carve out a nice role as the Clippers’ first big man off the bench and a guy who often closed games next to Blake Griffin guarding the other team’s best offensive big. I think it’s fair to say that Odom will never return to the level of play that earned him the 6th man of the year award in his last Lakers’ season, but his skill set remains in place and would be a nice fit in what D’Antoni likes to do offensively. While he’s not a stretch 4 in the classic sense, he is a perimeter oriented big man that still has a knack for finding the creases in the defense. Defensively, he remains a solid defender who can rebound his position and play both effective man and team D. Just like Sasha, Odom understands the organization, had his best years playing next to Kobe and Pau, and would like to remain in Los Angeles to play basketball (reportedly the Clippers are still interested in his services).
5. Wesley Johnson. If you’re looking for a wing player who fits into the mold of the type of guy the Lakers should take a risk on, Johnson is your guy. He checks off the desirable boxes of youth, athleticism (though he’s not an elite athlete), and good size for his position. Johnson was also a former lottery pick who flashed talent, but never found a way to put it all together in Minnesota or in Phoenix. As far as his game, Johnson has always been seen as a player who would impact the game offensively, but I see most of his upside coming on the other side of the floor. He has good length and can slide his feet well enough and that translates to being able to guard either wing position fairly well. Last season in Phoenix he held opposing SF’s to a PER of 12.4 and SG’s to a PER of 14.5, numbers that show a certain amount of defensive ability. His problem has been that he hasn’t been able to do enough offensively to stay on the floor and considering that’s his pedigree, he’s largely been a disappointment. However, if he can remake himself into a solid “3 and D” player (he only shot 32.3% on threes last season, but did shoot 35.6% his rookie year), he can have value in this league.
Whether any of these players are actually signed remains to be seen. I should note that there are other players — Ronnie Brewer, Mikael Pietrus, Leandro Barbosa to name a few — who all have some experience playing roles the Lakers need to fill, and the latter two have also played in Mike D’Antoni’s system. So, there are options out there that can help the Lakers next year, and now that the Dwight domino has fallen, we should start to see the team fill some of the holes on their roster.