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The Lakers made LaMarcus Aldridge their top free agent target. They set up a meeting with him right at the opening of free agency, used social media as a tool to express their desire to have him sign (#LAtoLA), and brought in their full crew of basketball and off-court team to the pitch meeting to go over every possible angle of what being a Laker for the next four years would mean.

Despite this full court press, it is being reported Aldridge will not sign with the Lakers:

The fact it was, supposedly, a “50-50 choice” is somewhat encouraging on the surface and should not be totally disregarded. The Lakers were a bad team last season. Beyond Kobe Bryant, they currently only have Julius Randle, Ryan Kelly, and Nick Young under contract. Yes, they have all-rookie 1st teamer Jordan Clarkson and just drafted D’Angelo Russell (and Larry Nance Jr.), but overall he would be joining a team with a legend who doesn’t have a lot of time left in the league and several young, unproven players who are not on the same timeline as him to win now.

Choosing not to sign with the Lakers should not be a surprise, then. In saying, that, though, none of the reasons stated above are actually being reported as the reasons he is choosing a different team:

Oh. Okay.

Let’s try to unpack this a bit more since you can only glean so much from 140 characters.

I’ve no clue if what’s being reported here is a shot at the Lakers’ talent level, an implied lack of analytics driven data to maximize him as a player, a perceived lack of strong coaching, something entirely different or a combination of all the above. What I do know, however, is that it’s not a great look for the Lakers. At some point, perceptions do become reality and if the team is consistently trying to sell something besides basketball and it comes at the expense of basketball, that is not likely to make a great impression.

Further, the idea — subtle or not — that Kobe could be seen as some sort of obstacle towards bringing in a talented player is…worrisome. Again, we do not know all (any?) of the facts here. None of us were in the room and the tweet above mentions outright the vagueness of what led to that lack of connection between Kobe and Aldridge. But, on the heels of Dwight leaving (no matter your feelings about Howard as a player, teammate, or anything else, the Lakers wanted him back) and Kobe’s reported role in greasing the wheels of that exit, the above is something worth taking note of. Not worth putting all the emphasis on, just as an additional talking point.

Ultimately, maybe all of this is a bit unfair. The Lakers have been a bad team for two consecutive years. Last year they won 21 games. They have a roster of mostly unknown, unproven players and Aldridge — who is 30 — is trying to win now. The Spurs (the presumed front-runner) won the title the season before last, just signed the MVP of that Finals series for five more years, brought back Danny Green, and also still have Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, and Manu Ginobili. If we’re looking at rosters and the money is even close to the same, this ins’t really a choice. The fact the Lakers were in this at all, again, is somewhat encouraging.

But that nagging feeling the Lakers don’t have it together persists. Even if that’s not true (or fair), perception is starting to shift that way. So, while I can say with a straight face that I am not really heartbroken over Aldridge not signing — especially when his fit on the roster is not ideal — the reasons why he made this choice do cause a bit of concern. Not because we should take the reports above as 100% accurate, but because they contribute to a perception which is shifting more and more towards unflattering about the Lakers.

Free Agency is now in full swing as teams have made their priority calls, have started to have meetings, and already inking players to deals. For a review, I have already covered some strategies the Lakers could take in allocating their FA dollars and taken a look at positional priorities and targets for the front office to focus on.

With that, below is what we know and how things are looking with the Lakers’ pursuit of players and what is going on around the rest of the league…

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We are on the eve of free agency and the Lakers are looking to add talent. We have laid out the different approaches the Lakers can take in free agency, but practical navigation of these paths won’t be nearly so straightforward. Fact of the matter is, when the Lakers dip their toes into the free agent waters, they’ll likely use a combination of all different strategies to try and upgrade the team, putting out feelers to players at all levels to express interest in the hopes of getting commitments from as many players as possible who can affect the bottom line of wins and losses.

The questions, of course, are who are these players and what positions should the Lakers prioritize? Before we try to answer those questions, though, a few points worth mentioning:

  • The Lakers have several players who have non-guaranteed deals who they will need to make decisions on. Some of these decisions will be impacted by free agency. For the time being, I am thinking they end up keeping Jabari Brown and Tarik Black. I also think Sacre returns (you can never have enough bigs).
  • There are several free agents who I do not believe the Lakers have any chance at signing. These are guys who are either a restricted free agent whose team will almost certainly match any offer sheet or are so entrenched in their current situation, I don’t see them leaving.
    • These players, in no specific order are: LeBron James, Marc Gasol, Jimmy Butler, Draymond Green, and Kawhi Leonard. I have a feeling Dwayne Wade and Kevin Love will join this list, but I’m keeping them off, for now. But I don’t thing there’s really a chance the latter two join the Lakers even though, their names have been linked to the team in one way or another.
  • The Lakers already have meetings lined up with LaMarcus Aldridge and DeAndre Jordan. They’ll meet with Aldridge at 9:01pm PST on Tuesday, right after free agency opens. They will meet with Jordan on Wednesday. Greg Monroe will also have a meeting with the team.
  • The approximate max salary slots for players like Jordan and Aldridge (seven to nine years of NBA service) will be 30% of the cap, which, based on current projections, should be around a $18.9 million first year salary. For players with zero to six years of service, the max will be 25% of the cap, or around a $15.8 million first year salary.

With that out of the way, let’s focus on what the Lakers should actually do when the clock strikes midnight on Tuesday (at least on the east coast).

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UPDATE: Well, the decision has become official:

With Hill’s contract now off the books, the Lakers will have an estimated $22-24 million to play with in free agency. Which path they choose when trying to spend that money remains to be seen, but this move hints at their want to try and make a big splash when July 1st rolls around.

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While I am firm believer the Lakers cannot be fixed in a single off-season, they are in position to make some important signings in free agency starting late Tuesday night when the 2015-16 NBA season officially opens for business. Should Jordan Hill’s option not be picked up (which it, reportedly, will not be), the Lakers look to have roughly $24 million in cap space. This is a healthy amount of money which can be divided in any number of ways to upgrade a roster that, while on the ascension, could sorely use more talent.

The purpose of this post, though, isn’t to look at who the Lakers should chase, but rather what approach they might take in spending their cap space. Before we get into those paths, however, a few points worth mentioning:

  • The $24 million mentioned above is only an estimate, due to a few reasons:
    • Jordan Hill’s $9 million option must be decided on before Tuesday.
    • The Lakers have several players on non-guaranteed contracts for next year — Jordan Clarkson, Tarik Black, Robert Sacre, and Jabari Brown.
    • The Lakers two 1st round picks carry cap holds tied to their guaranteed contracts as first rounders
  • Players of different years of service have different “max” salary amounts. Players who have 0-6 years of service have a maximum salary of 25% of the salary cap. Players who have 7-9 years of service have a maximum of 30% of the salary cap. Players with 10+ years of service have a maximum salary of 35% of the salary cap. Of course, there are ways around these numbers, but for the purpose of the Lakers’ free agency pursuits, these are the percentages that matter.
  • There are unrestricted and restricted free agents. The former are free to sign with whoever they want. The latter are still tied to their current team via an ability to match any offer made to the restricted player. The team who has the right to match has three days to make their decision. During this waiting period, the cap space offered to the restricted free agent by the team making the offer is tied up in the offer and not available for an offer to any other free agent.
  • The longest deal the Lakers can offer a free agent from another team is 4 years.
  • Because the Lakers will once again fall under the cap, they will not have the “mid level” or “bi-annual” exceptions available to them. Instead, they will only have the “room” exception — roughly a $3 million salary slot to chase a mid-level type of player.

With all that information out of the way, below are the three general approaches the Lakers can take in free agency. For the purposes of this post we are going off the $24 million cap space estimate. Let’s start the slideshow. (Just kidding.)

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After two consecutive seasons of being one of the worst teams in the NBA, those who cheer for the Lakers are ready for a change. An escape from wondering about lottery odds would be nice. Meaningful games in April and May would be nice. Anything but the awfulness of the last two campaigns would be nice. Forget a return to prominence, a return to competitiveness is what drives fans to seek out optimal solutions to the team’s many problems.

I am of the opinion the Lakers made real strides towards becoming just that again with their drafting of D’Angelo Russell with the #2 overall selection on Thursday. I think Russell is worth the #2 pick, believe his skill set is is diverse enough to be a highly successful player, and see his physical tools as being enough of a foundation to be at least a neutral defender (and potentially better) as he matures and learns the league. Add it all up and he’s a guy I’m very happy with.

The players the Lakers took with their other picks — Larry Nance Jr. at #27 and Anthony Brown at #34 — are not nearly as highly touted, but have useful skill-sets and physical attributes to be successful pros. Whether they can channel those traits and use them to turn potential into actual production remains to be seen. There is a reason many refer to the draft as a “crapshoot” – there are just too many unknowns to speak on most all prospects with absolute certainty and, for many, with only some certainty at all.

But positive steps forward have been made. This is worth feeling good about. It is also natural, I think, to want to see the team advance even further in their improvement this off-season. The Lakers, as a brand, could use not only a bounce back to being respectable, but to a team competing for the playoffs and, ultimately, even more. Jim Buss does have a timeline he’s being held to, after all.

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After taking D’Angelo Russell with the #2 overall pick and surprising nearly everyone by selecting Larry Nance Jr. with the 27th overall selection, there were several directions the team could go with their final pick in the draft. With the 34th selection, the logical choice would be to draft not just the best player left on the team’s board, but, hopefully, a player who could either play center or was a pure wing player.

Well, the Lakers went with the latter by drafting Stanford small forward Anthony Brown. Brown wasn’t a player I looked at closely, but when looking at his numbers and watching some tape on him, he looks to be a fine selection for where the Lakers got him. Brown measured 6’8″ with a 6’11” wingspan at the draft combine. This is prototypical size for an NBA wing, serving him well as he moves up to the next level.

But the Lakers did not draft him for his size, they drafted him because he can flat out shoot the ball.

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One of the more intriguing and controversial prospects heading into the draft was former Washington big man Robert Upshaw. The big man is undoubtedly talented, but also a player who went through more than his fair share of adversity by being suspended multiple times for marijuana use, ultimately being dismissed from two schools (Washington and Fresno St.).

Beyond those issues, Upshaw went through a medical “red flag” towards the tail end of the pre-draft workout process where a heart issue was discovered by doctors at the combine. This led to Upshaw suspending workouts for a period. He has since been cleared and did resume workouts before the draft.

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