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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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There were a lot of options on the board when the Lakers were on the clock with the #27 pick. Several of the players we looked at in our series of options to be selected with those late picks, in fact. But with the pick, the Lakers went in a direction no one saw coming by selecting Wyoming PF Larry Nance Jr.

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In the weeks leading into the draft, it almost seemed like a foregone conclusion the Lakers would select whichever big man the Minnesota Timberwolves did not select. This was presumed to be Duke’s Jahlil Okafor as Karl Anthony Towns began to solidify himself as the top player on most GM’s draft boards.

As time passed, however, Ohio St. point guard D’Angelo Russell gained momentum as a real option. And on Thursday night, that momentum turned into truth as the Lakers passed on the big man to select the guard instead.

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