Welcome to free agency. The Lakers are a team with major cap space (and the ability to create more should they make a decision to attempt to jettison Steve Nash via the stretch provision or via a salary dump trade) and hope to attract the type of difference maker that can transform a franchise.

Of course, that means a guy like LeBron James or, to a much lesser extent, Carmelo Anthony. The Lakers are supposedly very interested in both and hope to meet with both, even planning a meeting with Carmelo for later this week (after the forward makes his visits to Chicago and the two Texas teams). The team is also rumored to still be very interested in keeping Pau Gasol, likely as a bridge player to help facilitate an Anthony signing.

Those plans, however, don’t have a high probability of success. James seems to be giving Pat Riley and the Heat every opportunity to make the requisite roster adjustments to bring him back to Miami. And while one may hope that a pitch from Kobe and the potential of a returning Pau would sway Melo, the odds that he finds a better situation with the Bulls, Rockets, Mavs, or even back in New York are likely.

If the Lakers strike out, then, what will their plan be? Apparently it is to chase multiple free agents in the class below that upper tier, hoping to grab more than one on what would be team friendly deals:

Is this a viable plan? Time will tell, but I have my doubts. Free agency is typically about overpaying for a talent you want to lure to your team — especially when you’re a team like the Lakers who are mostly a blank slate and coming off an awful season. There are two ways you overpay free agents: with money or with years. The Lakers, seemingly, will offer neither.

Maybe they will splurge from a dollars standpoint on one free agent by offering an above market deal. But they certainly won’t do so on two as it will be that much more difficult to fill out a viable roster around Kobe Bryant and Julius Randle (still seems strange to type that sentence, by the way).

Where will that leave the Lakers? It’s impossible to say for certain, but if their strategy is to only chase the biggest stars with the real money and years while offering fewer dollars and years to the players who are on the next tier down they could find themselves without either.

Free agency begins when the clock strikes midnight, turning Monday into Tuesday. At that point teams will be making their initial phone calls to free agents, putting out feelers and proclaiming interest. This includes the Lakers, who will be chasing the biggest fish on the market but would be wise to also look at the mid-tiered prospects who will be needed to fill out a roster that the front office obviously hopes will compete for a playoff spot next spring.

In the lead up to being able to sign other team’s free agents, the Lakers have made a couple of minor moves to help clean up their own cap. From the LA Times’ Eric Pincus:

The Lakers have given Ryan Kelly a $1-million qualifying offer, making the former Duke forward a restricted free agent.

Kelly was selected by the Lakers with the 48th pick in the 2013 NBA draft.

After a slow start as he recovered from April 2013 foot surgery, Kelly become a regular contributor this season, averaging 8.9 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.1 blocks a game after the All-Star break.

The Lakers have chosen not to give guard/forward Kent Bazemore a qualifying offer of $1.1 million. He’ll become an unrestricted free agent this week.

I would have been on board with extending qualifying offers to both players, since both are so cheap and the Lakers will surely need to fill out their roster with players just like them — young, inexpensive, and eager to prove themselves capable of sticking in the league.

That said, declining to make Bazemore a restricted free agent makes a lot of sense for the Lakers. First, he is recovering from foot surgery and, even if he recovers to full health, right now his status is in doubt. Second, and more important, is that Bazemore is not likely to earn more than a minimum level deal on the open market. With this being the case, the Lakers can make him an unrestricted free agent and clear up some minor cap space in process all while speaking to him about potentially returning next year. Losing his rights does nothing to disrupt the Lakers’ plans and if both sides decide it would be good to have him back next season, they can work on that deal later in the free agent period.

Kelly, however, is a different story. The Lakers surely see Kelly as a player who will have more value on the open market and/or as a player they would like to retain next year. Making him a restricted free agent by extending him a qualifying offer gives them the right to match any contract Kelly is offered on the open market, which not only gives them leverage but options as well. If a team were to offer Kelly a contract, the Lakers could either match or let him walk for nothing. Another option would be to try and negotiate a sign and trade to the team who signs him to an offer sheet, extracting an asset in the process. I don’t envision that is the route things go with Kelly, but it is nice to have these options.

Of course, the hope is that bigger moves are on the horizon for the Lakers come July 1st. But in order to sign any of the bigger name players, the Lakers needed to make these smaller decisions in order to clean up their own house and clear up exactly what they are working with. Now, the real hunting can begin in earnest.

I will be completely honest, even though the Lakers were rumored to want to acquire a 2nd round pick I did not think they would be able to do so. I thought their night was over after selecting Julius Randle 7th overall. I was wrong.

Mid-way through the 2nd round, the Lakers found a team willing to dump their 2nd rounder and acquired the 46th pick in the draft from the Washington Wizards for cash considerations. With the Lakers on the clock, they selected Missouri point guard Jordan Clarkson.

I don’t know much about Clarkson. A survey of his Draft Express page tells me that he’s a big point guard, standing 6’5″ in shoes with a more than respectable 6’8″ wingspan. He is good athlete, showing off an ability to finish above the rim when in the open court and through contact when the lane is crowded. Considering he also flashes a nice burst off the dribble due to his quickness, he looks to be a solid attack-style guard who can find his niche as guy who looks to get to the lane with the ball in his hands and a slasher when working off it.

All in all, I am happy with this pick for a variety of reasons. First, the Lakers need players to compete in camp and while they used resources to acquire this pick if he doesn’t pan out the team is only out some money. Considering the Lakers almost print money from the combination of their TV deal and gate receipts, this investment isn’t but a drop in the bucket when it comes to their overall resources. Second, however, is that this kid really looks like he has the physical tools that, if developed through hard work, can find a way to stick in the NBA.

A player with his combination of quickness and size is a nice template for a backcourt player in this league, especially if he can initiate an offense. If he can improve the accuracy on his jumper it will allow him to use his raw physical gifts to his advantage and find a role in the league as an off the bounce creator who can create his own shot against smaller counterparts.

Of course, all of that is far down the line. He must show that with his physical tools comes an ability to pick up the mental aspects of the game, take to coaching, and put in the work needed to improve in his weak areas. If he really will be a point guard, he must improve on his ability to create for others and show better instincts for making plays that help his teamates thrive. Further, he will need to show that his size and quickness that he deploys to his advantage offensively can be converted into defensive ability as well.

There is a lot of work to do, then. But, he will have his shot.

After he was drafted Mitch Kupchak mentioned that he was higher on their draft board than the 46th best prospect in this draft which lines up with Draft Express ranking him 31st on their board. If he can play more like a fringe first rounder, rather than a middling 2nd round pick, the Lakers may have just found them a player. Time will tell.

In any event, here are a couple of clips to get you familiar with Clarkson. The first is a clip of a pre-draft workout and interview where Clarkson is refining some of the skills he will need to have as a lead guard in this league. The second is full scouting report from Draft Express. Enjoy.

Julius Randle is your next Laker. After starring at the University of Kentucky and helping to lead them to the national championship game, Randle was selected by the Lakers with their 7th overal selection.

In our post leading up to the draft, this is what I said about Randle:

He has his detractors, but the more and more I have watched of him the more and more I believe he will be a very good player in this league for a long time. He has good size, skill, and by all accounts is a hard worker who has a drive to be a great player. Also, I find comfort in bigs who compete and have the motor he does to continue to get after it even when things go against him. Things may be hard for him in certain match ups, but I don’t see him as a guy who will quit. Instead I see a player who will take up the challenge and find a way to be effective. Other players have more upside, but this guy just seem to know how to play the game while finding ways to maximize his strengths. I’d be more than happy if he ended up a Laker.

So, needless to say, I am indeed happy. Randle provides post scoring, fantastic activity on the glass, and a non-stop motor that will serve him well for his entire career. We will have more analysis later, but for now comment away about your thoughts on the pick.

Welcome to the Lakers, Julius Randle.

Draft Day Thoughts

Darius Soriano —  June 25, 2014 — 85 Comments

For the purpose of this post, I am not going to explore the idea that the Lakers trade this pick as part of some deal for a more NBA-ready veteran or in some master scheme to clear more cap space in their pursuit of a certain free agent (or two). Instead I will focus on the Lakers making a selection in this draft with the idea they will keep the pick. Which, you know, could totally still happen.

I won’t pretend to know what the Lakers will do with their pick. In fact, I doubt their front office does either. Sure, there are scenarios and contingencies but in reality there will be more than one good choice on the board when the Lakers select from their 7th slot. When the clock starts for their pick they will have to trust their evaluations, throw in some gut feel, and dive into the prospect pool in hopes of nabbing a difference maker.

To this point in the process, I really haven’t found a favorite to root for the team to pick. The Lakers have not selected this high since before I was in elementary school. The idea is so novel to me that it seems strange to fall in love with just a single prospect when there is potential for so many of them to help the team in one way or another. As I’ve said many times before, I could make a case for any of the top eight players on most draft boards to come in an be a rotation player on next year’s team.

At this point in the process, however, it can be difficult to see the forest through the trees. You can only watch so much tape on a prospect before your start to either overly nitpick or praise. Watch too much of Julius Randle or Marcus Smart and you might become too concerned with a lack of length or a style that is too dependent on bullying players who are in the same class physically. Or you go back and watch Dante Exum look amazing against a team of top american prospects and forget that it was only one game. This is the nature of evaluating and a reason why I am happy the draft is finally here. There is no more film to pour over in order to evaluate how good a player might or might not be. There is only making the pick and starting the process of prospect development that will be a much bigger factor in the player reaching his ceiling than any of those games we have watched over and over again on our TV and computer screens.

With that being said, here are my final thoughts on a handful of prospects who the Lakers may have the opportunity to draft. Who knows, one of them might actually end up being a Laker later on today.

*Joel Embiid, C: First off, I don’t think he falls this far. When it comes right down to it, someone will gamble on him in picks 3 to 5 via their own pick or trading up to get him. Guys with his size + burgeoning skill are rare and someone will take him even with the specter of Oden/Yao/etc out there. So, in saying that, if he were to somehow make his way to #7, I’d want the Lakers to draft him. Yes there are injury concerns and those certainly worry me. If he ends up not recovering or having a limited career because of recurring issues either with his foot or his back, I’d probably look back and wonder why the team was so silly to take the risk. But, today, I’m all for the gamble. Players with his measurables who flash his ability don’t come around too often and at the 7th pick in the draft I think the risk is worth taking.

*Dante Exum, G: Another player who I don’t think will last to this point but am hopeful who will. I am just too intrigued by his measurables and the little tape I have seen of him to let go of the idea that I’d want him to be a Laker that I have to include him here. I think he can be a true difference maker in the league as he develops physically and learns how to use his physical gifts. I know there are real questions about whether he’ll develop well and if he can truly be measured against other top players due to his background and lack of exposure against top competition. But in 5 years I could see him being one of the best 2-3 players from this class in the same way that Wade was from his draft. If that sounds like too much praise or a reach, it may very well be. But when I watch him on tape I see a smooth athlete who understands angles, how to use a change of pace, and who sees the floor well. I also see a guy who has pretty good mechanics on his jumper and looks like he can finish in traffic against bigger players. Add in his pedigree as someone who grew up around the game and I can imagine a development arc similar to Tony Parker — another foreign born prospect with an american father who came into the league young.

*Julius Randle, PF: I don’t know if Randle will last, but he’s someone who continues to end up being the Lakers’ pick in mock drafts. He has his detractors, but the more and more I have watched of him the more and more I believe he will be a very good player in this league for a long time. He has good size, skill, and by all accounts is a hard worker who has a drive to be a great player. Also, I find comfort in bigs who compete and have the motor he does to continue to get after it even when things go against him. Things may be hard for him in certain match ups, but I don’t see him as a guy who will quit. Instead I see a player who will take up the challenge and find a way to be effective. Other players have more upside, but this guy just seem to know how to play the game while finding ways to maximize his strengths. I’d be more than happy if he ended up a Laker.

*Aaron Gordon, PF and Noah Vonleh, PF (tie): I honestly can’t decide between these two. Vonleh has the measurables and I think he will probably develop into a fine offensive player who can rebound. But whispers about how intuitive he is as a player concern me as players like that end up plateauing in their development because they never figure it out. Will he be one of those guys? I’ve no clue, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t consider it. That said, while he didn’t flash the defensive ability I would like, he has great two-way potential due to his size and a big like him who can stretch the floor and hit the glass is pretty rare. Will he ever be as good as, say, LaMarcus Aldridge? I’ve no clue, but his ceiling is probably that (or a bit higher) and that is very intriguing.

Gordon to me, in a way, is the opposite. He comes off as a very smart player who will take to coaching well and develop positively as he learns to channel his athleticism. And that athleticism is considerable. I don’t know if he’ll be a SF or a PF long term and his jumper is very concerning. But as a P&R dive man and a weak side slasher who can finish above the rim and hit the offensive glass I see him having a niche he can slide into early in his career offensively while being an excellent defender. I’d add, that his positional versatility is something that works in his favor for me. The league is moving more and more towards Forwards who can start the game as a 3 but soak up minutes as a 4 and Gordon seems like he’ll be able to do that throughout his career. With his defensive potential what it is, I think you have to take notice and rank him accordingly. I guess in the end I’d go Gordon over Vonleh which is something I didn’t think I’d say at this point in the process. I know he has his detractors and the idea of him floating around the wing while his man helps off him is a concern, but he is skilled and smart enough that I think he will be able to compensate.

*Marcus Smart, PG: Before I take too much heat for not mentioning Smart until now, let me just say that I’d be happy if Smart were there and was the pick. I think he’d contribute more, in year one, than a couple of guys I have higher on this list simply because he does have pro-size and seems to have a plan in how he attacks on both ends. Knowing how you want to do things is important for a young player and with his competitiveness I think he will be a fine pro early on. That said, I think in 5 years every player (save Vonleh, maybe) listed above him here will be the better player and I might even say that a guy like Zach LaVine will be as well (and maybe even Elfrid Payton). This is nothing against Smart and like I said if he is the pick I will slot him into the rotation as either a starter or the 1st guard off the bench and a guy who can play 20-25 minutes a night and even close games as a defensive wing in certain match-ups. That has real value. And if he ever finds his range as a shooter I think his ceiling raises exponentially. But as I’ve watched him more, and when taking stock across the league in positions that have talent and what helps win games, I just think the bigs offer more as a foundational player long term.

As I said up top, I don’t know what the Lakers will do with this pick. Even when Magic Johnson and James Worthy were selected by the Lakers with the first pick in their respective drafts, there were viable alternatives that the team was supposedly considering in Sidney Moncrief and Dominique Wilkins. Of course, Magic and Worthy ended up being Lakers and the rest is history. And while I don’t expect whoever is selected by the Lakers at #7 to end up having their number hanging in the rafters one day, the promise of getting a good talent at that spot is intriguing nonetheless.