There are few things certain with the Lakers right now. Whether it’s their coaching search, their pursuit of free agents, or the production their holdover players can provide to next season’s roster this is a team with more questions than answers.

One open question, though, has been answered. After being drafted with the 7th overall draft, the questions shifted from Julius Randle’s talent to whether a pre-draft report about him potentially needing foot surgery would turn out to be true. On Wednesday the Lakers sent Randle to a foot specialist and, for what seems like the first time in a couple of seasons, the Lakers actually got some positive injury news:

This, of course, is a huge sigh of relief. Concerns that a screw would need to be removed and, with that, deal with a recovery period of up to 6 months were quite real. Instead, Randle will likely be in Las Vegas with his summer league mates, showing off his skills and generating excitement for the fans.

In the midst of all the wondering, at least the Lakers have something they can hang their hats on. And hopefully for a long time to come, too.

UPDATE: Well, so much for a potential chase of Kyle Lowry. The free agent guard has decided that Toronto is the “right place” for him and has re-signed with the Raptors to the tune of 4 years/$48 million. He will have an early termination option after the 3rd year of his deal, giving him the chance to opt out and test the free agency waters again when he’s 31 years old. As noted below, it was always a long shot that Lowry would be a Laker, but the idea of pursuing him still intrigued. The Lakers, though, never really got that chance. Instead, they will meet with Carmelo Anthony tomorrow as planned, hoping to land the superstar forward.

While I am admittedly a bit skeptical of how the Lakers’ free agency plans will play out, it doesn’t mean they should not be putting their best foot forward by exploring all their options and pursuing a path to improve the team. After all, even after the draft, the Lakers still have as many as seven roster spots to fill just to get to the minimum of 13 to carry for the season. There is work to do.

That work seems to involve exploring the tier below the superstar gets and targeting two perimeter players:

Before we get too ahead of ourselves, I’m not incredibly encouraged that either player will be a Laker next season. There are hurdles to clear in the form of contract terms likely to be offered (the Lakers are rumored to only do a 2 or 3 year deal for free agents not named LeBron or Carmelo) and the competition the Lakers face from other suitors who offer more complete rosters to join. Not to mention the Lakers are merely listed as “interested” or “bidders” which only amounts to so much.

In saying all that, I would be on board with the Lakers signing either or, if possible, both free agents.

For those who have followed this site for some time, you likely remember Reed, a fantastically astute basketball fan who posted thoughts here both on the main board and in the comments. Over the summer we have discussed all things Lakers’ and early this summer he had thoughts on these exact two players:

I see two really interesting unrestricted free agents this summer that are young, have room to grow, and reasonably likely to be all star level producers — Kyle Lowry and Lance Stephenson. They are rare unrestricted free agents in that they are very young and have room to grow. There is some likelihood they both produce at 15M a year levels. If we could lock up both for beginning at 9-10, stretch Nash to free up another 6, and bring back Gasol, I’d be pretty happy.

More on Lowry:

Point Guard is a critical position given the breadth of PG talent in the league, and he can match up physically with other elite players at the position. He would provide playmaking and take pressure off of Kobe going into hero mode. Plus, he is pretty low risk to bust, and would be a valuable trade chip in the future when going after even bigger fish (Westbrook, Durant, etc.)

And on Lance:

I think we see if we can land Stephenson on a favorable deal. I was actually happy to see his erratic behavior during the playoffs as I believe it drove down his price and probably limited the number of interested suitors. But I believe that Kobe + the right coach could maximize his talent, which is prodigious.  He’s the one FA out there that could probably be had for $8-9M a year, but who could provide max level returns. Maybe you give him an opt out after a year or two in case he breaks out, but try to get him in the door this year at a favorable price.

You can quibble with what it might cost to get either player (Lance just turned down $8-9 million a year from the Pacers), but this analysis is sound. Both Lowry and Stephenson offer prodigious talent are relatively young (28 and 23 respectively), and are physically gifted for their positions. (Yes, Lowry is only listed as 6 feet, but he is sturdy and strong and offers very good quickness as well.)

Of course there are questions about both players too. Lowry has bounced around the league in large part because he can be a pain in the butt to his coaches. He has reportedly matured in last couple of years, but there’s a reason that he’s 28 and just now seen as a player who will command $10+ million on the open market. And Lance is, well, Lance. He’s been seen as a head case since he came into the league and his antics in the second half of this season and in the playoffs (especially against the Heat) drew heavy critique and countless eye-rolls around the league.

There is a reason both players are on the market as unrestricted free agents as they hit or will soon hit their primes.

But, the Lakers are devoid of talent. Especially high end talent. Sure they have Kobe. And the hope is that Julius Randle becomes a steal of this draft and produces like a top 3 pick he was touted to be when enrolled at Kentucky. Beyond them, however, the cupboard is basically bare. It’s time to stock up and these two players have what the team can use.

Getting them to sign is another story. Will short term, high dollar salaries work? As I mentioned on twitter, would Lance decline a 5 year/$44 million deal from the Pacers and sign with the Lakers for 2 years/$23 million? Would Lowry sign for something similar? Again, this seems doubtful, but that is where the allure of the LA market, the franchise’s history, and the current front office brass making a solid pitch on building towards the future would need to close the gap.

As I said at the top, I am skeptical. But this is a plan, if executed, that I could get behind.

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.