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).
Find a Big Man, Preferably one to Play Center
When the Lakers drafted D’Angelo Russell over Jahlil Okafor, they pretty much made finding a big man in free agency a priority. And not just any big man, but one who can play Center for at least part of his minutes. Luckily for the Lakers, there are several players who fit this bill. If I were to rank them, not by talent, but by my preference for who the team might sign this is how those rankings would play out (for the sake of brevity, I’ll only rank 5 of the candidates):
- DeAndre Jordan
- LaMarcus Aldridge
- Robin Lopez
- Tyson Chandler
- Greg Monroe
First of all, I would also include Ed Davis on this list (and, potentially, Jordan Hill — though lower than Davis), but we’ll get to him another day.
Second, I rank Jordan above the other players because he’s fairly young (26) and fits the mold more of what the team actually needs — defensive presence, rebounding, athleticism, true size. I have Aldridge next simply because he’s the best player of the bunch. His combination of excellent offense, size, and solid enough defense make him a difference maker. His age might concern some people, but I’m not as worried about it. Aldridge hasn’t taken a pounding over his career and has the type of game that should age well (shooting + size and length typically = a long career). In saying that, however, if the Lakers “missed out” on him, I wouldn’t be overly disappointed just because the fit with the roster isn’t quite as ideal as I’d want for a guy being paid the 30% max.
Some might be surprised to see Monroe “only” 5th on this list and behind Chandler and Lopez. After all, Monroe is young, puts up very strong numbers in terms of points and rebounds, and is a good enough passer to be an integral part of any offense. His defense, though, is not good.
Meanwhile, Lopez (27 years old) and Chandler (aged at 32, but still a difference maker) are strong defensive players who, while no where near the complete offensive players Monroe is, play within their skill sets on that end very well and operate well within a structured role. For me, their stronger defense combined with capable offense holds more value than Monroe’s combination of points and rebounds with defense which is pretty much proven to be subpar. Especially considering the Lakers’ needs.
Find a Starting Caliber Wing, Who May Come off the Bench
The market for perimeter players is not as strong as the one for bigs which combines to make this a secondary priority and a tougher get for the Lakers. There will simply be a lot of competition for these players, even if, based on the way free agency typically plays out these guys will draw less initial attention than the big men. In saying that, here are how I would rank the top wings on the market:
- Khris Middleton
- Al-Farouq Aminu
- Danny Green
- DeMarre Carroll
- Tobias Harris
First things first, I should have probably included Middleton in the group of guys who are not going to escape their current team in restricted free agency. But, I’m including him here because he’s the type of player I think the team needs. He shoots well, defends both wing spots, and can score even though he’s not a high usage player. Danny Green is very similar to Middleton, but I have him ranked lower simply due to age and the fact that he’s not as big (though he can defend multiple positions as well).
As for Aminu, he’s the worst offensive player of this bunch. For some reason, though, I don’t really care. His athleticism and size on the wing give him an ability to defend any type of small forward in the league and switch P&R’s in certain situations and not get buried by PF’s. He plays hard, knows his role, and seems to be finally coming into his own after bouncing around the league early in his career. While he’s not as good as Green, Carroll, or Harris, I might target him before them because he’ll be cheaper and fit into a role with more ease.
Regarding Carroll, it’s not that I am down on him, but I do think if he leaves the Hawks he’ll not be as good as he showed this past season. Atlanta’s Spurs-like system of unselfish passing and off-ball movement fit what he does well and limited what he doesn’t (namely, isolate and create shots for himself and teammates). If he went to a team that asked him to do more offensively, I’m not sure he’d perform as well.
As for Harris, I sort of see him like I do Monroe in the section on big men. Harris is clearly talented, can score and rebound the ball well from the wing, and has enough size to play some small ball PF. His versatility will serve him well for as long as he’s in this league. But, he’s not really shown much beyond his scoring ability, isn’t the defender he should be considering his physical tools, and just doesn’t seem to do as many of the little things that help you win games. This doesn’t make him a bad player, but it does make him someone I’d be wary of paying a salary staring above $15 million, even with a jump in the cap looming.
The Lakers have other needs that will need addressing not covered above. They will likely need to sign a veteran point guard to play behind Russell (and Clarkson). They will also want at least one additional end of the roster wing who can soak up some minutes in a pinch should Anthony Brown not make the team or end spending a lot of time in the D-league. I expect both of those signees to be minimum salaried guys and not of much consequence.
Ultimately, if I were running the Lakers, and based on what’s written above, my strategy would likely be different than what I imagine will be the Lakers’ tack of chasing the big name, high priced guys. I would probably settle on going after Robin Lopez or Tyson Chandler on relatively short deals, and then go hard after Khris Middleton or Danny Green. I would also press hard on Aminu. My goal would be to sign as many defensive minded players as I could, but who have enough of an offensive identity to be useful on that end of the floor. Whatever cap money I had left over, I would roll it into next summer where a certain Oklahoma City Small Forward hits the market.