The Lakers’ biggest free agent need may be in the pivot, but you don’t total 17 wins if your only problem is needing a new Center. And despite the Lakers drafting Brandon Ingram #2 overall and having D’Angelo Russell and (restricted free agent) Jordan Clarkson as young players on the rise, the team could really use some help on the wing.
First, I think it’s worth repeating the prices for free agents are going to be outrageous this summer and you should prepare yourself for sticker shock. We discussed this some in our look at big men, but bigs always command high salaries. With wings, though, there’s typically more leeway. The supply of wings typically outpaces demand and while the cream of the crop will always get paid, there is usually some value to be found when going to the 2nd or 3rd tier.
That may end up being true this summer too, but “value” will be a relative term. When the cap explodes and teams have so much money to spend they won’t actually be able to spend it all, the formula inverts where the supply of dollars is going to vastly outpace players who would, in a normal year, make that much money. So, even if the Lakers go down-shelf shopping, they’re still likely to be paying a premium for their target simply because the availability of money for all players will ratchet up contract amounts.
With that out of the way and the Lakers need for a wing established, it’s time to go shopping. But first, let’s again take stock of what’s in the cupboard. As noted, the Lakers already have Russell and Ingram. Re-signing Clarkson is a priority and will almost certainly happen. They also have Lou Williams who will demand some minutes. Looking at this group, however, two things become clear: There’s only one SF in that group (Ingram) and there’s not a lot of defense-first guys (zero).
The team’s needs mostly revolve around those two areas and they’d be wise to chase players who fit a certain profile. Namely, if the guy can play small forward and has the potential to be a plus defender, he should get a long look. Of course shooting still matters. And being at least an adequate passer and having enough ball skills to initiate the offense in some way would also be great. But if those latter skills come at the expense of defense and position certainty, a guy should move down the list (or off it entirely).
Before we get to our list, a couple of caveats: First, players who I think are totally ungettable are not listed. So, while LeBron and Durant would be ideal, they’re not coming so let’s not waste our time. I’ve also left off Bradley Beal who is a restricted free agent. Ditto for Evan Fournier. Their teams will likely match any offer. For now, at least, I have also left off DeMar DeRozan who is reportedly focused on re-signing with Toronto at this point. If the Lakers get a meeting with him, I will discuss him more at that time.
Now, on to our list:
- Nic Batum
- Kent Bazemore
- Jared Dudley
- Harrison Barnes
- Alan Crabbe
- Chandler Parsons
- Mo Harkless
Okay, that’s a lot of players and I even left a couple of guys off who, in a pinch, could work out well. But this is a good place to start. Let’s get to the rationale (I’ll try to keep this brief).
*I am including Batum more as the archetype I desire more than anything else. I actually don’t think the Lakers can sign him; he’s going to stay with the Hornets. But if there’s even a hint he’ll leave, he would be my top target. Batum can defend, can hit the three, is a good passer, can run the offense, and is a veteran, team player who would fit in well with the Lakers’ core. In bigger lineups he could play next to Ingram and Russell and defend the other team’s best wing. When playing with Clarkson and Williams he could initiate the offense. He’s a perfect fit. Too bad he’s not leaving.
*Bazemore is similar to Batum in a few ways, but not as good with the ball in his hands as a creator or a passer. He is younger, though, and would be considerably cheaper than the max Batum likely commands. Bazemore is also a great teammate, plays hard, and has improved every year he’s been in the league. He also offers defensive versatility, able to guard either wing position and can even switch onto point guards at times. Gambling on him in the middle of his prime years seems to me like a good bet.
*Dudley is more of a SF/PF at this point in his career, but I really like him for this team. He’s a really good shooter (39.9% from 3 for his career), has experience playing in a pace/space offense, is a good veteran sounding board for young players, and simply knows how to play on both ends of the floor. I love the way he competes and I love how he puts the team first. Yes he made some comments about people not wanting to play with Kobe last summer. Guess what (and no offense), Kobe’s no longer on the team. He’s an excellent fit for this roster.
*Barnes had a terrible close to the playoffs, shooting brick after brick vs. the Cavs while his team surrendered a 3-1 lead to lose the title. Barnes became Warriors’ fans whipping boy as the guy who never seemed to hit the big shot or do the thing they wanted. While this concerns, I really don’t care about these things. Barnes defends, can rebound his position, can play up a slot in smaller lineups, and has hit 39% of his threes over the last two seasons. He brings institutional knowledge from the Warriors which helps Luke Walton’s transition. I never hear him complain and all he does is play hard. I know he has his weaknesses and if the Lakers signed him, I’d write about those. He’ll also be expensive, which is why he’s lower on my list. But I like Barnes. I think his best basketball is in front of him and believe he’s going to help whatever team he’s on a lot next year.
*Crabbe isn’t a player everyone will be familiar with, but I like his game. He’s more of an offensive guy at this point, but he does have some defensive potential. He can hit the three ball, handle the ball some, and is good in the open court. Like Barnes he is a restricted free agent, so targeting him comes with some risk. But he was a good player on an overachieving Blazers’ team, is young (23 years old), and could really help the Lakers in a variety of ways. I’d welcome him.
*Parsons, on the other hand, is a guy you have heard of. Injury history and net-negative defense pushes him down here, but on offense he’s a really good fit. He’s an all court wing who has good size and can shoot the ball. He’s not a great passer, but he’s not what I would call a ball stopper either and has played in heavy movement offenses in both Houston and Dallas. He will likely make the max which is, due to his injury history, scary.
*Harkless is another Blazer and split minutes with Crabbe at SF in Portland. If you combine Harkless’ size and defensive ability with Crabbe’s ball and shooting skill, you’d have a Nic Batum level player and sure max guy. Instead, Harkless is a guy who has an iffy jumper and can be a bit robotic with the ball, but competes defensively and will go after rebounds. Like Barnes he’s more of a SF/PF which has potential for a minutes crunch considering the Lakers’ depth at the 4. Still, though, Harkless is a rotation SF who can defend his position and the Lakers sure could use one of those.
While the list above is in order of preference, any of them would be a good get for the Lakers. Price and circumstance will, as discussed, clearly matter. Batum, Barnes, and Parsons will all likely want max salaries. Barnes, Crabbe, and Harkless are restricted free agents. Dudley is the type of veteran 3 & D with positional versatility who might command $10 million a season.
These are the going rates and someone will pay them. The Lakers, who seriously need more wing depth and players who can make an impact as rotation players as either starters or frontline reserves, would be wise to invest in one of them to upgrade a position of need.