On Friday and now, into Saturday, reports have shifted towards Kawhi Leonard showing more interest in the Lakers than previously expected. No one can know for sure if this interest is real or simply the normal ramping up of the rumor mill as free agency approaches, but odds makers in Las Vegas are reacting in kind, moving odds in a manner that reflect the Lakers being even more of a favorite than they were after trading for Anthony Davis.
Considering he is at the top of the Lakers free agent targets list, this is, of course, exciting. For the past 10 months, reporting was nearly unanimous that the Clippers were the favorite to land Leonard should he depart Toronto, but that tide is shifting and seemingly substantially so.
With this the case one might think the Lakers would only ramp up their pursuit of the reigning Finals MVP. And I’m sure they are. What they’re also doing, however, is expressing interest in many other free agents, from max to mid-tier players who could help the team should Leonard not come. The list of names is a who’s who of players that could help this team next year and would be ideal targets:
There are other targets too, but when taken at a whole, these specific names show the Lakers really are planning for any type of scenario where they could sign a non-Kawhi max guy, a $20+ million guy and another role player, or even a division of their cap space among 2-3 high level role players.
Butler is a 30% max player. Russell is a 25% max player who could earn anywhere from $20-27 million depending on what his market ends up being. Gibson’s market could be anywhere from the room exception (roughly $4.7 million a year) to upwards of $8-9 million a year. Beverly is rumored to want $13-15 million a year. Curry could make the full mid-level exception from over the cap teams (roughly $9 million a year).
These players also represent a shift from last year’s free agent pulls. This group offers shooting and defense/toughness. While last year’s signings were supposed to be that, we all knew better at the time. If the Lakers end up with any of the players they’re reportedly interested in this year, they’d actually get those much needed skill sets they did not get last summer.
We’ll see how all this plays out. But the list of Lakers free agent targets should encourage you. They show a better understanding of roster construction than last year. Hopefully that means they learned from their past mistakes. Considering the number of roster spots they have to fill, they better have.
Just as important, though, this list shows the Lakers are not putting all their eggs in the Kawhi basket. They can (and maybe even should) be confident they can land Leonard and team him with LeBron and Anthony Davis. But, if they don’t, they seem prepared to pivot quickly to still build out a team that can compete for a title next season.