While the Lakers (and Clippers and Raptors) have been waiting on Kawhi Leonard to make a decision on where he’ll play basketball next season, the free agent market has moved quickly and decisively. Nearly 40% of the league was slated to be a free agent this summer and it fees like 90% are already signed to new contracts!
While the number isn’t that high, the tsunami of signings on Sunday and into Monday has thinned what was once a very strong market throughout all the tiers of free agency. From max to minimum salaried guys, the pickings are slimmer and teams still looking to fill out their roster — like the Lakers — are staring into a bargain bin that’s already been combed through by the rest of the league. Sort of like walking into a Black Friday sale at 3pm in the afternoon.
That many players are now signed, however, does not mean all the players are signed. There are still good players to be had; players who can certainly help the Lakers whether they land Kawhi or not. With that, here is a sampling of guys who the Lakers could target, grouped into two categories — players who might take the minimum and players who I do not expect to take the minimum.
These are the only distinctions that matter for me right now because 1. if the Lakers sign Kawhi they’ll only have the room exception and the minimum to fill out their roster and 2. if the Lakers don’t sign Kawhi, they’ll be looking at more players who fall into the not the minimum category, but still have to fill out their roster with minimum salaried guys. In saying all that, here we go…
Not Minimum Salaried Players
- Danny Green: Ideal SG target for a team like the Lakers who need floor spacing and defense.
- DeMarcus Cousins: No clue what his market will be, but I simply do not see him taking the minimum, even on a team that could be contending for a title. Cousins’ star has fallen, but he’s still quite a good player who has all the offensive skills you’d want in a big man and who’s defense could be covered up in the right scheme.
- Markief and Marcus Morris: Good combo forward options who could even play some small-ball center in certain matchups. Physical, hard nosed guys who will compete. I’m surprised they’re both still unsigned at this stage.
- Willie Cauley-Stein: Athletic big man who can fill a JaVale type role offensively and offer some rim protection and switchability defensively.
- Kentavious Caldwell-Pope: We know all about KCP, so no need to elaborate on fit/skills/etc. Should certainly make more than the minimum, even on a good team with title aspirations.
- Justin Holiday: I’m not sure if Holiday belongs on this list or the other one, honestly. But I like him as a viable target so I’m putting him here. Offers some defensive potential and some scoring punch from the wing. Also a career 35% shooter from deep on 4 attempts a game, so someone who has some potential as a guy who can take that shot in volume with around league average success.
- TJ McConnell: TJ’s not a sexy pick to earn more than the minimum, but backup PG’s typically make more than that and in a pinch he could be a starter. Works hard defensively, can capably set up your offense. If his shooting improves, could be a nice option playing off a star heavy team (like he did in Philly).
- Jabari Parker: I won’t pretend to know what Parker will make on the open market or even advocate for his fit on these Lakers. But he’s a super talented player who’s injury history and lack of defense will scare teams off. He’s still worth more than the minimum.
Minimum Salary Players
I’ll say this up front, this list could get suuuuuper long, so I’m going to limit it to 10-15 names of guys I like here. The Lakers could need up to 9 of these guys (after already signing Troy Daniels), so it’s important to get a feel for who might be coming to the team. Let’s go…
- Trey Burke: Intriguing PG option who was taken in the lottery years back. Had a resurgence with the Knicks before being part of the Porzingis trade which landed him in Dallas.
- Raul Neto: Another PG who was just waived by the Jazz. You could slot him in the category above this (like McConnell) and make an argument he’d still be good value. I think his injury history knocks him down to this level, though.
- Vince Carter: No explanation needed.
- Alex Caruso: Honestly, I want him back.
- Quinn Cook: I don’t know if he’d leave the Warriors if he’d get the same money from them (and he would), but I like Cook’s shooting ability and confidence. I also like he has some high stakes playoff experience as a “young” guy.
- Jared Dudley: We’ve covered him in different posts.
- Pau Gasol: Beyond nostalgia reasons, a big body with Pau’s feel as a passer and ability to stretch the floor some would be useful. Defense and rebounding, at his age and recent injury history, would not be great.
- JaMychal Green: A combo forward who can shoot the ball. Definitely worth a flyer.
- Stanley Johnson: Former lottery pick who’s from S. California. Big bodied wing who just hasn’t put it together at the pro level. Worth taking a look at, if nothing else than as a training camp invite to see if he can stick.
- Jeremy Lin: Another PG who may make more than this, but if he could be had at this contract and stayed healthy (both major if’s) could be of great value.
- Joakim Noah: See Dudley, Jared.
- David Nwaba: The one who got away. Defensive minded wing who will play really hard. Every team needs some of these guys and I’d welcome him back.
- Thabo Sefolosha: I keep bringing him up. I’d really like to sign him regardless of whether Kawhi comes or not.
- Iman Shumpert: See the guy right above him on this list.
- Noah Vonleh: Was in the same draft as Julius Randle and has bounced around the league. But seemed to find his way with the Knicks last year. Would take him on as a PF/C guy who has an emerging offensive game and tries on defense.
Make no mistake. The above list is simultaneously not ideal and possessing players who could really help the Lakers next season. Over the next couple of days, however, I expect more of them to commit to teams and drop off this list. I understand the Lakers need to wait on Kawhi. They are, in poker terms, pot committed at this point.
That said, I can understand if folks are getting anxious. I do expect to hear some news in the next 2-3 days.