(Welcome to the 2013 Lakers Summer free agency guide. Be sure to check out our full archive of player capsules, news, editorials, and more on the Lakers free agency period over here.)
It's well documented that the Los Angeles Lakers don't have much to offer in the way of contracts during free agency. There are pipe dream players out there like Jose Calderon or Kyle Korver whom we've discussed already. There's something in the realm of a five percent chance either player would accept the small tender L.A. can offer. Realistically, the Lakers are going to need to dig deep to fill out their needs. Depth-wise, the biggest issue through 2012-2013 was the small forward position.
With that in mind, there's no reason to believe there won't be a new small forward in the rotation next season. There's also no reason to believe it will be a "sexy" name with eye-popping stats, or that it needs to be. The Lakers best route would be to target a younger player who has yet to prove himself worth a big contract, which brings us here:
Wesley Johnson is an ideal target for the Lakers this Summer.
Metta World Peace was the only true small forward who was allotted minutes at the three. Devin Ebanks was a disaster who had a higher chance of winning the lottery than becoming a regular cog in the Lakers' rotation. Kobe Bryant moonlighted as a small forward at times, but adding an emphasis on Jodie Meeks' minutes wasn't a great route and also forced Bryant to play more minutes.
The Lakers needed another small forward they can send into a game with confidence, period. He doesn't need to be a great player, or even an above average player. A youthful player who can be relied on to not consistently be a net negative is about as much as the Lakers' can ask for. Johnson could be that piece for the Lakers.
Why the Lakers should look at Johnson
- Will turn 26 next season, giving them a player hitting his "prime"
- Can play both shooting guard and small forward
- Is a player who plays within himself and his system
- Fills multiple needs, gives wing depth, and is likely within the Lakers' price range
- 6'7 with good wingspan
- Would be an upgrade at perimeter defense
Johnson would be a great fit considering the Lakers' needs. His contract will likely be in the $3 million range, which would eat the Lakers mini mid-level, but he would provide the Lakers much needed relief in the wings. Let's also keep in mind that there's no telling when Bryant will be able to come back and how many minutes he will play once he returns.
The Lakers could promise Johnson an integral role in the rotation as both back-up small forward and shooting guard. This would also unlikely affect Meeks (pending team option), who could still come off the bench as a shooting guard to spread the floor. At Johnson's age, and role, having him on the books through a three-year contract would be a solid move for the Lakers. While preserving cap space is key, this type of contract is unlikely to have large implications, and it isn't for an aging player.
Wes Johnson, on the other hand, won't take over a game but he's always where he's supposed to be, staying within the scheme and producing within his comfort level. Johnson is predictable, and coaches love that. Short of stardom, you pray for consistency. As a coach, if you know what you're going to get, you can spend more time on getting the most out of the matchups and second units. That's why Johnson started nearly every game for Kurt Rambis, Rick Adelman and Lindsey Hunter.
Johnson's 2012-2013 season
8 ppg, 40% fg, 32% 3p, 2.5 rpg
Last Contract Value
Free agency prediction
Johnson's availability will largely depend on what offers he receives on the open market. If teams are willing to sign Johnson to a larger, long-term contract starting around the $5 million mark then the Lakers will not be able to equally compensate him. Will a team reach for Johnson in that range becomes the biggest question for L.A. If not, the Lakers are in perfect position to make a solid pitch to Johnson and can offer him their mini mid-level at $3.1. In doing so, the Lakers would add a reserve shooting guard and small forward who can also play as a starter should injury make it necessary. Considering the players the Lakers will be able target because of their salary limitations, Johnson would be a potentially great signing this Summer.
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