The Los Angeles Lakers are preparing for the NBA Draft, but what they do in free agency -- which begins on July 1 -- might be the most challenging part of the front office's offseason. Los Angeles wants to spend big but the market will be limited, featuring veteran frontcourt players as the top unrestricted free agents. The idea of leading a young core that's still mostly a figment of fans' imaginations may not resonate with Marc Gasol (30 years old), or LaMarcus Aldridge (29 years old). Three restricted free agent wings are widely considered the next best talent available for the Lakers, but prying one of them away would be a surprising outcome. Once Kevin Love opts out of his contract with the Cavaliers, however, he may be the best "attainable" free agent on the market for the purple and gold.
Love could simply stay in Cleveland, restructure his contract, and try it again with LeBron James. Sticking with him is a solid Plan A to have up his sleeve considering the brilliant play of James through the NBA Finals. The Eastern Conference might turn to mush once the Cavaliers reboot, giving Love the best opportunity to contend for years to come.
It's fair to say there's been smoke billowing out of Cleveland, though, which means there's bound to be fire on the ground somewhere. Love has suggested he wants to re-sign with the Cavaliers this summer, but once he opts out -- as Cavaliers general manager David Griffin expects him to -- anything goes. The Lakers are one of the teams Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports has reported Love will consider, and that was before the team locked in the second overall pick. Don't sign your name on a new contract just yet, that's Mitch Kupchak on the other line.
Julius Randle was drafted as the Lakers' power forward of the future and Jahlil Okafor might be their franchise center come June 25, but are the Lakers really in a position to turn down established talent like Love because of two players that have played a combined 14 minutes of NBA regular season basketball? Los Angeles won't rebuild in a single swoop, making Kevin Love a big catch as they move forward. He's a huge boost in talent, is at the peak of his prime at 26, and would give the team an established NBA player to develop their young big men around.
Suddenly, the Lakers core is built around three players still on their rookie deals and Love, with Kobe Bryant entering what might be his final season in the NBA. That leaves Los Angeles with a huge amount of financial flexibility going forward, especially with the salary cap ready to burst its buttons in a few years. That combination of cheap, young talent and a versatile All-Star level player is what can turn L.A. into the destination for a marquee free agent in the future.
From an assets management standpoint there's a huge argument to be made for signing the best talent available and figuring it out later. It's a simple case of a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. There're any number of ways the front office could go about adjusting the roster as it progresses via trade, and this would only create more opportunities for the team to improve. The great part about signing a free agent player is a team doesn't lose an asset to gain one. You need parts in the garage before you can start swapping things around, making Love a very valuable piece to acquire.
Further, there's no harm in giving Randle and whoever becomes the No. 2 pick one of the best power forwards in the game to work with and learn from, is there? Julius could benefit from having his minutes managed with talent ahead of him, and a player like Okafor wouldn't have to shoulder being the focus of defending the Lakers' frontcourt. It's easy to forget how good a player Kevin Love is after his season with the Cavaliers, but the man has just 2.51 fewer win shares than Marc Gasol on his career and spent most of his NBA life shoveling together victories in Minnesota like snow from his driveway.
Love is far from a perfect fit objectively, but on the grounds of best player the Lakers even have a chance at this summer? He might be the most realistic one, and even that's pending on if every Buss sibling keeps their fingers crossed from now until July 1. Los Angeles would be lucky to sign a player of Kevin's caliber considering the limited free agency market. The Lakers' priority might be trying to sway a defensive anchor like Gasol if they're going to spend additional resources on frontcourt talent, but what happens when he stays in Memphis or decides he'd love to work under Gregg Popovich on the Spurs? That pie in the sky often stays there, but the Lakers don't want to leave the table without their piece this time.
The Cavaliers may still be the favorites to re-sign Love, but if he pokes his head out and hears what other teams have to offer? For the Lakers, it's best they keep an open mind when it comes to Love.