There are a few realizations that one comes to when assessing the shooting guard options for the Los Angeles Lakers in free agency. There are quite a few big name players potentially available, for one. The problem with big names, of course, is their current teams generally want to keep said names on the back of their own jerseys rather than lose them for nothing.
The other factor to consider is the Lakers may very well be content to fill out their shooting guard rotation using either their 27th or 34th picks, or even sign a stopgap veteran rather than looking for their long-term solution to fill the soon retiring Kobe Bryant's shoes.
Those caveats aside, free agency does hold some attractive candidates for the Lakers to nab at shooting guard, which I ranked in order of who I thought fit best, as well as factoring in how attainable they would be:
(Note: Dwyane Wade and Monta Ellis, both potential free agents, seemed so unlikely to end up in purple and gold next season as to not be worth writing about, regardless of Wade's rumored interest.)
5. Wesley Matthews (Unrestricted)
Matthews edges out Iman Shumpert for the fifth spot on this list, and only because he is rehabbing from a left Achilles tear in March is it even close. Matthews gets the edge here mainly because the Lakers would have a chance to nab a very productive 28-year-old at a below market rate. It would certainly be a gamble, but if it paid off, the Lakers would be signing a perennially underrated but very capable player who was scoring 15.9 points per game as a third option in the Blazers starting lineup. Matthews held a very good effective field goal percentage of 56.3 and shot nearly 39 percent on threes.
In the negatives column, an Achilles tear is no joke, and NBA history is filled with players who were unable to make it back to even a facsimile of their former production after sustaining it. The Lakers may want more stability at the shooting guard position since no one knows how many games Kobe has left in him, which leads us to our next candidate.
4. Arron Afflalo (Declined player option)
"Stability" is not Arron Afflalo's middle name, but it could at least be his nickname. Everyone knows what to expect from the 29-year-old Compton native at this point: effective three-point shooting, capable defense, and about 30 solid minutes a game at the two spot. Afflalo is not as good a player as Matthews, but he will likely be cheaper and more likely to stay healthy (a big plus with the Lakers recent injury luck). He did not have a strong showing in Portland post-trade deadline, but a lot of those struggles can probably be chalked up to the Matthews injury forcing him into a major role with no training camp and unfamiliar teammates.
3. Jimmy Butler (Restricted)
If this was just a list of the most attractive shooting guard free agents, Butler would undoubtedly be No. 1 on the list after a season in which he averaged 20 points and 5.8 rebounds with an effective field goal percentage of 50.2. The four-year pro is worth every penny of the max contract he can sign. Any attempt to pry him away from Chicago will be matched after a year where he seamlessly transitioned into Chicago's go-to guy on offense while still defending the other team's toughest perimeter player every night. No matter how many leaks his camp puts out regarding Butler's interest in signing an offer sheet from the Lakers, barring something crazy, Butler will be a Bull. It is only his phenomenal talent and the small chance of acquiring him that even get him on this list.
2. Khris Middleton (Restricted)
Another restricted free agency pipe dream, Middleton would seem slightly more attainable than Butler if Milwaukee, looking down the road at paying Jabari Parker, Giannis Antetokounmpo and possibly Michael Carter-Williams, blinks at a max offer sheet for the 23-year-old wing defender extraordinaire. Middleton is a souped-up three-and-D player who shot 40.7 percent from distance last season who would provide sorely needed spacing in the Lakers' offense. On the other end, Middleton would allow the Lakers to save Bryant and Clarkson from the most taxing perimeter assignments.
Middleton was basically built in a lab to fit the Lakers' needs this off-season, making it a shame he is such a longshot.
1. Danny Green (Unrestricted)
Green, while a bit older than Middleton at 27, does hold the advantage of being an unrestricted free agent with a lot of the same strengths the Bucks' restricted free agent possesses. Green shot 41.8 percent from three-point range in the '14-'15 season, and while many nights the toughest defensive assignments were left to reigning Defensive Player of the Year Kawhi Leonard, Green is no slouch defensively. Per-36 minutes, Green scored 1.3 fewer points per game than Middleton, but did so on nearly two fewer field goal attempts. Neither was the focal point of their teams' offense, with middling usage rates of 17.5 (Green) and 19.9 (Middleton), but either could give the Lakers the injection of spacing and defense from the wing position the team needs to inch back towards competitiveness.
Green's age and the concern that he is just "a product of the Spurs system" will possibly scare some teams away, making him the best attainable fit for a Lakers team that needs a player with his skillset.
Here is a handy table (via Basketball Reference) to compare all five players statistics per-36 minutes:
It still seems most likely the Lakers will opt to roll with Bryant, Nick Young, Jabari Brown, either a clearance aisle free agent signee and/or a player selected with their 27th or 34th overall picks than swing for the fences in free agency. But if the team decides to, pardon the pun, shoot for the moon at the shooting guard position, these players are their five best options.
You can follow this author @hmfaigen.