After drafting D’Angelo Russell to pair with Jordan Clarkson, the Lakers have an enviable young backcourt moving forward. With an eye towards filling out the rest of the roster, the Lakers are in need of frontcourt depth to match with their other young asset in Julius Randle. What was once a plethora of warm bodies on the depth chart has been dramatically thinned out after the Lakers declined Jordan Hill’s team option and an Ed Davis departure looks more and more likely.
Looking at Randle, it is clear that a traditional center would be the best fit. Randle has mobility for a big and a nice touch from outside, but lacks the size and shot blocking to serve as the heart of the defense. Luckily, this happens to match up with one of the deepest pools of free agent talent available. In my opinion, it is much easier for the Lakers to pull a starting center out of free agency than a starting PG.
Here are my top-five centers available this summer:
5. Tyson Chandler (Unrestricted)
There’s no doubt he’s getting old, but Tyson Chandler could definitely fill a gap with exactly the skill set that the Lakers need. He’s still a defensive player of the year-caliber defender that can anchor a team defense and will rebound the ball. At 32, he averaged a double-double again last season, pulling in 11.5 boards per game to go along with just over 10 points. Tyson is not my top choice because of the ongoing injury concerns and his age. He is simply not the kind of young player the Lakers can rebuild with, but he’s a great locker room presence that can help mentor the young guys. As a stop-gap for a few years, you could do a lot worse.
4. Greg Monroe (Unrestricted)
Greg Monroe is an exciting young player that just averaged 15.9 points and 10 rebounds per game. He has a fantastic face up game and can also bang in the paint, making him a small ball center that should have a real place in the future of the league. After dumping the corpse of Josh Smith, Monroe played much better, but Detroit still soured on him after forcing him into taking a restricted one year offer. He is not a great defender or shot blocker, but he is only 25 years old. He’s already an efficient scorer and rebounder. He’s definitely a real free agent target for the Lakers.
3. Brook Lopez (Unrestricted)
Brook Lopez is a name that scares me for a number of reasons. He’s a so-so rebounder at best and is a big man with foot problems, which is never a good start. That said, he belongs on this list. Even as a long-time Brook doubter, I have to admit he is a polished offensive player (17 PPG on 51% shooting and 81% from the line) that rebounded from injury issues to have a very nice bounce back last year. For someone as slow as he is, Brook is also a much better shot blocker than he gets credit for (1.8 per game last year). He’s still only 27 years old and can provide a lot of value for the right team.
2. DeAndre Jordan (Unrestricted)
It’s hard to talk about DeAndre Jordan or his game with much nuance. His strengths are as obvious after watching one game as twenty. He’s an elite rebounder (led the NBA 2 years running, 15 per game this year) who can dunk the ball on offense and not much else. Still, he shoots 71% from the field and knows his role. On defense, DeAndre is a force in the paint, using his length and athleticism to disrupt guards at the rim and block more than his fair share of shots (2.2 per game). Despite his limited offensive repertoire and free throw woes, he’s a perfect fit for this young Laker team at 26 years old. He's young enough to be part of the core and never gets hurt. In Russell, the Lakers have a young guard that can give DeAndre his fill of alley-oops and Randle would be very complementary at the 4 position. DeAndre can even get more reps with a larger offensive role he's apparently seeking (as painful as that would be to watch) as the young bucks grow into their games.
1. Marc Gasol (Unrestricted)
Easily the best center in the game right now, Marc Gasol’s game is the opposite of DeAndre Jordan’s: it’s all nuance. He’s a force on defense through subtle positioning instead of SportsCenter highlight rejections. His incredibly high basketball IQ allows him to run the offense and set up his teammates effectively. He’s an efficient outside shooter that can keep a defense honest. He even makes his free throws. Unfortunately, Marc is also the centerpiece of the Grizzlies' offense and is unlikely to leave this summer. After seeing how Pau left town, I’m not sure he’d ever really consider the Lakers. At 30, he’s probably not the best long-term fit for the Lakers either, despite his enviable skill set.
If the Lakers strike out here, all is not lost. The center position has a ton of depth in free agency. The purple and gold should look at guys like Robin Lopez, Omer Asik, Brandan Wright, and Kosta Koufos. All of these centers are unrestricted free agents and can offer NBA skills at an affordable price range. You could trot any of them out as starting center on a playoff team without gritting your teeth.