The Los Angeles Lakers fulfilled their first major task of the offseason when they fired head coach Byron Scott and replaced him with Golden State Warriors assistant coach Luke Walton last week. Next on their to-do list is finding out if they will keep or retain their top-three protected first round pick in the upcoming NBA Draft, and then the team must turn their efforts to free agency.
Walton had some interesting things to say about the latter during his first comments to the media following the announcement he would take over the Lakers last Friday.
"[The Lakers] laid it all out. They showed what they want to do, players they plan on going after, all that stuff," Walton told Ethan Sherwood Strauss of ESPN and other assembled media. "That's exciting to me. Get to be with one of the greatest organizations in the history of sports, and they're ready and willing to get after it."
The Lakers' interview with Walton was reportedly six hours, so it makes sense that Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss eventually discussed their plans for the summer with their prospective head coach, but it's still worth noting. It's also interesting to theorize who might be on that list, and if Walton's hiring affects which free agents the team could target.
As a relatively unknown quantity, it seems unlikely that Walton's hiring would sway the top tier free agents in 2016's crop, but two names he might have an effect on are two of his current Warriors players, Harrison Barnes and Festus Ezeli. The Lakers reportedly plan to target those two players if Kevin Durant passes on them, and while both will likely be restricted free agents, the Warriors' own pursuit of Durant may allow the Lakers an opportunity to sign one or both of them.
Barnes will likely have a hard time living up to the max contract he'll almost surely be demanding, but as noted in the previously linked article about the Lakers' rumored pursuit of the two, Ezeli would fit extremely well with what the Lakers need and be a better value for his contract price. Walton is by all accounts extremely well liked by his Warriors players, and it's not much of a leap to think he could be persuasive to them as part of a potential recruiting pitch.
We won't know what free agents the Lakers are actually going after until the summer, but Walton sounding excited about it is enough to promote some optimism about the team's offseason plans for now.
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