Coming off of a season in which they posted the third-worst record in the entire NBA, the Los Angeles Lakers will be looking to improve across their roster. Some of that growth could come naturally from the young team, through trades or the NBA Draft, but the team will also surely dip their toes into free agency as well.
In the latest installment of our offseason roundtables focusing on what the team should target in free agency, we take a look at a somewhat crowded spot in the Lakers’ rotation: power forward.
Given the presence of Randle, Nance and Deng in their power forward rotation, should the Lakers even sign any fours in free agency?
Gary Kester: If Randle, Nance and Deng are to remain on the roster, there is no need to add another power forward this summer. The Lakers have an obligation to play all three, given the first-round draft pick investments in both Randle and Nance and the long term impact both could have if they continue to develop, along with the massive contract handed out to Deng last summer. By having any of the three rotting away on the bench, the team would be sacrificing further development of a core player or paying massive money to an aging veteran that doesn't contribute.
Ben Rosales: A free agency addition doesn't really make sense here for that very reason, Deng in particular causing headaches because trading him is probably very difficult without reestablishing some (or a big portion, rather) of his value. And to do so, the Lakers are ultimately going to have to play him more at the four, as he's generally going to be more effective the closer he gets to the basket and when he's on the perimeter.
The rotation difficulties presented by three players who demand at least 20 minutes per game of playing time does not leave a whole lot of space for other options. While, for comparison's sake within the frontcourt, a new center choice could edge into the rotation by taking Tarik Black and Thomas Robinson's spots via offering outside shooting or mobile defense, the power forward rotation has no such openings whatever the potential skill set of the new addition, especially with Brandon Ingram likely slotted for more playing time here the more he grows into his body and bulks up.
Drew Garrison: Deng is a non-factor in this conversation to me. I've given up on his time with the Lakers being much more than a salary-space burden. The fact that Nance and Randle are both good, developing prospects with plenty of room for growth is the biggest factor I think the Lakers can stand pat at the position for at least another year. If either of them takes a step forward next season they'll be sitting pretty at the four.
If you do think the Lakers should sign a power forward, which ones would you be interested in? If not, what do you think they should do with their PF minutes?
Gary: Deng can no longer be effective at small forward, unless it's in small stretches and it still depends on the matchup. The Lakers will have to utilize him at the four and slide either Randle or Nance to play some minutes at the five, which creates other problems. Does that mean less minutes for another expensive piece in Timofey Mozgov or less opportunities for the young and promising Ivica Zubac? Nance can be effective at the five on both ends, but Randle at center means just about all rim protection goes out the window, though it would allow them to switch almost everything defensively. The Lakers will have to clear the front court logjam at some point, which is why I believe Tarik Black will either be traded or become a free agent this summer because of his non-guaranteed contract for next season, but teams won't be lining up to take the contracts of Deng or Mozgov anytime soon.
If the team does sign a power forward, I would expect it to simply be a flyer on a cheap player with at least a fair amount of upside, or if they actually have a chance to acquire an All-Star caliber player like Blake Griffin. If the latter does somehow happen, the team might elect to get the talent and then figure out the rest later through the trade market, but landing a player of that caliber in free agency this summer is a long shot.
The Lakers need players that can either space the floor, create shots for others or defend at a high level. Ideally, they would like a combination of at least two of the three, but they will likely have to search for help out on the perimeter, not at power forward.
Ben: Blake Griffin and that's the list. If Blake's willing to walk across the hallway and join the Lakers for whatever idiosyncratic reason appeals to him (read: Chris Paul went elsewhere in free agency), then the Lakers should move heaven and earth to accommodate him. Despite his injury history, he's a genuine star who would be a fantastic fit in Luke Walton's offense as an ace passer, pick-and-roll option, and ballhandler who torments defenses trying to check him on the perimeter due to how capable he's become as an outside shooter. Acquiring him probably means that one or even both of Randle and Nance get dealt but in this case, the Lakers are probably happy to accept that stipulation if it means that they're acquiring a star in free agency.
The other side of that coin, however, is that the rotation as it stands at power forward is increasingly untenable. Even with Randle and Nance getting time as smallball centers and Luke playing Deng at the three for at least some of his playing time for wont of a better option (don't be surprised if Ingram starts next season on the bench), the simple reality is that the Lakers have three guys at the same position who need playing time, Randle and Nance for development purposes (although the clock on Nance's time as part of the young core is growing increasingly short) and Deng to salvage some of his value in anticipation of a trade and/or to avoid declaring him a full sunk cost. Taking into account the Ingram note above, the team might have to ultimately unplug the glut here at the position for the rotation to make any sense; dealing say Nance for a wing option would be an elegant way of going about it or Randle could be part of a bigger deal but suffice it to say that this is the most sought after spot on the roster in terms of available playing time.
As for how this ends up being resolved sans a trade, Randle is your presumptive starter who will likely continue to get a fair amount of time as the center in smallball lineups, so pencil him in for 20 or so minutes as a power forward. Nance will take the majority of those remaining minutes, although he might find his role limited because of Luke pushing Deng down to the four as much as is humanely possible. One of Randle or Nance winning the "who can become a stretch big first?" contest would be a fairly decisive factor in pushing the other off the roster, or perhaps Magic and Pelinka pull a rabbit out of their hat by finding a palatable Deng trade, but this is probably how the rotation looks at the moment.
Drew: While I think LA is definitely set at power forward, I think the front office should still look at its options. It's unlikely they splurge at a position they're strong at, but the right opportunity could be hard to pass up. What if Blake Griffin agrees to a sit down? What if the Wizards don't match a max contract offer to Otto Porter (they will)? What if Serge Ibaka is a possibility, who could help defensive issues and also play center? There's some interesting possibilities - though most are unlikely to pan out - that the Lakers would have to at least consider if the opportunity presents itself.
Signing a top-end power forward would also allow them the flexibility to include either Nance or Randle in any trade packages they could offer a team. Do I think it goes down this way? Probably not, but there's some merit to giving the front office options by adding one of the top prizes this summer and accelerating the rebuild.