The Los Angeles Lakers will enter free agency in July armed with cap space, but what position or players they should focus their resources on remains a matter of debate.
Small forward wouldn’t seem to be an immediate area of need. Luol Deng is the Lakers highest paid player, and even though he’s probably a power forward at this point in his career, he gets most of his minutes on the wing due to the Lakers’ frontcourt logjam.
Brandon Ingram is one of the Lakers’ most promising young players, and he spent 45% of his minutes at small forward last season, according to 82games.com.
Those caveats in place, should the Lakers dip their toes into the free agency market for wings? We asked our writers for their thoughts.
Should the Lakers target a small forward in free agency? Why or why not?
This is hard. I keep answering “no” to these questions, which might lead one to believe that I don’t think the Lakers should do anything in free agency, or that I think the second-worst team in the Western Conference should just stand pat.
Neither of those things is true, but the NBA free agency dance is a delicate one, not some drunken, spastic gyration that nets you a herniated disc and $136 million in toxic assets. Speaking of which, and hear me out here, I don’t think it would be advisable for the team to continue last summer’s practice of handing out terrible, long, expensive contracts to badly under-performing players.
On the one hand, I think an approach that prioritizes finding good value as opposed to keeping things clear for a potential home run signing is wise. Every year, we see some team that signs a few smartly courted, B level, mid-career vets make a quantifiable leap in the standings despite never having “won” any press conferences over the summer. For the Lakers specifically, this approach is muddied by the Deng and Mozgov deals and the need to feed the lion’s share of minutes to Brandon Ingram.
On the other hand, having cap space is good, Paul George is a free agent next year, and, like, I think he might want to play in Los Angeles. Just spitballin’ here.
Yes. If we've learned anything from the age of small-ball, it's that wings are at a premium. Surround a lead guard like D'Angelo Russell (or Lonzo Ball, whatever) with wings who can shoot and switch on defense, and you've got the makings of a modern NBA roster. Currently, the Lakers’ small forward rotation consists of Brandon Ingram, Luol Deng, and Corey Brewer - Deng is better as a four at this point in his career, and Brewer isn't good enough to be a starting small forward, which means the Lakers have a deficiency at the wing that needs to be addressed.
If the Lakers had sufficient shooting guard depth, that could help cover the lack of small forwards, but the team is also deficient in that department.
Yes. Assuming the Lakers draft Lonzo Ball or even De'Aaron Fox with the No. 2 pick, the guard rotation would be virtually set and the team already has a surplus of big men. They need wings in the worst way.
Brandon Ingram will be just 20 years old entering his second season, Corey Brewer should have a limited role and the less minutes for Luol Deng at the three, the better. Brewer could also be a candidate to be dealt either this summer or before the deadline because of his expiring contract after next season. Based on current outlook, small forward is the weakest and thinnest position on the roster, figuratively and literally.
I love Ingram's potential down the road, but expectations should remain realistic next year. To get more production out of the position, the Lakers need to bring in at least one more true wing.
The Lakers are thin at the small forward position and wings are valuable in today's NBA, so they should look to add one either in the draft or in free agency. Unfortunately, there is also a lack of quality free agents at the position. Gordon Hayward would be a home run, but the Lakers realistically don't have a shot at him. Veterans Danilo Gallinari and Rudy Gay are likely to look at contending teams and will probably command money outside LA's comfort zone. The Wizards are going to match any offer on Otto Porter.
Outside of Hayward, the small forwards available in free agency aren't worth major money. If the Lakers can get a young wing player who will develop with the core, then they should pursue that option.
Yes, since there's only two players on the roster who can (or should, rather) play the three in Brandon Ingram and Corey Brewer, and Brewer is honestly a bit player at this point in his career who shouldn't see the floor all that much.
As a practical matter, Luol Deng might end up seeing at least some time at the three since there's such a glut of options at the four, but hopefully that doesn't come about since he really needs to spend as much time as possible at power forward to maximize his remaining utility. What this thus leaves us with is just Ingram, who likely isn't going to see the heavy minute load (initially at any rate) he did after being moved into the starting lineup in a lost year last season. David Nwaba could perhaps steal a few minutes here but he's more ideally sized for the two.
As a result, the Lakers need another player who can fill in for this spot in the rotation and as the team is basically deficient in every area, a shooter, defender, or honestly a warm body who won't get the lineup he's with trounced whenever he's on the floor would be great.
This isn't a huge need in the grander scheme of things, but anyone with a pulse to get Brewer out of the rotation, take the pressure off Ingram to play extended minutes, and remove the temptation from Luke to play Deng at the three would be an overall plus.
If you want the Lakers to sign a small forward, who would you target? If you don't, what would you want them to do with their minutes at the three?
Since I think my answer amounted to a tepid “no” , I’d say give a ton of minutes to a hungry Ingram, have (gulp) Corey Brewer back him up in a limited role, experiment with some three guard lineups, and, on occasion, have Deng shuffle his rapidly aging chassis around at the three for spot minutes when needed.
Nick Young can help too, if he opts in to the final year of his deal, continuing his Jason Voorhees-like habit of somehow still being on the Lakers despite offseason after offseason of fans being sure he's gone.
The Lakers are in a tough spot, financially and developmentally. The best guys that will be available (Porter, Hayward, etc.) will be too expensive and have little interest in leaving bona fide playoff teams for the still very much rebuilding Lakers. The flip side of that is that the word is out on the 2013 DeMarre Carroll’s of the world, and if the George stuff is real, which it appears to be, the Lakers would be foolish to handicap themselves in any way heading into next summer.
The pie in the sky answer is Gordon Hayward, which would probably only be possible if George Hill elects to leave the Jazz and Hayward is still sour about not being offered a max extension by Utah in the 2014 offseason.
There is also an interesting set of restricted free agents available, headlined by Otto Porter, who likely will agree to terms with the Wizards. However, the front office should do some research into Robert Covington, Shabazz Muhammad, and Tony Snell, all of whom offer skill sets currently lacking on L.A.'s roster.
The previous regime was loathe to engage with restricted free agents, but hopefully Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka don't feel similarly. The Lakers really shouldn't be spending significant cap space on anyone but a young player who can grow with the team, so waiting 48 hours for an offer sheet wouldn't be so damaging. The Lakers could also pursue a make-good deal with someone like Reggie Bullock as a stopgap until next year if the Pistons give up on him.
Ultimately, the Lakers could decide to ignore their small forward problem until next summer, when the most obvious free agent target comes on the market, but it would be unfortunate to head into 2017-18 with the current wing rotation.
I think the Lakers should target players like Omri Casspi and C.J. Miles, who are likely to command less than top dollar and can still provide some decent perimeter scoring. The Lakers could also explore throwing some offers at restricted free agents such as Joe Ingles or Tony Snell. Regardless of what the Lakers do in free agency, Brandon Ingram and Luol Deng will get most of the minutes at the small forward position with Corey Brewer getting spot minutes.
If the Lakers land a free agent or draft a player at the position, that player will likely eat into Deng's minutes. Ingram should get the majority of minutes at the position as his development is key.
This is where it gets tough. The Lakers need players that can defend, create shots for others or shoot effectively from the perimeter. At the same time, they should try to remain flexible with their cap space for next summer, as they have stated they plan to do.
In a perfect world, they could get a three-and-D guy for cheap, but those guys usually cost a little more, as do the younger, restricted free agents on the market. I think their focus here should be on quality stopgap options that can space the floor with three-point shooting. Ingram really struggled to knock down shots last season and Brewer is a career 28.3 percent shooter from deep. Brandon Rush (40.2 career percentage from three), Omri Casspi (36.7) and CJ Miles (36.1) could effectively provide some spacing off the bench without breaking the bank. The money Miles gets offered on the market might be out of the Lakers' price range for what would be demanded, but Casspi and Rush could probably be had for cheap, and the latter spent three years with the Golden State Warriors while Luke Walton was an assistant coach, making him the most logical fit.
Obviously, Gordon Hayward would be neat but that's not a realistic free agency outcome. Same with Otto Porter, as likely even the Wizards recognize that giving him a maximum offer is a foregone conclusion. The middle range of options ranges from the good-but-expensive (Danilo Gallinari) to the bad-but-expensive (Rudy Gay) and everything in-between (i.e. Andre Iguodala, P.J. Tucker), all of which probably aren't options for LA for various reasons (cost, age, fit, etc.).
There aren't really great options on the lower end of the spectrum either. The best veteran fill-in option is someone like Thabo Sefolosha, but you might have to entice him with a slightly-larger-than-market deal for him to consider LA in lieu of a contender. The Lakers' best option is probably either going for someone here in the late first of the draft (Sindarius Thornwell, Semi Ojeleye, hoping that Rodions Kurucs falls [EDITOR’S NOTE: Yeah, I have no idea who this guy is, either]) or scrounging for a D-League star (i.e. Jalen Jones) at the position who might have something to offer on the next level.
What do you think the Lakers should do? Let us know in the comments below!