With NBA free agency officially getting underway this weekend, now is as good of a time as any to talk about what the Los Angeles Lakers need and who they should get to fulfill those needs.
The Lakers are unlikely to go after the biggest fish given their well-chronicled desire to keep their “sacred” cap space in 2018, so what will they do? We asked our crew for their thoughts.
What is the Lakers' biggest need entering free agency?
Anthony Irwin: Yes.
Ben Rosales: A guard or wing with the ability to create in the halfcourt, whether out of the pick-and-roll or in isolation. This is arguably the biggest void on the team in the wake of the D'Angelo Russell trade, as the team currently doesn't really have a guy who can initiate the offense in the halfcourt unless Lonzo Ball is significantly more adept here off the bat than we think he'll be.
Jordan Clarkson aptly demonstrated the utter deterioration of his court vision last season, Josh Hart has issues either running the pick-and-roll or creating in the halfcourt at a NBA level, and Brandon Ingram likely isn't here yet despite showing some intrigue post-All-Star break.
The Lakers don't even really need a world beater here, as Ball's ability to be an offensive amplifier in transition, as a secondary creator and as an off-ball player is tremendous, so the team really just needs someone he can work off of in the halfcourt. Preferably, this player can work on and off-ball as to maintain proper spacing and so this player can also benefit from Ball's court vision, and if he can defend half-decently and check multiple positions, all the better.
Alternative needs include another wing (since Ingram is the only real three on the roster) and a shooting big (since Kyle Kuzma needs to prove that his combine shooting performance was real and Thomas Bryant won't play real NBA minutes next season since he's a project), but they really pale in comparison next to getting a halfcourt initiator.
Craig DePriester: The Lakers need free agents that fit two key criteria: a) bolster depth and provide potential upside for long-term development and b) not muck up the long-term salary cap picture.
After trading away Russell for cap space (pour one out for D'Angelo), the last thing that Magic and company can afford to do is use that space in a way that jeopardizes the future. And, to be clear, that cap space is earmarked for 2018, not this summer.
What does that mean practically? It means minimum contracts and one-year deals, even if that means an overpay, to preserve long-term cap space. The Lakers should be taking gambles on fallen college stars with talent and players with something to prove. In terms of positional need, the Lakers need more swingmen who can shoot and guard multiple positions.
The Great Mambino: A back-up point guard. Over the past two seasons, it's clear that Jordan Clarkson is a solid back-up guard, but not necessarily one that's going to push the pace or create plays for his teammates.
Looking at the roster (including outgoing free agents), Tyler Ennis could return, but even at age 23, his upside as even a bench contributor is still arguable (I for one, think he's a stiff). Other than that, there really isn't a player that can run the offense in the absence of Lonzo Ball and even the former Bruin himself isn't a lock to play like a seasoned floor general coming out of the gates--remember, he'll only be 20 years old when the 2017-2018 slate starts.
The second pressing need would be a shooter on the floor beyond Corey Brewer (Editor’s Note: So a shooter that can make shots. Got it). Even if Brandon Ingram makes a jump as the sniper he was projected to be coming out of Duke, the only other player on the roster that might hit even 35% of his threes is Brook Lopez. That's not a great sign.
These Lakers have no reason to tank and thus, should fill needs rather than going for players with forgotten upside--i.e. Xavier Henry, Thomas Robinson or Kendall Marshall in years past.
Chinmay Vaidya: The Lakers are clearly gunning for stars in the summer of 2018, so in light of that plan it seems the biggest need entering free agency in 2017 would be to dump any long-term salary commitments (such as Luol Deng) that would hinder signing a star in 2018.
In terms of players, I'd say the Lakers need a wing who can play multiple positions and a back-up point guard. The Lakers shouldn't commit money past 2017 to any free agent fitting those roles unless the value is bargain (between $5 million per year). Getting rid of Deng's contract is priority number one and with a lot of teams having cap space, the Lakers can dangle future assets (with protections, of course) in an effort to maximize room in the summer of 2018.
Who should be the Lakers' top target this summer?
Anthony: LeBron, because he's apparently already the focus.
Ben: Darren Collison. UCLA fans will no doubt delight at the possibility of an all-Bruin backcourt, but Collison makes a lot of sense next to Ball as a capable shooter on and off the ball who is able to leverage this to get to the rim at a fair rate.
Collison is not a spectacular passer in the halfcourt but he's sufficiently serviceable here as to keep the offense flowing and that's all that is required working next to Ball. On defense, he's a speed bump more often than not but beggars can't be choosers and he'll allow Ball to primarily check wings next season, arguably a strength for him.
The issue with Collison is convincing him to come in a manner that does not upset Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka's plans to be a player in the 2018 free agent class, so the Lakers basically have to offer him an oversized one-year deal. He may or may not be interested in this, as he'll turn 30 this summer and likely will receive his last multi-year contract if he so deigns to seek one in free agency.
As a result, the Lakers will have to offer a sufficiently large amount as to convince him to come, or sell him on playing on a bigger stage in preparation for 2018 free agency, when the bright lights of LA could have earned him more of a look around the league.
Craig: Without an incentive to tank, part of me wants to aim for a more known commodity, but I do not like that from a team-building approach. What about someone like Ben McLemore or Justin Holiday, who could join the ranks of successful reclamation projects coming from horrific basketball situations that made them borderline impossible to value. Both have the size and length to be successful at either swing position. McLemore is the better shooter, but has yet to prove that he belongs in the NBA. I'd be happy with either one.
Mambino: I'm not sure that there's one of these players that should be a bigger target than any others, but any one player of this group would be more than adequate as a backup PG: Ramon Sessions, Ray Felton, Darren Collison, Jose Calderon or Beno Udrih.
None of these guards are going to light the world on fire, but they can hold down the second unit, run a pick and roll and give the Lakers a little much needed shooting. Shaun Livingston would be ideal, but he'll be out of the team's price range if he were even tempted to leave the World Champion Warriors.
Chinmay: Realistically, the Lakers should target players who will be on expiring contracts instead of giving out long-term money free agents typically seek.
The Lakers should probably look for expiring contracts instead of anyone on the open market. Patrick Beverley, a guard who can defend and shoot, is worth exploring. Arron Afflalo, a shooter who can check twos and threes, is also worth looking into.
Bottom line, the Lakers shouldn't make any moves this summer that would hinder their efforts to land stars (yes, that's plural, stars) in 2018. Any move this summer should be made with 2018 in mind.
What do you think the Lakers should do in free agency? Let us know in the comments below.