The moment Los Angeles Lakers fans have anxiously waited for all year has finally arrived in the form of a potential monumental offseason. And although there are plenty of reasons to feel optimistic this time around when it comes to the team’s chances of reeling in big fish, it is also important to recognize the other avenues the team possesses in case things do not go as ideally planned in free agency.
The Lakers have seemingly pushed all their chips to the middle of the table this summer — and rightfully so with the notable names available and the recent Kawhi Leonard news — but they have also not ruled out the option of shifting their focus to a 2019 free-agent class which potentially could be headlined by the likes of the aforementioned Leonard, Jimmy Butler, and Klay Thompson.
So whether or not the team is able to pull off a remarkable three all-star haul of LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, and Paul George, the Lakers potentially still have enough flexibility to come out of this offseason with an attractive team trajectory regardless of the outcome.
Should the Lakers come up short this summer, among the many routes the front office could attempt to navigate come July is using their bountiful cap space to not only fill immediate needs, but also to gather assets and maintaining future spending via the trade market.
With the majority of the league either toeing the line of luxury tax woe or in the rebuilding stages, the Lakers could look to take advantage and pounce. Let’s take a look at a few trade possibilities the purple and gold could look to:
1. Kenneth Faried (PF/C) Denver Nuggets:
It is no secret the Denver Nuggets have actively been shopping Kenneth Faried for what seems like the past two seasons now. The team’s aggressiveness to move the 28-year-old energetic big seemingly picked up after the team signed All-Star forward Paul Milsap this past summer, and when they traded the 13th overall pick (Donovan Mitchell) in a draft-night deal that brought forward Trey Lyles to the Mile High City.
During a recent ESPN draft-special, Adrian Wojnarowski added even more fuel to the fire for this idea by indicating the Nuggets were willing to go as far to attach this year’s 14th overall pick to a team willing to take on Faried’s expiring $13.7 million dollar contract.
Now for a Lakers’ front office who has put themselves in position to be big spenders this summer, taking on that money prior to free agency seemingly undoes years of planning. Yet, this is not to say a potential swap would be completely off the table for Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka, as Kevin O’Connor of the Ringer reported the Lakers were “looking to add a pick either in the middle of the first round, or trade up from the 25th pick into the middle of the first round to draft a player they are targeting.”
If the team does get some sort of pre-July intel come draft night that they are out on, say, LeBron James, this is the type of corresponding move that could pay dividends. Especially if they are still able to sign Paul George this summer.
Adding George, a late lottery prospect like Zhaire Smith or a Lonnie Walker in the draft, keeping 2019 cap space intact, and adding front court depth/vertical spacing in Faried (who despite posting poor numbers across the board in efficiency—still ranked in the 98th percentile in offensive rebounding percentage last season) could set this team up nicely for years to come.
2. George Hill (PG/SG) Cleveland Cavaliers:
Last summer the Lakers were in “serious talks” to sign veteran guard George Hill before he ultimately decided to opt for a multi-year deal with the Sacramento Kings. The team envisioned Hill as a solid backcourt mate for what was then Lonzo Ball’s first year in the league, presumably alleviating some of the lead guard responsibilities for the 20-year-old.
The Lakers ultimately signed Kentavious Caldwell-Pope with their remaining space, and Hill ended the 2017-18 season in the NBA Finals with the Cleveland Cavaliers via a fury of trade- deadline deals that saw him teamed with LeBron James. Although not living up to presumed expectations with the Cavaliers, Hill was still more than a productive guard this season despite perception.
In 43 games with the Kings, Hill ranked in the 95th percentile in both points per shot attempts and effective field-goal percentage. He also continued to prove to be a hyper-efficient shooter as he was he in the 98th percentile in three-point percentage (46 percent) among all combo guards in the league.
Still, his stint with the Cavaliers saw his numbers take a drastic dip as those numbers were nearly cut in half.
Assuming James takes his talents elsewhere, Cleveland could rapidly find themselves in rebuilding mode and most likely look to move their veterans elsewhere. With the Lakers’ prior interest in Hill and their need for guard depth, it could make for a good pairing.
It is uncertain how much the team would realistically ask for in a Hill swap, but considering the 32-year-old is due for $19 million this upcoming season, and $18 million the next (completely un-guaranteed) there may not be many other suitors for the guard’s talents, and Hill could fill a team need all while keeping future spending alive.
3. Enes Kanter (C) New York Knicks:
Seen as simply as a money-matching cog of last summer’s Carmelo Anthony trade, Enes Kanter is coming off a suprisingly solid offensive season with the New York Knicks. The 26-year-old big averaged 14.1 points and tied a career high 11 rebounds in only a little over 25 minutes per game for the New York.
Kanter has a $18.6 million player option this upcoming season, one he will presumably accept before becoming a unrestricted free-agent next summer. For a Knicks team who may be looking to make a splash this summer, they could look to move on from the big man in order to create some more financial flexibility to pair another star next to Kristaps Porzingis and their upcoming lottery pick.
For the Lakers, the team may very well be without a full-time center when Brook Lopez tests the free-agency waters come July. While not the floor spacer or defensive stalwart Lopez proved to be last season, Kanter could be a solid stop-gap option as the younger centers on the team like Thomas Bryant, or if the rumors prove to be true and the team selects tantalizing center Mitchell Robinson, develop.
4. Jeremy Lamb (SG/SF) Charlotte Hornets:
To be frank, the Charlotte Hornets have some bad contracts on their books. Next season the group of Dwight Howard, Nicholas Batum, Cody Zeller, and Marvin Williams will make roughly $75 million dollars combined. Batum, on his own, will make more than Luol Deng, Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart combined. (Editor’s Note: I just threw up)
That is a lot of money tied up for a team who finished tenth in the Eastern Conference this past season.
With now former Lakers’ general manager Mitch Kupchak in the fold and Kemba Walker possibly taking his talents elsewhere next summer, the team will most likely look to begin the rebuilding process. Unfortunately, their aforementioned payroll situation looks to be detrimental.
The Hornets will most likely be unable to move specific contracts, and probably should not attach assets to do so with their current talent standing, but they could look to trim the fat by moving some of their more flexible pieces like Jeremy Lamb.
The former 12th overall pick was given his biggest opportunity to date, playing in a career high games and minutes this past season with the Hornets. The 26-year-old took advantage of the chance, posting career-highs in points, assists, steals, and three-point percentage. Owed an upcoming reasonable $7.5 million this season before becoming unrestricted in 2019, Lamb could provide some much needed wing depth for the purple and gold.
Though not the most desirable spot on the floor in the modern NBA, the 6’5” wing could also shore up some of the Lakers’ mid-range woes. The team ranked dead last in the league this past season in midrange field-goal percentage, whereas Lamb was in the 86th percentile in midrange accuracy among all wings. This coupled with his solid 3-point accuracy and stellar free-throw percentage, could project for some still untapped shooting upside the Lakers could gamble on.
Whether or not the Lakers are in fact able to land one, two, or possibly three stars this summer is still to be determined. For fans, this moment marks the possible culmination of the team’s rebuild, and although there is fear of once again striking out, it should not deter the optimism that still could be had.
Still, the Lakers have to plan for the worst. Whether it’s through the draft, free agency, or the aforementioned trades, the team is still on the verge of making the leap it needs to make. And while adding max caliber talent this year to a roster filled with promising young players would expedite the process, it should not be seen as the sole path to success.
A lot does ride on what happens next, but recognizing and embracing the options could prove to be beneficial for the Lakers in the long run.
*Team/Player salaries provided by: Basketballinsiders.com.