Before the Los Angeles Lakers go out and try to sign a big name free agent this summer, they have to decide which players on their current roster are worth bringing back. No, seriously.
It’s easy to be cynical and say that none of the seven players that are on expiring contracts are worth a second look, but there are a few players that have made legitimate cases to get another contract from the Lakers, namely JaVale McGee and Reggie Bullock.
Bullock was brought on a day before February’s NBA trade deadline, but during his exit interview on Wednesday, he told reporters it didn’t take long for him to develop a camaraderie with the players on the team.
“The relationships that I built with the teammates while I was here in a short period of time,” Bullock said. “But it was just great being able to see some familiar faces (Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Brandon Ingram) and build such a great bond so fast.”
On the court, though, it took him a little longer to get acclimated.
The Lakers traded for Bullock with the hope that he would be the reliable 3-point shooter they desperately needed, but through 19 appearances for Los Angeles, Bullock shot just 34.3 percent from behind the arc, the lowest percentage he’s shot since his sophomore season.
However, in spite of his shooting slump, Bullock still thinks he gave the Lakers everything he had, all things considered.
“I feel I picked it up pretty well. I was inserted right into the starting lineup and just tried to play hard on both ends of the floor,” Bullock said. “Obviously this season didn’t go the way that we wanted it to go, and I also know that I had to shoot the ball a lot better too. So those are things I will go into the off-season with preparing to make me return next season and play a lot better and add to my game.”
If given the opportunity, Bullock said he’d love to spend at least one more season with the Lakers.
“I love this city, I was here the first two years of my career. I have friends here,” Bullock said. “It’s a great organization, I was fan of this organization through out my life. They have much respect for me, I have a lot of respect for them. They welcomed me with open arms, so it’s a high level of interest (in returning).”
Bullock isn’t the only veteran free agent that wants to return to the Lakers, either.
During McGee’s exit interview on Wednesday, he reiterated that he has interesting in coming back to Los Angeles next season, but he’s aware that isn’t entirely up to him.
“Yeah definitely,” McGee said of wanting to return. “The opportunity to come back would be something I’m highly interested in. But you know the NBA is a business, so you never know what could happen. You just never know. But I’m definitely going to be working out my hardest this summer, keep my body right and just getting ready for the next season to make a playoff run wherever I’m at.”
Of the two players, McGee has probably made the strongest argument to get a second contract from the Lakers, who will have roughly $38 million in cap space this summer.
McGee ended the season averaging a career-high 12 points per game on an efficient 62.4 percent shooting from the field, to go along with 7.5 rebounds and two blocks per game. The only player to match those averages this season is Rudy Gobert, who will likely be a finalist for Defensive Player of the Year again this season.
“I feel like it was one of my best seasons I’ve had in my career. It was a pretty good season. It would’ve been better if I wouldn’t have gotten pneumonia. I just feel like I really showed that I can be a starter in this league, and I can play extended minutes, and be a leader on the floor and off the floor. A lot of positives,” McGee said.
The question is: How much will it cost to keep both of them around?
In Bullock’s case, the Lakers have his full bird rights, meaning they can go over the cap to sign him if they retain his $4.75 million cap hold. Unless the Lakers get a verbal commitment from Kevin Durant on July 1, there’s no reason for them to renounce Bullock, especially because he likely won’t demand much more than what he’s making right now.
McGee’s market is a little harder to gauge. Yes, he’s a prolific shot blocker and an impressive athlete for his size, but he’s going to enter a free agent market that will feature younger, bigger name centers like Willie Cauley-Stein, Dewayne Dedmon, Enes Kanter, Nerlens Noel, Ed Davis, Nikola Vucevic, DeAndre Jordan and DeMarcus Cousins, just to name a few. There are only so many starting spots at the center position in the NBA.
While it’s unlikely he’ll sign for the veteran’s minimum again, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him sign another bargain deal, whether that’s for the Lakers or another team.
Both McGee and Bullock have their flaws as players, but they will still be two of the biggest value free agents on the market this summer, and the Lakers have an inside track to them. They should probably take advantage of it.
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