While the Lakers hoard their maximum salary slot for Kawhi Leonard, their own free agents are slowly but surely securing their own futures outside of Los Angeles.
Reggie Bullock — who the Lakers acquired at the trade deadline for rookie Svi Mykhailiuk and two second-round picks — will be playing for the New York Knicks this upcoming season. The Lakers had full bird rights on Bullock and could have signed him to a similar deal if they had chosen to retain his $4.75 million cap hold. However, the team needs that space to offer Leonard his full max, and it was unlikely Bullock would delay signing a good contract while waiting for the Lakers to have resolution on the 2019 Finals MVP.
Bullock ends his 19-game Laker career with averages of 9.3 points and 2.6 rebounds per game while shooting 34.3% from the field. Considering the Lakers missed the playoffs and surrendered future assets, this trade was definitely a loss.
Bullock also isn’t the only February acquisition on his way out the door:
Free agent F/C Mike Muscala has agreed to a deal with the Oklahoma City Thunder, agent Sean Kennedy of Excel Sports tells ESPN.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) July 1, 2019
The jury was out on Mike Muscala much earlier than Bullock, but now he is also leaving Los Angeles. He is headed to Oklahoma City, another shooting-challenged team hopeful that 6’11” big man can provide some floor spacing around their ball-dominant stars. Muscala never really found his footing with the Lakers, so it’s hard to say he’ll be missed. There was no chance the team would choose to retain his $9.5 million cap hold given that he shot 21.6% from 3-point range during February and March.
It’s safe to say that surrendering Ivica Zubac, who could have easily been the starting center for the 2019-20 Lakers, to acquire Muscala at the trade deadline was a giant miscalculation. He may not be the only center out the door by the time this is all said and done, either.
Free agent center JaVale McGee will meet with the Houston Rockets on Sunday, league sources tell Yahoo Sports.— Chris Haynes (@ChrisBHaynes) June 30, 2019
Free agent center JaVale McGee plans to meet with the Detroit Pistons on Monday, league sources tell Yahoo Sports.— Chris Haynes (@ChrisBHaynes) July 1, 2019
Although Anthony Davis projects to close games at center, the Lakers still need depth at that position. JaVale McGee, who came to Los Angeles on a minimum contract this past season and gave good value for that deal, is currently meeting with other teams around the league. If he is willing to return on another minimum deal, the Lakers should pounce on that immediately, even as they wait for Leonard. The team has also been linked to numerous other centers who have already been signed, and McGee is probably a better option than Richaun Holmes or the other centers presently available.
All of this serves as a reminder that though the Lakers are probably correct to put all their eggs in the Kawhi Leonard basket because of the potential reward, filling out the rest of their roster will be challenging as free agents seize the available cap space elsewhere in the league. Bullock’s departure already stings a little, and if the Lakers continue to wait, more tough losses could be on the horizon.
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