As the Lakers wait for Kawhi Leonard to make his free agency decision before filling out the rest of their roster, the majority of their own free agents have been willing to wait for the Lakers as well.
Reggie Bullock and Mike Muscala, who only came to Los Angeles at the trade deadline, have both left for other opportunities, But Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and JaVale McGee are all theoretically still waiting to come back to the Lakers.
That hasn’t stopped McGee from taking meetings around the league to gauge his market. Thus far, we know that the center has met with Detroit and Houston, and according to Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle, the Rockets meeting was productive:
The meeting with McGee in Los Angeles went extremely well, two individuals familiar with the process said on Wednesday. The Rockets’ interest was not just if Capela was dealt. McGee would be happy with his role with the Rockets, serving as a pick-and-roll target for James Harden and Chris Paul. The Rockets want greater size off the bench and the vertical spacing the second unit has lacked.
McGee was the starting center in Los Angeles, and left the Golden State Warriors to come to the Lakers in part because of that larger role. If he is willing to settle for more limited minutes, it would behoove the Lakers to keep him in their plans as well. Whether they get Leonard or not will impact that decision, because Feigen writes that the size of the contract will help determine who lands McGee’s services:
The problem would be needing to use the tax-payer mid-level. If they dip into the non-tax mid-level, they would be hard-capped and unable to make a trade for Iguodala or anyone else they would turn attention to next. With the limited budget, it would not be difficult for a team with cap room, particularly the Lakers, to outbid the Rockets for the veteran big man.
The Lakers would only be able to pay more for McGee than Houston if they don’t get Leonard. If they do, their room exception (just south of $5 million, and their last real cap space) should be earmarked for backcourt help, and McGee would likely consider other destinations around the NBA that could offer him more money, and a better role. With Anthony Davis on the roster, McGee could be the starter, but he probably wouldn’t be closing games for the team.
Therefore, it makes sense for McGee to wait for the Lakers, and according to Vincent Ellis of the Detroit Free Press, that’s what he plans on doing. He’s also not the only center following that plan:
Feeling around the league is McGee is waiting on #Lakers. Boogie Cousins, as well. https://t.co/EjBCkt4Fr6— Vince_Ells56 (@Vincent_Ellis56) July 3, 2019
DeMarcus Cousins, another former Warriors center, could also theoretically head to Los Angeles if the Lakers don’t land Leonard. In that scenario, Cousins is easily the most talented player left on the open market, and the Lakers would be wise to swoop in, even with his injury concerns. It’s odd that the four-time All-Star has seen his market dissipate to this extent, but that’s why he needs to wait on the Lakers, one of only three teams left with meaningful cap space.
Ultimately, so much of the Lakers’ roster-building this offseason comes down to where Kawhi Leonard decides to play basketball next year. This is just another example of how that decision is affecting other free agents as well.
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