When the Los Angeles Lakers used their bi-annual exception to sign Wesley Matthews to a one-year, $3.6 million contract in November, they triggered the hard cap, which restricts them from going over the tax apron to sign players even at the veteran’s minimum.
That restriction is why the Lakers traded JaVale McGee and his $4.2 million salary for Alfonzo McKinnie and Jordan Bell, the latter of whom had a non-guaranteed contract and was waived shortly after the trade was made official. Combined, McKinnie and Bell will make roughly $2 million less than McGee.
With the room they created under the tax apron, the Lakers signed Marc Gasol and Jared Dudley to veteran’s minimum contracts. If the Lakers decided to waive and stretch Bell’s partially guaranteed salary, they would have had enough room under the tax apron to sign two more players to veteran’s minimum contracts, but since they didn’t, they will only be able to sign one more player to a veteran’s minimum contract in free agency.
$1.6M on the cap hit— Bobby Marks (@BobbyMarks42) November 30, 2020
Lakers are $2.9M below the hard cap
Room for one more guaranteed minimum exception https://t.co/aAnYIRxVhl
Lakers would be allowed to add a 15th player in mid-January or wait until early April (buyout deadline). https://t.co/lVgdP5TFGY— Bobby Marks (@BobbyMarks42) December 1, 2020
The question then, is: who should the Lakers sign using their final guaranteed roster spot? Let’s take a look at a few directions they can go in.
What I think they should do
Last summer, the Lakers made a seemingly safe decision by signing Danny Green to a two-year, $30 million contract. Green was expected to come in and provide reliable 3-point shooting and defense, something he had done throughout his career and something the Lakers severely lacked in the season prior. While Green did the latter, he struggled with the former.
In his lone season with the Lakers, Green shot 36.7% from 3-point range in the regular season and 33.9% in the postseason. Why am I talking about Green, you may ask? Because despite his shooting struggles last season, Green is still a career 40% 3-point shooter. The Lakers have very few players with that type of track record on their roster this year.
Yes, it’s true that Dennis Schröder shot an impressive 38.5% from behind the arc last season while attempting a career-high five attempts per game, but for his career, he’s only a 33.7% 3-point shooter. If he regresses in that area, the Lakers will be fine, but it will limit what they can do offensively, and it will limit the units they can put Schröder in.
Then, there’s Wesley Matthews, who has the opposite problem that Schröder has. For his career, Matthews is a 38.1% 3-point shooter, but last season with the Milwaukee Bucks, he shot 36.4% from behind the arc, which is actually marginally worse than what Green shot in the regular season.
Fortunately for the Lakers, Matthews looked more like himself in the postseason, where he shot 39.5% from 3-point range on 4.3 attempts per game. However, even if Matthews hovers around 40% next season, the Lakers would still benefit from having more shooting on the roster outside of him, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Markieff Morris.
For all the aforementioned reasons, I think the Lakers would be wise to give Kyle Korver a look in training camp. Korver is 39 years old and will turn 40 before the playoffs start, but he’s one of the greatest 3-point shooters of all time, and he can still shoot the ball at a high clip.
Last season with the Bucks, Korver shot a scalding-hot 41.8% from 3-point range on 4.1 attempts per game. For his career, Korver is a 42.9% 3-point shooter. He hasn’t shot below 39% from deep since the 2008-09 season, and even then, he made 38.6% of his 3-point attempts. He can shoot the thing and, best of all, he has experience playing with LeBron James.
If Korver isn’t available, the Lakers should shift their attention to someone that can bolster their defense on the wing. Kyle Kuzma showed some growth on the defensive end last season and Matthews should be able to help guard bigger wings when James isn’t on the floor, but they could still use more depth, especially since James is currently the only true small forward on the roster.
Glen Robinson III or Rondae Hollis Jefferson would have been nice, but since they’re off the market, the Lakers could invite someone like DeMarre Carroll or Thabo Sefolosha or to training camp and see what they have left in the tank. They could also play the waiting game with Trevor Ariza, who — after getting traded approximately 100 times — ended up on a rebuilding Oklahoma City Thunder team.
What I think they will do
The Lakers got smaller this offseason after letting JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard go, but not by much. Marc Gasol is 6-foot-11 and Montrezl Harrell, who’s listed at 6-foot-7, plays like a big.
Additionally, the Lakers are reportedly looking to bring on another center so that Anthony Davis doesn’t have to play as much at the five in the regular season. Pau Gasol has been a popular name in the Lakers community in recent weeks, and he fits the bill in theory, but his level of fitness as a 40-year-old big man that hasn’t played NBA basketball in almost two years is a giant, 7-foot-1 question mark.
I’d argue it’s more likely that bring on Dewayne Dedmon. Dedmon, a Southern California native, was horrendous last season, but the season before, he shot 38.2% from 3-point range on 3.4 attempts per game. If his shooting returned, he’d give the Lakers the shooting they need while providing them with the center depth they covet.
Even if his shooting doesn’t come back, he’s still arguably the best center on the market, and that seems to be the direction the Lakers are headed in anyway. We’ll see what they do as training camp continues, but with it starting this week and being shorter than ever, whoever they sign, they should bring them in fast so they can get used to playing with their new teammates.