On Sunday, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reported that Darren Collison will stay retired, forcing the Los Angeles Lakers to look elsewhere for the point guard help they’ve been in search of. Unfortunately, with the trade deadline having already passed, there’s only one avenue left for them to explore: The buyout market.
The Lakers have a slight advantage on the buyout market because of the $1.75 million disabled player exception they have from losing DeMarcus Cousins to an ACL injury the league deemed was likely season-ending. That being said, there aren’t many free agents that they’ll need to get into bidding wars for.
As one would expect, the pool of free agents in February isn’t filled with difference-makers, but sometimes even the most unassuming players can be the difference between a team being a pretender or contender. Here are a few that could do that for the Lakers as they head into the home stretch of the regular season.
Dion Waiters has played just three games this season because of repeated suspensions and issues with the Miami Heat (who ultimately traded him to the Grizzlies, who waived him). That’s enough to scare most teams away, but the Lakers took a chance on Dwight Howard last summer and it paid off for them in a big way. With how desperate they are for a guard that can create their own shot, Waiters could be their next reclamation project.
Ideally, Waiters would be a spark plug off the bench for the Lakers, which is what they were hoping Kyle Kuzma would be going into the season. That’s not to say Kuzma and Waiters couldn’t co-exist, but Waiters could give the second unit that extra scoring punch that it’s been lacking on nights when Kuzma doesn’t have it.
The big question mark with Waiters is his commitment to the defensive end. No one’s expecting Waiters to play lockdown defense, but effort is expected. Otherwise, the Lakers may be better off with what they have in Rondo.
If the Lakers decide the risk with Waiters isn’t worth the potential reward, they could go with a safer choice in Tyler Johnson. Johnson isn’t much of a threat offensively, but he’s a bigger body than Rondo and he competes on the defensive end. That honestly doesn’t make him much different than Alex Caruso, but the redundancy may be better than the status quo.
For all that has been made about the Lakers’ need for a guard that can handle the ball and create their own shot, arguably the biggest need on the team is someone that can defend the small forward position when LeBron James isn’t on the floor. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has done his best this season, but there’s only so much he can do at his height. That’s why someone like Maurice Harkless — a 6’9” combo forward — would be such a big help for the Lakers.
Harkless was the salary ballast in the trade that brought Marcus Morris to the Clippers at the trade deadline, and with the New York Knicks so far out of playoff contention, Marc Berman of the New York Post reported that the Knicks would buy Harkless out of his contract if he asked.
As someone who grew up in New York, Harkless may want to live out his childhood dream of playing for the Knicks, but he could also see an opportunity to earn a bigger payday in free agency by playing meaningful minutes on a championship contender like the Lakers.
Harkless leans more towards the “D” on the “3-and-D” scale, but he’s capable of knocking down his 3-point attempts from the corner, draining 42.2% of them on the season. Overall, he’s shot 51.6% from the field this year, including 37% from behind the arc.
If Harkless isn’t bought out, the Lakers could take a flyer on Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who can’t shoot from anywhere on the floor but is long and athletic enough to be disruptive on the defensive end. Jeff Green is also an option they could explore, but if it wasn’t obvious, there’s a huge falloff after Harkless.
Hennessy just signed a multi-year deal to become the official spirit of the NBA. Need I say more?
All jokes aside, if J.R. Smith is anywhere near the player he was when the Cleveland Cavaliers were making regular trips to the NBA Finals just over two years ago, he’d give the Lakers a pretty nice boost.
Smith has no problem shooting the 3-ball, as evidenced by the fact that he’s ranked 13th on the all-time list for made 3-pointers, and he can get to the rim and draw contact. Plus, when he wants to be, he’s a decent perimeter defender.
Outside of a few crucial mental lapses, Smith hasn’t had a bad career — he’s like the shooting guard version of JaVale McGee. If Smith found his way onto the Lakers, it wouldn’t be the worst thing ever.
Smith is expected to workout with the Lakers soon. We’ll see if it turns into more than that.
Agree with the list? Have a name you want the team to consider? Let us know in the comments below, and to listen to us talk about some of these options, listen to the latest episode of our podcast below, or subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow this author on Twitter at @RadRivas.