Once an afterthought of a way to sign players midseason, the buyout market has morphed into a real resource for contending teams to potentially find a key piece that could help put them over the top. The Lakers are well aware of the impact a buyout player can have, with Markieff Morris serving a vital role with the title-winning team in 2020. Nailing those types of signings is rare, but can prove vitally important in late-season runs.
This year, the Lakers placed a bigger emphasis on landing that type of player in the buyout market by not making any moves at the trade deadline. With a roster featuring too many players who are unable to contribute anything meaningful, the team can certainly make plenty of roster spots available to upgrade, but which players should they target?
A number of names have already been mentioned as potential candidates, and the Lakers will be linked to many based on their needs. But for the purposes of this exercise, Bobby Marks of ESPN released a list of potential buyout candidates on Wednesday as part of his extensive article previewing the 2022 NBA offseason ($$$), and we will be using that pool of players as guidelines of who might realistically be available for the Lakers.
Here are three names that could help the Lakers the most as buyout signings.
Dragic will be the prize recruit on the market for contending teams in the coming days and weeks. While he hasn’t played since Oct. 25, Dragic has been an impactful player in recent seasons with the Heat, helping lead them to the Finals against the Lakers in 2020.
The Lakers don’t have a reliable backup point guard on the roster with LeBron James generally occupying that role, and Dragic has experience playing next to — and succeeding with — a ball-dominant wing in Jimmy Butler. In two seasons with Butler in Miami, Dragic shot 36.9% from the 3-point line, a stark, stark contrast to the 30.1% Russell Westbrook is shooting this season in Los Angeles.
Dragic could come in and add a new dimension to the Lakers as both a facilitator and scorer and could help alleviate some of the team’s issues at the guard position, particularly given Westbrook’s recent struggles. That’s probably why L.A. has already been linked to him, a distinction he shares with our next possible target...
(The Lakers were reportedly likely to pursue Thompson, and while he was bought out by the Pacers, he’s expected to sign with the Chicago Bulls)
The player on this list whose buyout might be least likely, Gary Harris has had an interesting career. Once seen as a young guard with loads of potential, Harris has struggled to fulfill that promise, instead offering only brief flashes of talent, or short-but-impressive stretches of play.
This season with the Magic, Harris is averaging 11.5 points per game on 38% 3-point shooting, both his best marks since the early years of his career in Denver. He’s still a solid defender on the wing as well, where the Lakers can also use help.
Orlando would have liked to get an asset for him at the deadline but Harris’ $20.4 million contract this season made that too difficult. Instead, he could be bought out, and would absolutely be a top priority for any number of teams across the league.
For the Lakers, he very well could walk into the starting lineup — please don’t promise him one, though, Lakers — on day one and provide an instant injection of shooting and defense, two things the team has lacked for large stretches of the season.
Perhaps the Lakers can turn the Orlando Magic into the Eastern Conference version of the Memphis Grizzlies this month and have a feeder team in each conference.
Even prior to Anthony Davis going down with an injury on Wednesday, an upgrade at the center position was of great need for the Lakers. DeAndre Jordan has been an entire non-factor this season, Dwight Howard can provide spot minutes on a nightly basis and Davis was the lone true playable center the Lakers had.
Lopez’s situation in Orlando is interesting. He is not actively in the rotation, and has played just five times since Jan. 21. He’s behind both Mo Bamba and Wendell Carter Jr. on the depth chart, and would be a coveted player if he hit the open market.
Even in his limited action, Lopez is averaging 7.7 points and 3.6 rebounds on 57.1% field goal shooting this season. He can provide energy, a big body to bang against, someone who occasionally fights mascots and a generally reliable big man for 15-20 minutes a night.
The Bucks would be a strong contender in the buyout market with him having played there two seasons ago. But since then, he’s also played — and excelled — alongside Westbrook in Washington. And with the Lakers, he’d be guaranteed a starting spot in the near future and almost certainly a rotation spot in the long term.
And if being around Disney theme parks is a priority for him, the Lakers may be the only team in the world who could pry him from Orlando.
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