With delusions of Kyrie Irving-related grandeur basically out the window, the Lakers are stuck staring down the barrel of a barren NBA free agency market with next to no financial flexibility.
Let’s go through a couple of questions to prepare ourselves for the madness of the next week or two.
When does free agency begin?
Teams are technically allowed to contact players beginning on Thursday at 6 p.m. EST, which, realistically, is approximately when most deals will be announced, though contracts can’t be made official until July 1.
Who is still on the Lakers roster?
Before diving into what the Lakers might or ought to do in free agency, it’s worth taking a look at the roster they’re entering the season with. Now that Russell Westbrook has opted into his player option, the Lakers have these seven players all but locked into their 2022-23 roster (player salaries via Spotrac):
- Russell Westbrook, $47.1M
- LeBron James, $44.5M
- Anthony Davis, $38.0M
- Talen Horton Tucker, $10.3M
- Kendrick Nunn, $5.3M
- Austin Reaves, $1.6M (non-guaranteed)
- Max Christie, minimum salary
The Lakers also picked up both of their outstanding team options ahead of Wednesday’s deadline:
- Stanley Johnson, $2.4M
- Wenyen Gabriel, $1.9M
And finally, they signed a pair of rookie free agents to two-way contracts following the conclusion of last Thursday’s draft. These two can play in up to 50 regular season NBA games, but won’t be eligible for more, or postseason action unless the Lakers decide to convert their two-ways into guaranteed NBA deals:
- Scotty Pippen Jr., $502K two-way contract
- Cole Swider, $502K two-way contract
What can the Lakers spend?
At just eight players and already over the cap as a luxury tax spending team — the fourth-highest bill in the league last season as team owner Jeanie Buss recently reminded us — the Lakers are limited to only the taxpayer mid-level extension (TPMLE) of approximately $6.4 million. They will likely use that money on a single player in order to extract the maximum value from that dollar amount (as they did last season with Kendrick Nunn), but they can also break it up amongst a few players if they want to.
Also, it’s worth noting that since the Lakers are over the cap, but also over the tax apron, they won’t be afforded the opportunity to use a $4 million bi-annual extension (BAE).
After using their TPMLE, the Lakers will be limited to filling out the rest of their 14 or 15-man roster on minimum contracts (around $2 million per year, dependent upon service time), of which they signed six players to last season.
What are their biggest needs?
Between Kendrick Nunn, Talen Horton-Tucker, Russell Westbrook, (almost certainly) Austin Reaves, and possibly Malik Monk, the Lakers are extremely deep in terms of options to fill out their backcourt. It’s basically everywhere else that they have problems. Especially considering the fact that almost a third of the team’s entire salary is going to a replacement-level player, the Lakers have quite a few weaknesses that need shoring up if they hope to improve upon their 33-win campaign last year.
Their most dire need is probably a wing that can stretch the floor offensively and guard the opposing teams’ forwards. Similar to the role Danny Green and Kyle Kuzma played for the Lakers in the seasons before last, they’ll need to find someone with more than one good ankle to finally replace them. Since they were unable to do that last season with a smattering of wings on minimum contracts, it might be wise to reserve their TPMLE for this theoretical future Laker.
They also need a traditional center that isn’t years past his prime, capable of passably protecting the rim, and optimally, spacing the floor, either by way of outside shooting (think Marc Gasol) or lob catching and finishing (i.e. JaVale McGee).
How might they address these issues?
The Lakers probably need to decide how they want to handle Malik Monk’s future with the team before making any other moves. It’s possible that he’s the best player available to them this offseason, due to his stated willingness to take a paycut from his perceived true market value, but he’s somewhat redundant next to the team’s handful of other score-first, defensively derelict, backcourt players.
If the Lakers do end up re-signing Malik Monk to their available TPMLE, they likely won’t have the cash available to chase a starting, or even rotation-caliber wing or center, their greatest area of need right now. If they don’t re-sign him, that money should absolutely go to a bigger, more defensively versatile player.
Dependent upon on their yet-to-be-determined market value, hare is a variety of wing players who could possibly be available for the TPMLE or less when free agency starts on Thursday:
- Otto Porter Jr.
- Gary Harris
- Thaddeus Young
- Joe Ingles
- Taurean Prince
- T.J. Warren
- Chris Boucher
- Bruce Brown Jr.
- Lonnie Walker IV
- Markieff Morris
- Rodney Hood
- Wes Matthews
And in terms of traditional bigs, Silver Screen & Roll’s own Alex Regla did a deep dive on who the Lakers might be best-suited to chase this offseason in his breakdown linked below:
Only time will tell how the Lakers fill out their roster around their five currently rostered players via free agency, or if they might be able to swing a trade before the season starts. Still, whatever they do in free agency will, in all likelihood, approximate the path of the outline above.
Cooper is a lifelong Laker fan who has also covered the Yankees at SB Nation’s Pinstripe Alley — no, he’s not also a Cowboys fan. You can hear him on the Lakers Multiverse Podcast and find him on Twitter at @cooperhalpern.