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Los Angeles Lakers Free Agent Wish List

Now that the 2015 NBA Draft is behind us, it’s time for the Lakers to turn their focus to free agency.

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With fans and supporters still abuzz about the draft, it is now time for the Los Angeles Lakers to turn their focus to the free agency process in order to continue rebuilding the roster. We should remind you, while players can verbally agree to contracts as of July 1, they cannot technically sign a contract or even re-sign with their current teams until the free agency moratorium is lifted on July 9th.

Unless the rumors regarding a potential acquisition of Sacramento Kings’ All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins come to fruition, these Lakers should be expected to pursue a rim-protecting post presence over the next couple weeks. In fact, their “wish list” could include a small forward capable of both defending and consistently knocking down open shots from distance, additional power forward and center depth, as well as a veteran point guard to serve in a support or even mentoring role for their young perimeter players.

The simple question is whether you believe a core of one max deal (this summer) to go along with this year’s second-overall pick in point guard D’Angelo Russell, a returning Julius Randle and improving Jordan Clarkson would be a core that you’d want to build around for the future? Or is this a situation where you could potentially look to package some of the current assets to bring in established, but still relatively young talent?

The idea of adding talent via free agency to a young, but burgeoning core of talent that is beginning to feel like that mid-90s team that featured the likes of Nick Van Exel, Eddie Jones and the like probably makes the most sense. Although they’ve endured a great deal of consternation and ridicule over the past few seasons, the front office has done a good job of drafting and positioning themselves to strike if the right opportunity were to present itself.

This is generally the time of year where player representatives are looking for the best potential deal for their clients, so we should all be cautious about overreacting to each and every rumor that surfaces throughout this process. Put simply, the Lakers often find their name thrown into free agency rumors because players and agents realize it is beneficial for their own leverage throughout negotiations regardless of whether they actually intend to don the ‘purple and gold’ moving forward.

As a reminder, according to our salary cap guru Eric Pincus, the Lakers could have as much as $23 million of cap space to work with. This means they are not in the position to go out and sign multiple max-contract players. It should also be noted that when pursuing another team’s free agent, the most that can be offered is a four-year deal. Essentially, you are asking the player to turn down an additional guaranteed year from their current team in order to leave. That may have been extremely rare in the past, but not completely unheard of (see Dwight Howard). Although younger players may be less likely to walk away from guaranteed money, there are several veterans on this summer’s market that appear willing to leave their current teams regardless of this fact.

We won’t waste your time with hypothetical scenarios where the Lakers somehow sign LeBron James due to the news of his recent decision to opt-out, or any of the restricted free agents that appear most likely to remain with their current teams.

Here are some of the players these Lakers could target during free agency and a few reasons why they would or would not make sense to sign:

LaMarcus Aldridge – PF/C – Unrestricted Free Agent

Amidst reports of the Lakers preparing to offer Aldridge a four-year, $80 million contract, it only makes sense to start with the highly-coveted big man. Although not a rim-protector, Aldridge brings the type of offensive firepower and versatility that not only works well in any system, but would provide precisely the type of support their young core will likely need. Although the decision-making and focus absolutely should not be centered around Kobe Bryant as the team continues to move forward, an Aldridge signing would also significantly aid in transitioning to the next chapter of Lakers’ basketball.

That said, it would also be nice to see one of the game’s greatest All-Time players in Bryant dribble off into the distance with the knowledge that he’s leaving the franchise in the very capable hands of Aldridge and this young core of players. Speaking of hands, we should remind you that Aldridge underwent successful surgery to repair the radial collateral ligament of his left thumb on May 18th, and should be ready to go by the time players are reporting to training camp at the end of the summer.

Marc Gasol – C – Unrestricted Free Agent

Gasol reportedly has ‘no interest’ in joining the Lakers this summer, so we can all but put this line of thought to rest.

Greg Monroe – C/PF – Unrestricted Free Agent

Monroe’s name has been mentioned with the Lakers in the past, but it appears the New York Knicks are most likely to sign the talented big man. Although Monroe is a good option in the post, he isn’t likely worth a max deal to this team given their current trajectory, and the Knicks appear ready to offer just that.

DeAndre Jordan – C – Unrestricted Free Agent

The Clippers or Mavericks appear to be the frontrunners to sign Jordan, but he would certainly present the Lakers with an interesting dilemma were he to express a genuine interest in taking his talents across the hallway. While he doesn’t have the offensive arsenal of Aldridge or Gasol, Jordan is precisely the defensive presence and rim-protector Coach Scott would want anchoring his defense.

The trouble is, unless he were to have an extreme falling-out with the Clippers over terms during their negotiations, there is no reason to think he would leave what has been a very comfortable scenario, playing alongside a good friend in Blake Griffin. The Mavericks have unleashed their resident “bring us a big name” agent in Chandler Parsons (again, see Dwight Howard) to convince Jordan of why he needs to return to his home state of Texas, but we aren’t sure the Lakers currently have quite the ‘salesman’ on their roster.

Kevin Love – PF – Unrestricted Free Agent

The ‘Love to L.A.’ rumors have been around for so many years that it was once almost considered a foregone conclusion he would eventually be in a Lakers’ uniform. Following another season-ending injury, the 26-year-old power forward finds himself in a position of deciding whether sticking around to see if he can ‘fit in’ with LeBron James and the Cavaliers or seeking greener pastures elsewhere makes the most sense.

Admittedly, this is much less of an ideal fit given the current roster needs, but it will be interesting to see if the organization would still consider pursuing Love’s services if they were to be unable to lure Aldridge. The addition of Love would definitely require some line-up creativity (a significantly lighter Julius Randle at the small forward, for example) as well as a shot-blocker to protect the paint.

On a related side note, the Summer League roster addition of Washington’s Robert Upshaw is something to keep an eye on. While there were major concerns over Upshaw’s background and ability to transition into the professional ranks prior to the draft, he could be an absolute gem of a find regardless of the risks. Perhaps the Lakers are hoping for the same type of resurgence and impact that we saw from Hassan Whiteside of the Miami HEAT last season.

Robin Lopez – C – Unrestricted Free Agent

While his brother (Brook) may get much of the attention due to his offensive prowess, Robin Lopez has quietly established himself as a good post defender, willing rim-protector and player that isn’t afraid to do the dirty work while on the court. In the event that they decide to break their available cap space down into several players, then Lopez could be a viable option as a rotation big man for a reasonable price.

Jimmy Butler – SG – Chicago Bulls’ Restricted Free Agent

Signing Butler, regardless of a perceived mutual interest, seems highly unlikely due to Chicago’s willingness to reportedly offer him whatever it takes in order to re-sign the 25-year-old dual-threat. Our Eric Pincus reported earlier today that the Bulls gave Butler the full max qualifying offer (five-years, max raises), so any offer sheet from teams pursuing Butler must now include three fully guaranteed years (no options).

That doesn’t exactly put to rest the possibility of a sign-and-trade scenario for Butler, but it seems much more likely that Chicago would look to engage in highest-bidder negotiations for his services. Butler is a phenomenal talent and one of the game’s better two-way players, but we aren’t sure you want to necessarily ‘empty the war chest’ for him at this time if you are the Lakers.

Tobias Harris – SF – Orlando Magic’s Restricted Free Agent

Although a restricted free agent, Harris does not appear to be in Orlando’s future plans. That said, and while we love Harris’ game, this is again a scenario where he’s reportedly seeking a max contract and the Lakers would have to determine whether he is worthy of being their main haul this summer. The Boston Celtics and Detroit Pistons appear to be ahead of the pack, and the Lakers should probably sit these negotiations out if they have their sights set on anyone else at a near-max level. It should be noted that Harris’ max deal would be valued at less than that of Aldridge’s (about $15 million per year compared to approximately $20 million, respectively).

Khris Middleton – SG – Milwaukee Bucks’ Restricted Free Agent

Middleton really impressed over large stretches in a main scoring role for the shorthanded Milwaukee Bucks in 2014-15. Middleton is a 40.3 percent career shooter from beyond the arc and can defend the shooting guard as well as some of the lighter small forwards around the perimeter. The market for Middleton will probably be in the range of $8-10 million per season, so you would anticipate him being an option as one of the pieces they added in the event they are unable to land one of the ‘big’ max players on the list.

DeMarre Carroll – SF – Unrestricted Free Agent

After bouncing around the league for the first few seasons of his career, Carroll really found a home for himself in Atlanta and seemed to find his niche at this level as a hard-nosed perimeter defender that has developed his outside shot enough (39.5 percent from beyond-the-arc in 2014-15) to be one of the more sought-after wing free agents this summer. If the Lakers were to ultimately decide against designating such a large portion of their available cap space to a single player, then Carroll would be a great addition at likely somewhere in the $9-11 million per year range.

The league’s current trend and emphasis on the perimeter attack makes the 6’8 Carroll that much more appealing to teams seeking roster/position flexibility. Unless Carroll has his mind already set upon where he wants to play, the Lakers could potentially explore negotiations with some of the preferred bigger names before deciding to go a route that would include an addition of Carroll and a couple other comparable (in terms of impact and price) players.

Danny Green – SG – Unrestricted Free Agent

Green is one of as many as seven members of the Spurs that San Antonio either needs to make a decision about or come to terms with during this free agency period. The going rate for shooters of his caliber (42.0 percent lifetime from deep) is right around $6-8 million per season, so Green could conceivably be signed even in the event the team is able to sign guys like Aldridge or Jordan.

Gerald Green – SG – Unrestricted Free Agent

While Green absolutely emerged as a rotation piece for the Suns two seasons ago, he wasn’t exactly done any favors by their crowded backcourt situation this last season as he headed into free agency. Green still managed to shoot 35.4 percent from deep on 5.2 attempts per contest and still possesses the length (6’8) that could make him interchangeable at the SG or the SF for a team looking for depth. Green could conceivably be a player that could still be signed in the event of the Lakers signing a player to an Aldridge-sized deal.

Corey Brewer – SG/SF – Unrestricted Free Agent

Brewer may be a bit of a journeyman, but that doesn’t mean the 6’9 swingman doesn’t add value to a roster and rotation. He’s the epitome of ‘feast or famine’ from beyond-the-arc, but he’s also a player that can apply defensive pressure around the perimeter and excels at getting out in transition and finishing on the break on the other end. Brewer would be a good replacement as a reserve somewhere between a veteran’s minimum-level deal ($1.3 million) and $4 million if Wesley Johnson were to leave this summer.

Wayne Ellington – SG – Unrestricted Free Agent

Ellington was actually one of the few bright spots for this Lakers team last year, as the five-year veteran put together a nice stretch of games for the depleted roster prior to going down with the season-ending shoulder injury. Ellington may not be a starter for a playoff-contending team, but he has proven he should be able to contribute as a rotation piece and could still likely be signed for a cap-friendly deal somewhere around or slightly above the veteran’s minimum unless the price gets driven up by another team.

Other veterans the team could seek to round out their rotation and roster with:

Tarik Black (PF/C), Jabari Brown (G), Tyson Chandler (C), Thaddeus Young (F), Rajon Rondo (PG), Marco Belinelli (SG), Mo Williams (PG).
Some of those names may not jump off the page at you perhaps in the way that the “big name” free agents tend to, but it is important to once again acknowledge the fact that L.A.’s options are limited to what they can afford on about a $23 million budget.

Jabari Davis is a senior NBA Writer and Columnist for Basketball Insiders, covering the Pacific Division and NBA Social Media activity.

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