Top free-agent options for Lakers after DeMarcus Cousins' injury

(Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Top free-agent options for Lakers after DeMarcus Cousins' injury

DunkWire

Top free-agent options for Lakers after DeMarcus Cousins' injury

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The Los Angeles Lakers received terrible news on Thursday, learning that DeMarcus Cousins suffered a torn ACL. Now, they have to adjust.

Los Angeles signed Cousins earlier this offseason and he was expected to compete with JaVale McGee for the starting center job. Considering he is now likely to miss the majority of the 2019-20 season, if not the entire campaign, it is entirely possible the front office waives a player to make room for more depth in the frontcourt.

McGee now projects as the most likely starting center. It’s possible that the Lakers will start superstar Anthony Davis at the five, although he prefers to play power forward over center. Jared Dudley and Kyle Kuzma can expect increased minutes at the four.

Even if Davis moves to center, Los Angeles could still be in the market for someone to play a role somewhat similar to what Cousins would have filled.

It’s also possible that the Lakers will bring in a short-term answer and then try to address their depth during buyout season. Every year, there are notable (and often unexpected) veterans who hit the buyout market after the trade deadline passes. The Lakers should be very attractive to bought-out players since they’re a contender, in Los Angeles, provide great exposure and have playing time to offer.

Below are some of the best options for the Lakers (as well as an explanation for why a few players who have been mentioned may not make sense).

Marreese Speights

The Lakers recently sent head coach Frank Vogel and (former) director of player personnel Ryan West to Las Vegas to watch Speights work out at Impact Basketball. Speights played for Vogel on the Orlando Magic and the head coach said it was a “luxury” to have him on the roster because when he checked in, he often played well. Speights played overseas last season, averaging 22.7 points and 7.5 rebounds per game while in China. He also averaged 3.1 three-pointers per game for the Guangzhou Loong Lions.

If the Lakers want a veteran big man to spread the floor the way Cousins would have, there is no better option than the 2015 NBA champion. He averaged 1.7 three-pointers per game for the Magic in 2017-18, shooting 37.2 percent from long range over his most recent three seasons. Speights ranked in the 68th percentile or better among players at his position when shooting from three-point range in each of those campaigns, according to Cleaning The Glass. While mostly used as a spot-up shooter, he operated efficiently when in transition and finishing on post-up possessions as well.

Amir Johnson

(Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

According to a person with knowledge of the situation, the 32-year-old Amir Johnson is interested in joining a contender and would prefer to play in the NBA than accept one of the overseas offers he has received. The person spoke to HoopsHype on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

The Los Angeles-born basketball player is a product of Westchester High School and would likely welcome a return to his hometown. After 14 seasons in the league, the big man ranks fourth all-time in two-point field goal percentage. He has shot a career-high percentage from beyond the arc over his last three seasons, showcasing a surprisingly efficient jump shot.

Joakim Noah

(Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)

Two-time NBA All-Star and former NBA Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah likely does not have the healthiest relationship with Lakers star LeBron James. The two have exchanged words in the past and while that may have been years ago and in the spirit of competition, it is unclear if the two moved on from previous confrontations. As far as the basketball fit, however, his two-way skill set may provide the highest immediate reward.

His marriage with the New York Knicks suffered and came to a very ugly ending, but he was more than serviceable when he landed with the Memphis Grizzlies, averaging 7.1 points and 5.7 rebounds while adding 0.7 blocks per game. Noah had the second-highest total rebound percentage and block percentage among all players on the team while also leading the squad in defensive box plus-minus.

Honorable Mentions

(Photo by Mike Ehrmann/BIG3 via Getty Images)

Amar’e Stoudemire — While he last played in the NBA during the 2015-16 season, there is at least some mutual interest between Stoudemire and the Lakers as they were recently scouting him in Las Vegas. He has also played in the BIG3 and was Israeli Player of the Month in May 2019.

Willie Reed — The 29-year-old, who was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 G League Draft, recently played summer league for the Utah Jazz. He is still looking for a training-camp deal. Reed played on Cousins’ team “Loyalty is Love” in The Basketball Tournament. The Lakers showed some interest in Reed earlier this offseason, according to a person with knowledge of the situation.

Salah Mejri —  The 7-foot-2 enforcer and rim protector is a former Euroleague champion (2015) who led the Dallas Mavericks in block percentage and defensive box plus-minus while boasting the team’s second-best total rebound percentage last season. In fact, the 33-year-old’s block percentage ranked in the 94th percentile or better during each of the four seasons he has played in the NBA thus far.

Kenneth Faried — After seven seasons with the Denver Nuggets, Faried played for two playoff teams (Brooklyn Nets, Houston Rockets) last year. The big man played significant minutes for both squads, though he was held out of several games as a healthy scratch more often than expected.

Zaza Pachulia — The two-time NBA champion has appeared in at least 68 games in each of his past five seasons. His playing time has not been hurt by turning 30 years old and he is still a threat to pull down rebounds.

Marcin Gortat — The 35-year-old is no longer in the prime of his career, but still managed to be on the floor in 47 games for the L.A. Clippers last season, including 43 appearances in the starting lineup. Perhaps he would make sense to play spot minutes for the crosstown rival.

Marquese Chriss —The No. 8 overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft is a former client of Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka when the basketball executive ran the show at Landmark Sports.

Aric Holman — The former Mississippi State standout, who spoke to HoopsHype before the 2019 NBA Draft, is currently signed to an Exhibit 10 deal with the Lakers. He is 6-foot-10 and could play some minutes on a two-way if his contract is converted.

Highly Unlikely

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Dwight Howard — The eight-time All-Star appeared in only nine games for the Washington Wizards. If he were to sign with the Lakers, this would be his fifth team in as many years. He had a rocky tenure with Los Angeles his first time around that ended with a surprisingly early exit. If he were to ever make a return to the NBA, a situation like this one with such high stakes would be a tough ask.

Andrew Bogut — While his name has been floated considering he played for the Lakers in 2017-18, the former No. 1 overall pick is under contract with the Sydney Kings. He also told the media he felt Los Angeles lied to him about his deal, assuring him he would be with the organization for the whole year before waiving him.

Kosta Koufos — Even though it would be a nice story to see the big man unite with fellow Greek countryman Kostas Antentoukounmpo, it is nearly certain he will not leave his deal with CSKA Moscow. When a player signs with a Euroleague contender, it’s very rare for them to have an NBA-out clause in their contract.

Nenê — After 17 years in the league, the Brazilian-born big told reporters in May 2019 that he planned to retire after the season. The 36-year-old averaged just 13.0 minutes per game last year, making two appearances in the starting lineup for the Houston Rockets. Perhaps they could convince him to change his mind, but someone with younger, fresher legs may make more sense.

Johnathan Williams — While he did well for the Los Angeles Lakers and for the South Bay Lakers last year, it is worth mentioning that the former Gonzaga forward is under contract with Maccabi Rishon LeZion as of July 30, 2019.

HoopsHype’s Alex Kennedy contributed to this report

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