After an impressive title run in 2019-20, the Los Angeles Lakers have an important offseason ahead of them if they want to remain atop of the NBA for another year.
That’s because with merely seven players – eight if you count Anthony Davis, who will reportedly opt out and immediately re-sign with L.A. when free agency opens up – guaranteed to be on their roster next season, general manager Rob Pelinka has his work cut out for him as far as keeping the team’s rotation as deep as it was this past championship campaign.
As it stands, this is what the Lakers’ rotation looks like right now with Davis back in the fold but without any of their other impending free agents re-signed:
|LeBron James||Alex Caruso||Danny Green||Anthony Davis||N/A|
|Quinn Cook||Talen Horton-Tucker||Kyle Kuzma|
Los Angeles will still have their two top-tier superstars in Davis and LeBron James, as well as other important contributors towards their 2019-20 title run in Danny Green, Kyle Kuzma and Alex Caruso.
Gone (for now), however, are Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Avery Bradley, JaVale McGee and Rajon Rondo, who all have player options on the final years of their deals (2020-21) they are expected to opt out of this offseason. Also set to hit free agency are Dwight Howard and Markieff Morris, who were excellent complementary pieces for L.A. this past year, as well as Jared Dudley and JR Smith.
There’s a good chance the Lakers will be able to re-sign a few of those players, but keeping all of them will be pretty difficult, especially considering how well they performed in the postseason.
So that leaves L.A. needing a legit backup point guard (in the event Rondo walks), multiple rotational wings (assuming Caldwell-Pope and/or Bradley walk) and a big man who will allow Davis to stay at power forward, his preferred position (if Howard and/or McGee don’t re-sign).
Below, we break down the most realistic players the Lakers can target in free agency this offseason to fill those potential holes.
If L.A. operates like a team without cap space as will more than likely be the case (unless they renounce the rights to every single free agent on their books except AD), they’ll still have the full mid-level exception ($9.3 million) to offer free agents.
If they use the MLE, they’ll be hard-capped, meaning they wouldn’t be able to get into the luxury tax zone during the whole 2020-21 season, so that’s something to consider. But for the purpose of this exercise, let’s say they’re willing to use it.
These are some options:
If the Lakers do commit to using their MLE, that would make Dragic, who they just faced in the Finals with the Miami Heat, a semi-realistic target. We say semi because odds are, Dragic will re-sign with the Heat without much drama this offseason after the strong campaign the two sides just experienced together.
But if for whatever reason, things don’t work out between Miami and Dragic in free-agent discussions, L.A. swooping in with an offer wouldn’t be totally shocking.
Will $9.3 million be enough to entice the Slovenian southpaw? Tough to say, but joining the Lakers would give Dragic the chance to compete for a title, and they were one of his preferred landing spots way back in 2015 when he first demanded a trade out of the Phoenix Suns.
Regardless, Dragic is still probably a longshot for the Lakers this offseason, but it’ll still be worth Los Angeles making an effort to sign him, as he’d be a perfect fit for what the team might need.
Rivers’ defensive toughness would fit nicely with the Lakers. He could do a lot of what KCP did for them on the point-stopping end, though he’s an even streakier shooter.
Augustin can do some scoring and playmaking off the dribble, perhaps taking over for Rondo in the backup lead guard role. He’s not Rondo, especially come playoff time, but he’s still a serviceable reserve ball-handler.
Teague would be able to do much of the same as Augustin.
The Lakers could target wings if they lose either Caldwell-Pope or Bradley, or even both, in free agency. Even if L.A. does want to re-sign both guys, they’ll have a bevy of suitors after the solid seasons they just posted, especially Caldwell-Pope.
Here are some replacement wing options for the Lakers who will be on the market:
A reunion between Clarkson and LeBron would be interesting, especially since Clarkson has improved since his days with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Clarkson could give L.A. a stronger scoring punch off the bench.
The Lakers just faced Crowder in the Finals and although he didn’t have his best series, the two-way wing did have a strong postseason overall with Miami, making him an interesting target.
Holiday merely averaged 8.3 points with the Indiana Pacers last year but he had his best shooting season as a pro at 40.5 percent. Needless to say, that would help the Lakers out a lot.
Burks would probably be the cheapest option of the bunch, even though he did just have his best NBA campaign averaging 15.0 points and 4.3 rebounds per game, he still won’t likely command more than the veteran minimum.
Both McGee and Howard will likely hit free agency, the latter for sure as his deal will have expired this offseason and the former almost for sure, as he has a player option on 2020-21.
After L.A. dominated opponents with their size this past season, it’s basically a guarantee they’ll want to continue trotting out another defensive-minded center next to A.D. for the foreseeable future.
If they lose either McGee or Howard, or both, here are some center options for the Lakers set to be available:
The top realistic option on the board will likely be Whiteside, whose next contract probably won’t be anywhere as rich as his last one was, so he should be within L.A.’s price range. Off the bench or in a 20-minute-per-game role as a starter, Whiteside could be an effective piece for the Lakers thanks to his rebounding and shot-blocking.
With Thompson, there’s the Klutch connection as he’s repped by the same agency as James, so perhaps taking a discount won’t be totally out of the question if he wants to reunite with his former Cleveland teammate. Plus, with the Cavs already having so much money committed to big men – Kevin Love, Andre Drummond and Larry Nance Jr. – there’s a chance Thompson could walk this offseason.
Favors, meanwhile, is one of the most underrated upcoming free agents, and in a role where he’d be asked to play center and not do too much offensively, he could be a great fit.
Baynes’ toughness down low and newfound three-point shooting could make him a legit steal if the Lakers do choose to pursue him, though he should have a number of suitors after the career campaign he just had.
This section is for veteran players regardless of position who could be interesting targets for the Lakers. They may not fill an exact need, but any of them could help Los Angeles if used properly, and showed that they have plenty left in the tank in 2019-20.
Anthony has been a rumored potential L.A. target since James arrived there, and considering he just posted a season where he averaged 15.4 points and shot 38.5 percent from three, there’s a chance the Lakers could actually be interested in uniting the two good friends on the same team for the first time.
There’s also Korver who will be available, and though he’s said to be mulling retirement, the 39-year-old just shot 41.8 percent from three in 2019-20, so clearly, he can still contribute.
Green just had one of his better postseason showings averaging 11.6 points and 5.0 rebounds while shooting 42.6 percent from three over 12 games. His athleticism, versatility on both ends of the floor and scoring off the bench would be a good addition for any team, including the Lakers.
While the Lakers will likely make every effort to bring back as much of their 2019-20 group as they can, there are some interesting options in free agency out there for them who they might be able to entice with their MLE and the chance to play with James and Davis.
Alberto de Roa contributed to this article.