Seems a bit early for this doesn’t? Well this season has been one of the most depressing in recent years and this summer carries grave importance for the future of the Lakers and gives us all a clear look into directions the heads up front want to to take this esteemed franchise in. There are many scenarios that could take place this summer and their success will depend on ping pong balls as well as the decisions of free agents. This is going to be crucial for the Lakers to not mess up, but fear not Lakers fans as I have come up with a few simple steps to help avoid doing something stupid.
Fire and Hire
Most fans would be happy if this was the Lakers only move. The Byron Scott era for the Lakers has been disastrous. The poor handling of the young core and poor rotations have cost the Lakers many wins and has made the Lakers a league-wide laughing stock. His time in LA is up and it’s up to Mitch and Jim to find a new coach to redirect the franchise. There are plenty of candidates to choose from as former coaches are still on the market like Thibs and Blatt, if those don’t tickle your fancy then there are up and coming assistant coaches like former Laker great Luke Walton and Ettore Messina.
Any of those choices instantly improve the team from their current state and help in the development of the young guys. The Lakers #1 option right after Byron is fired will be Walton. He injects a modern, free flowing offense that fits with the current young core of Russell, Randle, and Clarkson. The offense would include plenty of off-ball actions and rely on ball movement. These are things that Byron’s “offense’ fails to show on a nightly basis. The issue with Walton is that he is currently the lead assistant for one of the great team in the history of the NBA. The question with him is he willing to leave that situation to coach the Lakers? If he is, he should certain be their leading candidate for the job.
Thibs and Blatt are all much more experienced but they do all carry their own flaws. Thibs had problems with managing his players minutes as he overplayed them way too much. That doesn’t seem to be that big an issue as Byron underplays his young core and a boost of minutes won’t be as big an issue as long as he doesn’t overdo it. He is one of the greatest NBA defensive minds and a team that is second to last in defensive rating certainly could use someone like him. Blatt was thrown into a situation he did not sign up for in coaching LeBron and leading the Cavs into a win-now push to the Finals. He was supposed to be in charge of developing both Kyrie and Andrew Wiggins. To judge him based on that one season would be unfair but it wasn’t good that most of the team wanted him fired. Maybe in a better situation with a young core like this, he can prove his real worth.
These are just some of the many available options for the Lakers this coming summer. The next coach will be very crucial to the rebuild as it will need to be the one to fully develop these Lakers as they can’t keep firing and hiring coaches when they want to. The next will most likely be the last, at least for a while. One thing is for sure: Regardless of who they hire, Laker legend and head coach of the Lakers Byron Scott will only be the former not the latter.
Pray to the lottery gods
For the Lakers there are 2 paths that will take shape and both will be decided in May when the NBA draft lottery happens. The Lakers are in the best position one can hope for as they are currently 4.5 games ahead of Phoenix and have 55.8% odds to keep the pick. Even though it is a weighed coin flip, it is the best odds a team can get because the Sixers are the ultimate tank experts.
Why does the pick matter so much? Well when summertime comes around, it may help a little with the recruitment of FA but its real value is as an asset or another addition to an already promising core. Brandon Ingram. Ben Simmons. Dragan Bender. All 3 of these players are all widely considered by most draft experts as the top 3 players in this years draft. Each of them add to the Lakers core to make it much more enticing as they are a piece or 2 away from playoff contention. Ingram provides the best fit but Simmons and Russell could be a very potent duo that invokes the trade of Randle to happen. Bender has a tricky contract but has one of the highest ceilings and is versatile at the 3, 4, and 5 because of his stroke. It may not be one of the best draft’s in recent memory but the top of draft carries some inciting prospects with lots of potential.
Not in love with those 3? Well, you could always trade that pick if you want to go further back and draft a Hield or Luwawu which each are good prospects in their own right. Another way to go with the pick is to trade it for a young player. Noel for the pick has been thrown out there many times because of the amazing fit that Nerlens has with this young team and because of the log jam of bigs the Sixers have. That would be a good trade for the pick and if Mitch is able to find a similar offer, the pick should be traded. If there isn’t, I guess we are just going to have a draft a player.
None of this will happen unless the pick is first kept. It isn’t a given by any means but it provides the Lakers more options with they want to this summer and if all goes sideways during free agency, at least they have a prospects incoming to continue the rebuild.
Summertime, not showtime
Kobe’s contract is finally off the books after this season. With that they will have this much to spend this summer:
That’s a lot of money for one team and their are endless possibilities of free agents they can sign. The problems come when the pool of free agents is looked at and the realization is their are only a small group of players that fit with the team’s core. When signing a free agent, the young core of the team should be looked and the goal is to sign players that have their prime fall in live with theirs. To try and go with a win-now mode is very problematic as Golden State appears to have a dynasty going that is very hard to stop in the near future, therefore the Lakers should play the wait and see mentality. It doesn’t mean tank until their runs stops, just continue to improve and develop the young core and then when the right free agent is on the market, you strike. Unless Kevin Durant comes knocking on the door for some reason, overpaying or signing players that are in the middle or late into their prime isn’t the correct move.
Since we already mentioned Kevin Durant, let’s just get him out of they way. He isn’t coming. The right move for his future and legacy are to sign somewhere else that is in a win-now mode. There have been many reports saying the Lakers are atop his list when he enters free agency. He is going to sign a 1 and 1 deal that gives his financial flexibility to sign a even bigger contract next year. If he does want a meeting this summer, the Lakers should certainly take him up on that. In that meeting you pitch him what you have and then you move on. They can’t be caught with their hand in their pants like they did last year and settle.
Speaking on matching primes and not over paying, 2 names constantly brought up are DeMar DeRozan and Al Horford because of their name and star status. Both are great players in their own right but for the Lakers they simply don’t fit together. DeRozan is a great attacker and foul creator. He uses his athleticism to attack the basket and creates contact. His outside shooting numbers tell a different story as he is a very poor shooter from 3 point range. He is shooting 32% and averaging 1.8 attempts from beyond the arc. That isn’t ideal for the modern NBA that is moving more towards 3 point shooting and floor spacing. D’Angelo has proven the ability to kick it out to a shooter and needs a guard that can shoot next to him. DeMar needs to be in the right system but the Lakers just aren’t for him. Al just isn’t at an age where he would come here and play along side players that aren’t read to win now. He would be a great fit with the team when it comes to scheme as he is a stretch 5 that plays decent defensively. Since the Lakers are this close, they shouldn’t chase names and instead look for young players that plug their holes.
That being said, there are still plenty of available players that fill in the holes that the Lakers carry. There most glaring needs are at the 3 and at the 5. As far as a wing, they only have Nick Young and Anthony Brown on the books for next year and neither of those seem like viable options as starters. For the center position, the Lakers have none on the books for next year and the Roy Hibbert experiment hasn’t exactly panned out as expected. In the spirit of draft season, I have constructed a personal free agent big board of potential target this summer and ranking them:
Most of the names listed above are attainable for the Lakers at the right price. Key Word: right price. Only Whiteside and possibly Harrison Barnes are potential max deals this off season. The other names can all be signed for less than a max deal which helps the Lakers because they can sign a couple of these players and then also sign Kevin Durant is the situation presents itself. These are all 2nd tier and lower free agents because all of them come with their own baggage.
Whiteside passes all of the fit and age requirements as he will only turn 27 this coming summer. He is one of the best rim protectors and has a certain reputation that causes guards to change their shot often when attacking a Miami rim. He also posses great hands off the pick and roll which Russell and Clarkson will certainly take advantage of. His mid range is improving but he is still a poor free throw shooter. The real problem with Whiteside is his attitude issues and is known to be a real headcase at times with off the court incidents. That being said, the Lakers can’t be choosers this off-season and will have to certainly throw him a max or something pretty close to that. With Miami having a big of cap issues and lacking his bird rights, he is right there for the Lakers to take.
At the time of writing this, Ezeli is still recovering from a knee injury and that in itself draws up red flags and his rehab will be something that will need to keep an eye on. As a player, Festus is one of my favorites because he does all of things you want from a center but still has room to grow on offense. The big man plays excellent defense and is a great rebounder. He is a good rim-runner that still needs work on finishing but is a great lob target when he dives. He is already a good center that has room to grow at age 26. Another fellow Warriors that is restricted is Harrison Barnes. The wing out of UNC has had a up and down season this year. Recently he has struggled in his 3 point shooting and his shot creating ability has been exposed a bit. He is still a great wing defender that is very young at age 23. It remains to be seen how he does on a team that is not Golden State but he still has upside and can build on what is already a promising player
Fan favorite Bazemore has taken advantage of all of his playing time in Atlanta this year. He is another young wing player that has shot well from beyond on the arc and is a good defender. He is a solid option for the Lakers and gives D’Angelo another good option in the open court because of Baze’s superb athleticism. Kent will get more money than he is worth because of the new CBA but he would be a good option at 15-19 million a year. Batum is also another perfect wing for this Lakers team. He is old enough to where he could mentor the team but young enough to fit with the team at age 27. He is a great shooter and great defender as well. The Frenchman is not a big fish but instead a really good fish that fit the mold of the type of wing the Lakers need.
Now if the Whiteside thing doesn’t pan out, there are still some solid option at the center spot. Bismack Biyombo is still super young at 23 and carries immense untouched potential but his rock solid hands hold him back on offense. With his insane wingspan, he is a great rim protector and defender in general. Sounds a lot like Roy Hibbert right? Well Bismack is much more mobile and if he ever figures it out on offense, he could develop into something more than a back up big man. Mahinmi has been great for the Pacers and hasn’t proven to be more much than a Hibbert replacement. He is a good veteran big that provides rim protection and has the ability to dive to the rim. His mobility helps him get back much quicker than Hibbert now. If Ezeli and Whiteside go somewhere else, Mahinmi would be a very solid back-up plan.
Now the bottom 3 on the board are more like plans C-Z. Deng is a solid 3 but is up there in age and most of his best basketball is behind him. Parsons recently had season ending injury where he torn his meniscus in his right knee. He should be able to recover and resume off-season basketball activities this summer. Signing him would certainly be a huge risk but the 26 year old has plenty of upside still and fits with the 3 and D mold the Lakers need. Once he got healthy from his injury, he was playing some of his best basketball yet. He would certainly be above Bazemore if not for the recent injury. Now Fournier has been a tale of 2 haves. He started the season blazing hot as his game has expand from more than just a 3 point shooter and has improved his driving game. He is another risky signing but he provides much needed shooting.
The list on top focused exclusively on wings and center because of the glaring need that is present for the Lakers. Most of the free agents won’t be retained so the Lakers will need to add other rotation players but let’s save that for later.
There are plenty of great names that fit what the Lakers need and want to get this summer. The core is set for the most part and these signing are just to fill out what weaknesses the team has. The “big market” = “big fish” equation just doesn’t add up and it never did. The Lakers only had 1 true superstar signing and it was Shaq. The other Hall of Fame players came from the draft or trades (and no that doesn’t mean trade everything for Cousins to pursue another big name player). The Lakers shouldn’t always go for a home run because they will eventually run out of strikes and instead settling for a bunch of base hits that will speed up the rebuild. Its fine to swing for the fences here and there but doing that too many times leads to issues. The top names the Lakers should target will sign fast and it is important the Lakers are caught lagging behind because they are stuck in fantasy land hoping KD throws away his prime to comes here.
If for some reason the Kevin Durant is interested, you throw him the max immediately and pitch him as best you can to sign him but the Lakers should then turn and try to sign other pieces.
If Ben Simmons is drafted, Jordan Clarkson may be shopped around to get a shooter that fits with Simmons because he thrives when he has multiple shooters on the court.
Mitch seems pretty happy with drafting at the 3 spot instead of trading it away. Although there is a drop-off after Ingram/Simmons, Bender seems like a viable option as he is a floor spacing big that plays the 3 and 4…..Possibly the 5 with the addition of bulk.
The Lakers could potentially be big spenders but they could possibly have another year where they don’t spend as much as everyone thinks they will. They shouldn’t act like the money is burning a hole in their pocket.
For the Lakers to really follow these guidelines, they need to forget about the timetable set by Jeanie Buss about how soon she wants the Lakers back in the Western Conference Finals. This rebuild has no quick fix so the Lakers should do anything they seem reasonable even if the fruits of the action will develop in a later time. The team is in too deep of a full on rebuild to move away from that and make win-now moves.
At this point, I’d like to announce I am now a free agent and will be looking to sign a contract that is at least 5 years 50 millions (because everyone gets over paid, even a 16 year old kid that has played 10 year of YMCA basketball.)