The constant reappearance of fit versus talent is somewhat getting old as Twitter is full of conversations about it. Some people would prefer to add talent even when the fit is less than ideal. Others would rather play it safe with players that fit a hole, even though talent deficiency might be a bigger issue. Adding a “more talented” player might be a quick fix, but if that player doesn’t fit the system or there are similar cheaper options, issues can arise. Drafting or signing players based solely on fit also raises problems. Taking a player to fill a need can result in passing on a more talented player, which could be cause for regret later on. Either way, it is a tough call. The situation and state of the team is very important to consider when deciding which player to go after.
I was a huge proponent of the Lakers drafting Ben Simmons because I believe he was the best player in the draft and his talent outweighs the fit concerns. However, I still wanted Simmons because of how unique his skill was. Ingram was easily the perfect fit as far as what the Lakers needed from a wing. In the end, the Lakers might have dodged a bullet with the Sixers taking Simmons, allowing the young core to stay intact and gain another piece. Ingram offers potential on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball. The Lakers need a 3 & D player to pair next to Russell and Randle to space the floor. Ingram fits that role perfectly. Fit prevailed for the Lakers, but I would usually take the best player available in the draft instead of the better fit.
Free agency is a completely different story. Most teams use free agency to fill out their rosters, but some are fortunate enough to be landing spots for big name players. There are some star players available this offseason, but most free agents are second tier and under. Since the cap is going up, players are going to be overpaid. Some will be signed to short term deals so that teams are locked into bad contracts on the back end. The Lakers name is usually thrown around since LA is a big city that carries some history and give players increased marketability. The Lakers are rebuilding though, so stars won’t consider them if winning a championship is their primary goal. Even so, the media always puts pressure on the Lakers to get a big fish just like they think Dr. Buss would have.
Even though he was great at being an owner and a respected basketball figure, Dr. Buss acquired most of his key talent through the draft and trades. The only big name he signed was Shaq, and that was a special case. The Lakers’ success is not dictated by how well July goes, but instead by what happens at the draft in June. That doesn’t mean that free agency is not a priority, because role players or stop gap options can be found there.
This year’s pool of available players is a bit underwhelming. The top players are unlikely to come to the Lakers. Kevin Durant is going to sign with a legitimate contender and Mike Conley is expected to do so as well. Demar Derozan is the biggest name likely to give the Lakers much consideration.
Derozan is a heck of a player and did a good job co-leading the Raptors to the Eastern Conference Finals. However, he is a very bad fit for the Lakers at this time. His defense is bad, to put it nicely, and he can’t shoot a three to save his life. His mid-range game is very good and he can get the rim pretty well. He fits more with Byron’s old iso heavy system than he does with the ball movement oriented system the Lakers will implement. Jordan Clarkson is a similar player with more upside who will come at a much cheaper price. Derozan’s game does not fit the modern direction the Lakers want to take. Bazemore and Whiteside are the names that deserve the Lakers attention. With the Lakers’ young core, honing in on the players just below the top tier is the ideal move to make.
Kent Bazemore and Hassan Whiteside are the names that stick out as having a perfect blend of talent and filling a need for the Lakers. Whiteside would give the Lakers a legit big man that protects the rim and rolls very well into the paint. Bazemore could give the Lakers wing depth as he and Ingram can play interchangeable roles. Bismack Biyombo and Moe Harkless are other options in case the Lakers strike out on those top targets. Then it is about filling in the back up point and shooting guard spots with veterans. The plan for the Lakers should be to keep it simple and avoid name chasing. They should stick to filling out the roster with players that fill needs.
In the end, the debate between fit and best player available likely won’t end any time soon. For the draft and free agency, I believe two different rules apply. The draft is all about taking the high upside player with superstar potential instead of playing it safe with a solid contributor. Free agency is where playing it safe makes much more sense. The Lakers are a rebuilding team that has struggled to lure top free agents with off court opportunities. Now, it seems that they have learned their lesson. The Lakers have talented players with high ceilings, all they need now is some solid complementary pieces. For the Lakers, this offseason should be all about addressing their needs.