The Lakers, somewhat controversially, devoted nearly all of their attention on Carmelo Anthony at the start of free agency. With Anthony having spurned the Lakers, Plan B now has to swing into full effect. Fortunately for the purple and gold, many of the key free agents not named LeBron James or Chris Bosh have held their decisions until now.
What should Plan B look like, though? Do the Lakers repeat last year, signing one-year contracts and rolling into 2015 with max cap space again? What about building the core of a team that could be topped off with a free agent next summer? Or do they spend all their money this year, piecing together a team to win-now with Kobe Bryant?
The Lakers added Jeremy Lin as their starting point guard and added to their cache of future talent a #1 draft pick. So how should it all look when the Lakers are finished?
We took our stab at it, and here’s what we had to say:
Who is the top free agent to pair with Kobe Bryant and Julius Randle for the future?
Mike Garcia - The top free agent to pair up between Bryant and Randle is Lance Stephenson. Unfortunately, it looks like he has other suitors with more interest. It’s tough to find guards that are natural play makers, but Stephenson thrives in that position. The remaining free agents at point guard come at a lower price, with a goal in mind for the free agency season of 2015 or 2016. Rodney Stuckey is a scoring point guard with great size. Whoever the next guy is, needs to be a glue guy between the two scorers. That guy may not be Pau Gasol.
Colin Lopez - Eric Bledsoe. The restricted FA from Phoenix is only 24 years old and is a beast of an athlete on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. His price tag is steep, likely needing a $15 million per year offer to get Phoenix to decline to match, but would suddenly give the old Lakers a promising youthful 1-2 punch in Bledsoe and the 19 year old 7th overall pick, Julius Randle. His injury history is slightly concerning, but if he can stay healthy he can be a cornerstone.
Eric Dominguez - Pau Gasol is a viable free agent to pair with Bryant and Randle. It is already known Gasol and Bryant have a brotherly relationship off the court, and just as important, their congruous on court chemistry is something that no other player can attest to. Gasol proved that he is still one of the more proficient big men in the game, and though he just turned 34 this past Sunday, the distractions he played through last season show that he can still be a vital asset to any team. Furthermore, his experience and high basketball IQ will only help Randle grow as a professional.
Conor Cahill - Eric Bledsoe. His potential at both ends of the floor is insane. And I mean potential only in the sense of his potential to do what he has shown he can over an 82-game schedule. In my opinion, he is worth a max/ poison-pill contract to pry him from Phoenix.
Valerie Morales - Trevor Ariza. With Kobe and Randle operating in the paint the Lakers are in desperate need of a player who can stretch the floor which Ariza can do. He shot 40% from three, averaged 6 rebounds and played 35 minutes last year. Plus he is a two way player long enough to defend the athletes at the small forward position.
Laith Cahill - Anyone who is willing to take a one year contract. Roll this over again. They’ve missed out on the top free agents. No one out there is going to make this a playoff team in the loaded West. The best talent left is probably Stephenson. He’s not worth the headache nor is he a transcendent player. Play for time and cap space again.
Brian Booth - I’m going to think outside the box a little now, and go completely hypothetical; Dwyane Wade. The Lakers need a star player not named Kobe Bryant. If LeBron James returns to Cleveland, and Chris Bosh signs with Houston, I can;t help but wonder where that leaves the 3rd part of Miami’s Big 3. He will clearly make the most money staying in Miami, but as part of a complete rebuild. He is also on the wrong end of 30, and at best an above average role player. Why not offer him the same contract the Lakers would give Pau Gasol, and let him team up with Bryant for his remaining 2 years. It won’t happen, but it’s fun to think about.
Jacob Rude - There’s a handful of options I would consider, but two names top the list: Isaiah Thomas and Lance Stephenson. Both are young, perimeter players who could greatly benefit from the tutelage of Bryant. They both are realistic signings and both would signal a youth movement that the Lakers have desperately needed for many years now. Winning now can no longer be the option.
Xavier Henry, Nick Young, or Jordan Hill: Which one should the Lakers retain?
Garcia - Jordan Hill is the best to keep of the Laker free agents. While the Lakers need all the talent they can acquire, Hill’s motor and offensive rebounding abilities are rare and highly valued. He struggled when he averaged over 35 minutes per game during an extended stint last season, but he’s an excellent power forward/center in a rotation.
Lopez - Jordan Hill is the best free agent of the three. It would be interesting to see what Hill could do in a non-D’antoni system, but Hill is likely to be a target for multiple teams this summer. His rebounding and overall effort work for almost any team, especially when he doesn’t have a coach who routinely leaves him out of the rotation despite his strong play. Young only works in a specific roll and his attitude doesn’t have other teams scrambling for his services. Xavier showed promise, but wasn’t healthy enough to warrant a long term deal.
Dominguez -Nick Young was one of the few bright spots the Lakers had during their trying season. His flashy style and personality is a perfect fit for the city Los Angeles, but also, his 17.9 ppg would be hard to replace. Young is an instant scoring threat coming off the bench, and his magnetism carries over to his teammates and the fans. Young would be the most expensive of the three from a financial standpoint, but he has already gone on the record as saying he his willing to take a discount in exchange for a long-term contract. Xavier Henry and Jordan Hill certainly have their pros, but they cannot compare to the way Young impacts a game.
C. Cahill - Hill. A big man that can score down low, in the mid-long range, and rebound like hell is hard to find without dishing out $10M/year. Hill does all those things, while Nick Young is a pure scorer and Xavier Henry can’t stay on the court.
Morales - Jordan Hill. He is a perfect back up for Julius Randle, he is a guy that does all of the things that go unnoticed, blocking out, rebounding, playing hard, hustle, he is a great teammate and doesn’t need plays called for him.
L. Cahill - SWAGGY P. It may be another season of losses, but at least we can come out of it with another montage of Nick Young 360 layup misses and missed shot celebrations. Set it to Iggy Azalea and who really loses here?
Booth - I would really like to see Nick Young back with the Lakers next season, if for no other reason, and to watch him play alongside Bryant, whom he didn’t get to last year. Young was one of the few bright spots for the Lakers last year, and he has the kind of fearlessness that reminds me of Bryant during his younger years. I think those 2 would play really well off each other.
Rude - The answer to this is Jordan Hill. It’s not necessarily a question of talent, but need. There’s no doubt Swaggy P is the most talented of the trio, but the Lakers need for a big man is and will be more severe. Not many big men have the skill set Hill has, and the Lakers can’t let someone like that simply walk away. After Hill and Pau Gasol, the talent drop off in the big man market is pretty steep, save for a few unlikely targets.
Given his suitors, who should the Lakers target in a Pau Gasol sign-and-trade?
Garcia – It may seem blasphemous to trade Pau Gasol to a competitor, but a trade to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Kendrick Perkins and future 1st round picks makes sense. Perkins makes nearly $10 million per year, which is exactly where Gasol’s contract may wind up at. The difference is, Oklahoma City wants to open up playing time for Steven Adams, and possibly run a Team Spain frontline with Gasol and Serge Ibaka. This would be an excellent farewell gift for Gasol, and he gets to play for a contender. On the flip side, the Lakers get future 1st round picks and an expiring contract with Kendrick Perkins. The Lakers were incredibly soft in the paint last year and they need a big man just to play physically in the paint. Randle will have to expand his offensive opportunities quickly, but Perkins won’t mind picking up the garbage.
2015 is an important year for the Lakers. Marc Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Love, Jeff Green, Goran Dragic, and Rajon Rondo would be great pick ups with the added caproom, and hopefully of of those free agents gets paired up with Kevin Durant in 2016.
Lopez - If the Thunder really want Pau, they’ll need to work out a sign and trade. Even with a pay cut, Gasol will need a significant offer for OKC to land him. Taking back Kendrick Perkins and either Jeremy Lamb or Perry Jones + a pick. Perkins only has one year left on his contract and the Lakers gain a draft pick and a young player. The Perkins and Steve Nash expiring contracts alone would give the Lakers $19 million in cap space next off-season.
Dominguez - It would be a doleful sight to see the Lakers sign and trade Pau Gasol, but it’s not like it hasn’t happened before. If this were to happen, the ideal scenario would be some sort of trade that would bring Kevin Love back to Los Angeles. However, this seems more like a dream than a realistic possibility. But, a deal for Klay Thompson isn’t as far fetched. Gasol has said he would prefer to play for a contender—which the Warriors are— and the Dubs could certainly use the help down low. Though the Warriors would prefer to keep the Splash Brothers together, Andrew Bogut is just too unreliable; the Warriors experienced that first hand when they were forced to give 35-year-old Jermaine O’Neal big minutes during their playoff run.
C. Cahill - Kahwi. Just kidding. (But actually..) At this point the Lakers could acquire some of the young talent on the Knicks like Shumpert or Tim Hardaway, or Jimmy Butler of the Bulls, but unless they get a guy they can begin building a team with, I don’t think they should take back much salary. Even if it is an expiring contract.
Morales - Nobody. Taj Gibson is overpaid. Carlos Boozer is old and slow. Iman Shumpert? Uh…no. One of the Spurs soldiers? Doubt they’ll give up Kawhi Leonard. Don’t want Perkins. He plays 5 minutes a game for a reason. Now if he wanted to go to Detroit for Greg Monroe that’s a deal but Pau ain’t going to the Motor City.
L. Cahill -The Thunder. A couple of draft picks. Maybe Jeremy Lamb – if Kobe can’t wake him from his seemingly perpetual slumber who can? Perhaps Andre Roberson. Get picks. Get young. Keep cap space. Doesn’t hurt that you’re sending what has been a faithful servant to the purple and gold to a team set up for him to thrive. Transcendent talent in desperate need of a passer to slick the offense, space to work in the post and a shot blocker behind him. This works out best for Pau and the Lakers.
Booth - Of his top suitors (OKC, SA, CHI), OKC and SA don’t seem to have anyone available that the Lakers would want for Gasol. Draft picks would be worthless as they would not be in the lottery given both OKC and SA’s contender status. That leaves CHI, who would be most willing/eager to trade Boozer. That would not be a terrible idea, as Boozer would be entering the last year of his contract (I think), which would again make him attractive trade bait. Even if LA kept him for the season, that would mean his and the contract of Steve Nash off the books next summer, which means even more cap space and flexibility. Have the Bulls throw in a draft pick or 2, and I’d listen.
Rude - I’ll offer a bit of a curveball and say Iman Shumpert, for various reasons. First, for Pau, it offers him a chance to join Melo (which he wanted), join a former teammate in Derek Fisher, and join a former coach in Phil Jackson. It’s a place he’d be comfortable and he could succeed. In Shumpert, the Lakers get a player who is currently a downswing of his career, but he’s just 24, is still crazy athletic, and is a restricted free agent next summer if the Lakers want to hang on to him.