Lakers Offseason: 3 Bigs Who Could Be LA’s Next Starting Center

Apr 5, 2016; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside (21) reacts during the second half of Tuesday night
Apr 5, 2016; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside (21) reacts during the second half of Tuesday night /

The Lakers biggest off-season need appears to be a starting center, which they will most likely acquire through free agency but which big man best fits their needs?

The Lakers have an enviable tradition of dominating centers, arguably no other franchise can match their parade of star big men. Beginning with George Mikan in Minneapolis and continuing with Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, then Shaquille O’Neal and Pau Gasol, and even Andrew Bynum for a few years.

Yet right now the team doesn’t even have a single true center on their roster. The six players signed for next season include three guards (D’Angelo Russell, Lou Williams and Nick Young) and three forwards (Julius Randle, Larry Nance Jr and Anthony Brown). Obviously that leaves a gaping hole at center.

Everyone expects the Lakers to draft a forward to pair with Randle with the second overall pick in the draft, either Ben Simmons or Brandon Ingram. In the second round, they might aim for a big man but it’s unreasonable to expect the 32nd pick of the draft to step right into the starting lineup.

More from Lake Show Life

The Lakers will certainly consider re-signing restricted free agent Tarik Black, who has a good relationship with incoming coach Luke Walton. But the energetic 24-year-old Black is somewhat undersized at 6-9, and is probably best suited for a back-up role.

Trading any of their young studs to acquire a center would merely open up a different hole in their lineup. So it seems like their best move is to pursue a big man in the free agent market.

In particular, they’ll likely look for a defensive presence, preferably a big who can provide rim protection and is quick enough to switch out on screens as Mitch Kupchak has voiced his desire to surround his young core with young veterans.

So which player(s) does that mean they should specifically target? These three bigs seem to best fit their criteria (even though all three are woeful free throw shooters):

Hassan Whiteside

He led the league in blocks (3.7 per game) and was third in rebounds (11.8), and is a superb physical presence. At 26 years old, the 7-footer is just entering his prime. Although critics are unimpressed by his basketball IQ, he will surely be pursued by multiple teams and will likely be offered a max contract.

Festus Ezeli

Also 26, he’s always been a back-up big, so his minutes and statistics are somewhat limited. But at 6-11 his defense and rebounding are impressive and he played particularly well for Walton earlier this season while Warriors head coach Steve Kerr recuperated from surgery. The question is whether he can transition into a starting role. Also, since he is a restricted free agent, Golden State can match any offer.

Bismack Biyombo

He has emerged from seemingly nowhere, following an injury to Raptors starting center Jonas Valanciunas, to absolutely shine in the playoffs, particularly on the defensive side. He had a 26 rebound performance against the Cleveland Cavaliers in game three, and has been a force protecting the paint.

He is the youngest and shortest of the three prospects at 23 years old and 6-9, although he plays bigger than he actually is. Does his recent play foreshadow what he can consistently do going forward, and warrant a big money contract? Or is it just a fluky stretch over a short sample of games?


There will be many other available candidates. The best is Andre Drummond, but he’s a restricted free agent, and the word out of Detroit is that the Pistons will match any offer. Then there are two slightly older veteran former all-stars, Al Horford and Joakim Noah. Horford, 29, is a 6-10 hybrid center/power forward but it is rumored that both Miami and Houston will strongly court him. Noah missed a chunk of the season to injury but at 31, the question is if will he be able to return to form?

Second-tier free agent bigs include offensive-minded 6-10 Al Jefferson (age 31), 6-11 veteran Zaza Pachulia (32), 6-11 Ian Mahinmi (29) and 7-1 Timofey Mozgov (29). All are at least serviceable and can contribute immediately at the five spot.

And then there are two former Lakers who can each opt out of their current contracts: Pau Gasol (age 35, 7-0) and Dwight Howard (30, 6-11). But a reunion with either of those two is hard to fathom, for entirely different reasons.

Which if any of the big three will the Lakers pursue? Can they sign any of them? Or are they more likely to sign someone from the second-tier list?

Next: 5 Prospects to Consider Drafting w/ the 32nd Overall Pick

We won’t find out until July, but the answer could have a major bearing on their potential return to prominence.