ESPN’s Top 20 free agents list provides early silver lining for Lakers offseason

ESPN recently released its list of the Top 20 NBA free agents in 2024. The Los Angeles Lakers should feel a lot better about their options this offseason.
Los Angeles Clippers v Los Angeles Lakers
Los Angeles Clippers v Los Angeles Lakers / Meg Oliphant/GettyImages

The Los Angeles Lakers will enter the 2024 NBA offseason with a rather jarring financial outlook. As a team that's well over the cap, the Lakers will likely be forced to rely on utilizing the taxpayer mid-level exception and minimum contracts to fill out the roster.

Thats never an ideal situation for a general manager to find themselves in, but it's not quite as disappointing as it may seem on paper.

ESPN recently released its list of the Top 20 NBA free agents in the class of 2024. It was an interesting collection of talent, headlines by Lakers superstar LeBron James, who checked in at No. 1, and fellow Los Angeles starter D'Angelo Russell, who was ranked No. 15.

The steady theme throughout that list, however, is that the Lakers are not exactly missing out on a generational class of free agents.

There are no shortage of quality players hitting the open market this offseason. That includes defensive specialists, three-point marksmen, and offensive rebounders who could certainly help the Lakers improve in key areas—but, unfortunately, may be out of the team's price range.

True as that may be, if the Lakers are going to be limited to trade and draft resources, as well as one-year contracts, then this isn't the worst possible time it could've happened to them.

Lakers' cap situation is less than ideal, but it could have been worse

Yes, James is entering his age-40 season and Anthony Davis is already 31 with an extensive injury history. Even if the Lakers had a great deal of cap flexibility, however, there isn't a slam-dunk signing to be found in terms of helping the team compete for a championship overnight.

Among the top five players on ESPN's list, for instance, one is already a Laker, two are restricted free agents, and the other two are deep into their 30s and have yet to win a championship themselves.

This isn't an attempt to slight any of those players, as the Lakers would be lucky to sign one of Paul George, Tyrese Maxey, Immanuel Quickley, or James Harden. The simple reality, however, is that any contract extended to Maxey or Quickley can and likely will be matched.

As for George and Harden, both of whom are 34 years of age, a sign-and-trade remains an option if the Lakers wish to go down either one of those roads.

Beyond that group, there are a number of starting-caliber players whom the Lakers would be happy to acquire. That list includes the likes of Isaiah Hartenstein, Tyus Jones, De'Anthony Melton, and Gary Trent Jr.

Missing out on one of the players from that group would be tough to stomach, but it also doesn't mean that hope is lost for a team that still has trade assets at its disposal.

Furthermore, potential free agents such as DeMar DeRozan and Pascal Siakam could leave teams that invested heavily in them. In that scenario, it's plausible that neither the Chicago Bulls nor the Indiana Pacers would want to let their key players go without some kind of a return.

That would give Los Angeles leverage in the event that those are paths that the organization wishes to explore.

It's important to reiterate that there's value to be found in free agency, but this is a class of players with a recurring theme. In the event that there's an All-Star or even All-NBA level talent on the market, then they're either a restricted free agent or they're over 30—and the Lakers already know what their peak is, or if they've passed it.

In either event, the silver lining to be found: The Lakers are unlikely to invest another long-term contract in a player whose best seasons may be behind them.