Lakers shockingly lose top free agency target to perennial bottom feeder

The Los Angeles Lakers seemed like the perfect landing spot for one of the top centers on the open market. Instead, they opted to sign with a lowly franchise.
Los Angeles Lakers v New Orleans Pelicans - Play-In Tournament
Los Angeles Lakers v New Orleans Pelicans - Play-In Tournament / Jonathan Bachman/GettyImages

The Los Angeles Lakers are entering the 2024 offseason with the intention of honoring a well-documented Anthony Davis request. After spending the bulk of the past three seasons at center, Davis could finally be enabled to play his preferred position of power forward.

Unfortunately, one of the best candidates to help Davis make that transition just signed with a franchise that few expected them to even consider.

Davis is coming off of a season in which he earned All-NBA and All-Defense recognition while playing 97 percent of his minutes at center. He helped the Lakers win a championship while spending 60 percent of his minutes at power forward, however, during a career-defining 2019-20 season.

According to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, one name can be scratched off of the list of players who can help Davis return to his 2019-20 position: Jonas Valančiūnas.

Missing out on one of the best centers on the open market stings, but it's especially difficult to stomach considering Valančiūnas signed with the Washington Wizards.

Jonas Valančiūnas spurns Lakers for the 15-win Wizards

The Wizards are in the midst of one of the best offseasons of any rebuilding team in the NBA. They aced the 2024 NBA Draft on paper, adding Alex Sarr, Bub Carrington, and Kyshawn George in a first-round haul that clearly emphasized long-term potential.

For as encouraging as that may be, the Lakers just lost a free agent to a team that's made the playoffs just once since 2018 and went 15-67 during the 2023-24 regular season.

Instead of joining a potential contender in Los Angeles, Valančiūnas has instead committed to helping Washington rebuild. It's a shocking decision considering he's 32 years of age and hasn't made it past the first round of the playoffs since 2018.

There's also a chance Valančiūnas could've signed for more short-term money with the Lakers if the rumor is true that LeBron James is willing to help Los Angeles secure the full mid-level exception.

Los Angeles will now head back to the drawing board as it looks for ways to appease its franchise player. The arguable three best available centers are now unavailable, with Isaiah Hartenstein out of the Lakers' price range and Nic Claxton re-signing with the Brooklyn Nets.

The Lakers' options might now be limited to trades, pursuing the likes of Precious Achiuwa or Moritz Wagner, or simply asking Davis to play center again.

In each of those scenarios, one can't help but wonder how much better of a fit Valanciunas could've been. He's one of the best post scorers and offensive rebounders in the NBA, with a skill set that would've enabled Davis to endure less physicality down low.

The question now is simple: Where do the Lakers go from here with perhaps the top option for the team off the market?