4 Veteran Free Agents the Los Angeles Lakers Can Still Pursue
The coffers are running low this summer as the Los Angeles Lakers attempt to scrap together a viable playoff team around Kobe Bryant, but there are still some experienced free agents they could potentially add.
According to ShamSports, the Lakers are currently over the $63 million salary cap for the 2014-15 season; they are set to parcel out upwards of $65 million to 10 players.
That calculation doesn't include two additional signings, though.
Per Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times, L.A. used its room exception—available in lieu of a mid-level exception to teams that begin the offseason below the salary cap before spending above it—to bring back Xavier Henry after previously using a chunk of it on Ryan Kelly. Pincus also reports that the Lakers re-signed Wesley Johnson for the league minimum.
Those most recent contracts illuminate the circumstances for the Lakers moving forward: Henry received the only money L.A. had left to spend above the minimum, so any other talent would have to come via the same kind of deal Johnson took. There are no more splashy acquisitions like Jeremy Lin in the near future.
Pincus presumes that second-rounder Jordan Clarkson will be the 13th man on Los Angeles' roster, leaving two more spots with which to add contributors for one of Kobe's final postseason pushes. If L.A. wants that goal to be at all attainable, it will have to make these final pickups count.
Be advised: There remains value to be found in free agency, but it comes in the form of shot-in-the-dark fliers and no-upside 30-year-olds.
With that in mind, looking at Michael Beasley makes sense for L.A. at this point.
As Dave McMenamin of ESPN Los Angeles reports, the Lakers brought the former second overall pick to their practice facility for a workout. McMenamin also notes that that this open-market consideration is a renewal of prior efforts L.A. has made to bring Beasley to the Staples Center.
This isn't the first time the Lakers have expressed interest in the 6-foot-10, 235-pound small forward. The Lakers attempted to trade for Beasley twice during the 2011-12 season, when he played for the Timberwolves, but both deals fell through, the second just minutes before the trade deadline expired.
Now the circumstances are simpler: L.A. doesn't have to offer anyone compensation for Beasley, and Beasley, fresh off an offensively efficient (50 percent shooting, 39 percent on threes) but overall unremarkable return to the Miami Heat, won't likely command more than the minimum this summer.
He also can't expect to get more of a chance to succeed than what he could earn with the Lakers.
Back to McMenamin:
Wes Johnson, who re-upped for another season with the Lakers this summer, is the only true 3 on their roster, with Xavier Henry, Nick Young and Kobe Bryant, and possibly even Julius Randle and Ryan Kelly, able to play out of position to fill the role.
Working backward through that list, the power forwards couldn't credibly shift down to fill that role, pairing Kobe with another of those shooting guards would be a nightmare defensively at this point in his career and Johnson just doesn't bring enough to the table to play major minutes.
That gives Beasley his window.
Sure, he's a minus defender as well, but at an athletic 6'10", he's a better option than asking than equally cavalier Swaggy P to cover bigger guys or overexerting Kobe in a tougher matchup. On the other end, Beasley would not have to carry a huge offensive burden, but his ability to score both inside and out as a secondary option would be welcomed.
Speaking of departees of the once-formidable Heat dynasty, Toney Douglas can offer the Lakers some much-needed two-way point guard play.
L.A. is thinner at that position than the depth chart might indicate. Lin was a vital get in that regard, as the Lakers cannot count on Steve Nash to start. The two-time MVP is already 40, played just 15 games last season and is openly talking about retiring after the upcoming season. Whatever production he can give L.A. at this point will of course be appreciated, but it should not be expected.
That brings us to Clarkson. While he displayed great comfort with the ball and confidence attacking as he led L.A.'s summer league outfit, he's unseasoned as a distributor and offensive orchestrator. A few years from now, he could be a true threat as a combo guard, but calling him an NBA point guard now would be generous.
Beyond simply shoring up the ranks, Douglas would immediately be L.A.'s best defender at the point. He's a bulldog on the ball and someone who won't generate very many turnovers with his swiping but will rather lean on his instincts and positioning to effectively contain his man.
Considering Lin is a turnstile, Nash is ancient and Clarkson is a rookie without ideal length or quickness for covering smaller guys, Douglas could be L.A.'s only hope to stop opposing guards.
He won't offer the offense anything by way of creativity, even just as a drive-and-kick initiator, but his skill on the other end should be valuable enough for the Lakers to give him a look.
Like the situation on the wing, where the Lakers are loaded with shooting guard options but have a dearth of small forwards, the frontcourt is also currently imbalanced; there are more than enough power forwards, but not enough centers.
Jordan Hill spent time at center last season and will start there in 2014-15, but at 6'10", 235 pounds, he really has a power forward's body. Ed Davis can do the job for short stints, but he's 10 pounds lighter than Hill is.
If L.A. wants real strength at center, its options are either Carlos Boozer or Julius Randle, both of whom are 6'9" and would be at a significant height disadvantage, or Robert Sacre, a true seven-footer with good intentions but none of the skill to back them up.
Even though Jermaine O'Neal will be 36 by the time the upcoming season tips, he's coming off a campaign in which he averaged 7.9 points, 5.5 rebounds and 0.9 blocks in 20.2 minutes per game for the Golden State Warriors. Once a star, he can still do yeoman's work on both ends, banging bodies and making an impact with his physicality.
His health is the downside, which makes sense for a guy who entered the league in 1996. Over the past four seasons combined, O'Neal has appeared in only 154 games, including playoffs. If the Lakers brought him in, asking for more than half a season's worth of games would be ambitious.
But even 40 games of solid center play would help keep Hill fresh, making O'Neal's potential contribution to the Lakers doubly valuable.
With the departures of Pau Gasol and Chris Kaman this summer, the Lakers return zero players who averaged more than one block per game last season. Once again, Boozer's addition will provide no help in this regard, so the Lakers ought to keep an eye out for more rim protectors.
If nothing else, Ekpe Udoh can turn shots away.
In 18.7 career minutes per game, Udoh has managed just 4.4 points on under 43 percent from the field, but he has redeemed himself on the defensive end with 1.3 blocks per game. His long arms and leaping timing allow him to provide near-elite interior D in the small doses of playing time he has received.
That's all the run for which such a drastically one-dimensional player could possibly ask. Fortunately for the Lakers, it's all the playing time they would want to give a guy like Udoh anyway.
Even though he doesn't have ideal size, Hill will get close to 30 minutes per game, with Davis and Sacre also getting some time at center. Considering Hill is an offense-first big, getting a spot defender like Udoh as a situational replacement would be worthwhile.
Udoh wouldn't be a sexy addition, but he would give a patchwork playoff hopeful an extra dimension it needs to reach its goal.
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