A little over a month has passed since the Los Angeles Lakers won their 17th NBA championship. The parade has yet to happen, but work is about to begin for building a repeat champion. The 2020 NBA draft occurs Wednesday (Nov. 18), and free agency starts just two days later at 6 PM ET on the 20th. The Los Angeles front office has little time to do a lot of work building another title-contending roster.
Under the standard salary cap guidelines (based on the previous season’s revenue and other factors), the cap would’ve tanked to around $90 million due to the pandemic and playoff bubble. Thankfully, the league and owners hit the emergency “we can make the cap what we want artificially” button.
The cap will be $109.1 million per the Washington Post. The luxury tax will be at $132.6 million (the same as last year). Additionally, the Lakers have their mid-level and bi-annual exceptions (MLE/BAE) to sign players valued at approx. $9.25 and $3.6 million respectfully. However, that mid-level exception could drop to $5.7 million if the Lakers project to go over the luxury tax.
Who is coming back for the champs?
General manager Rob Pelinka and his team are searching for serviceable talent alongside stars LeBron James Anthony Davis. They have a solid base with James and Davis (whose salary will change with a 2-3 year deal with LA). LA also has quality players returning in Alex Caruso, Quinn Cook, Talen Horten-Tucker, and Kyle Kuzma. (Kuzma desires a “sizable” extension after next year, but LA may trade him first).
Danny Green and the 28th pick are reportedly on the way to Oklahoma City for talented sixth man Dennis Schröder. (The deal will be done after Wednesday’s draft.) The Lakers bolstered their backcourt with a lightning-quick guard who shot 38.5% from three last year.
Finally, Avery Bradley didn’t play in the bubble and now may opt-out of his $5 million player option after changing agents. However, the veteran guard played a significant role guarding the other team’s best guard for 20-25 minutes a game during the regular season, and I’m sure the Lakers would love to have him back.
Now, I’ll look at who Los Angeles should target in free agency.
Is there anyone for LA to realistically re-sign first?
Rajon Rondo – “Playoff Rondo” helped Los Angeles this past postseason, averaging almost nine points and seven assists in 16 games off the bench while shooting 40% from three-point range. He played excellently on both ends of the ball, pestering on defense and generating easy points in transition for teammates.
He may decline his $2.69 million player option in search of a more lucrative, long-term deal. It would be in LA’s best interest to bring him back at the right price before a rival snags him. The Lakers can use his early-Bird rights to give him a pay increase, but they must balance compensating the two-time champion and overpaying for a guard in his mid-30’s with inconsistent outside shooting.
Verdict: Should re-sign for the right price (possibly the BAE)
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope – Ah yes, I have arrived at the man who Lakers fans shamed into playing well last year. KCP started his first two games 0-for-9 from the field and scored just one point, but ended the year averaging 16 points in the final three Finals games, including several big three-pointers late in matches four and five.
Unfortunately for Rob Pelinka and the front office, Caldwell-Pope reportedly will turn down his player option and is seeking a “lucrative” deal, per Silver Screen and Roll. He also allegedly isn’t going to do the team “any favors” in free agency, so it appears KCP will be out of the price range for the Lakers. I would not be surprised to see him value the money over competing for a title and sign a 4yr/$75 million deal with the Hornets, Pistons, or another team with cap space.
Verdict: Should re-sign, but will command too much money
Dwight Howard – The controversial big man played well in spurts for the Lakers in the playoffs, bothering Nikola Jokic for stretches and grabbing key offensive rebounds. Howard seemed to reign in his goofiness and was overall a decent teammate for probably the first time in his career. He may still use his play as leverage for a more massive contract and a more substantial role in the offseason, and the Warriors may have sizable interest.
Verdict: Should re-sign only if all other options pan out
DeMarcus Cousins – Indeed, you forgot about “Boogie” Cousins, didn’t you? It’s okay. Before last season, he tore his ACL, and LA cut him in mid-February to make room for Markieff Morris. Cousins is on the wrong side of 30 and has experienced injuries over the last two to three seasons. He would only require a veteran minimum contract for a year, though, and could provide 12 and 7 a night for a Los Angeles in the frontcourt. The former Kentucky standout can space the floor at a respectable clip and take advantage of post mismatches. Los Angeles should make this move early in free agency to solidify the center position. (Note – Cousins is not expected to be ready for opening night but is most likely to be prepared around the middle of January.)
Verdict: Should re-sign
The free agent market
Serge Ibaka – This is the most important one for the Lakers. Their goal should be to steal Ibaka away from the Raptors and other contending teams for the MLE. It’s a challenging task given the 31-year-old is coming off a postseason where he averaged 15 points on 51% shooting from the field and was the Raptors 3rd or 4th best player. Ibaka will garn much attention from Toronto, along with possibly Brooklyn and Houston. However, he still has the energy and can be a formidable interior presence defensively when Anthony Davis is on the bench. Reportedly the Lakers are highly interested in Ibaka and will meet with him once free agency beings.
Verdict: Should plan on a priority signing with their MLE
Marcus/Markieff Morris – The Morris twins are well-known for their toughness, decent three-point shooting, and ability to play multiple positions. Markieff played the last half of the year for the Lakers last season and shot 42% from deep in the postseason. Meanwhile, Marcus saw action for the rival Clippers and made a blistering 47.5% of his playoff threes. Ideally, the twins would like to play for contenders and locations not far from each other, as the two are very close. I would imagine the duo stays within the conference and possibly, within the division. The Lakers should make some calls and see if one (or both) is available for the BAE or veteran minimum.
Verdict: Should look into both; would be nice to sign one
Jae Crowder – Crowder is a prototypical three-and-D wing who played a vital role with Miami in its run to the Finals. As evidenced by his 45% three-point in the regular season with the Heat (just 20 games) and the 34% mark in the playoffs, he’s been an inconsistent shooter. With that disclaimer said, he’s a desirable piece who could provide depth on the wing and receive a steady diet of open looks from LeBron James’s drive and kicks.
Unfortunately, he may not be available for the price range Los Angeles finds acceptable. Crowder is 29 and will want one last sizable contract, probably in the 3-4 year and $40 million range. It’s already rumored he won’t be giving Miami any hometown discounts, so I would consider this a long shot at best.
Verdict: Should look at, but will be out of price range
Carmelo Anthony – Experts have linked Melo to the Lakers since LeBron first arrived in Los Angeles, but he has yet to don the purple and gold jersey. You have to give Melo credit though he had a resurgence last year in Portland, shooting 38.5% from three, the second-highest mark of his career. He proved he could play 30 minutes a night consistently and hit several crucial shots in the bubble, including the game-sealing three to push Portland past Memphis in the play-in game.
Anthony is 35 and nearing the end of what will be a Hall of Fame career, but he’s shown that he deserves a one-two year deal from a contending team. He has chemistry with LeBron and could play a pivotal role as a 3/4 in a small-ball lineup with AD at the center spot. Los Angeles should look hard at him in free agency.
Verdict: Should strongly consider with the BAE/veteran minimum
Tristan Thompson – A former teammate and champion with LeBron back in 2016, Thompson just wrapped up his $82 million contract with the Cavaliers and will undoubtedly desire a contender. It’s unclear exactly what his price range will be, but he is an elite offensive rebounder and a serviceable defender, something teams always value.
Thompson’s main issues are on offense, where he doesn’t have more than a 12-foot jumper and cannot create his shot. He does set acceptable screens and has chemistry with James, so he would be easy to plug into the Lakers system as a rim-running 6th man. Signing Thompson should only happen if Los Angeles has enough shooting and other pieces to make up for his lack of offense.
Verdict: Should make some calls, but might end up being too pricey/a bad fit
Derrick Jones Jr. – DJJ developed into a steady defensive wing for the Heat. He evolved from being known for dunks to somone that head coach Erik Spoelstra can trust. Miami squeezed Jones Jr. out of the rotation come playoff time to give Crowder and veteran Andre Iguodala more playing time, but he will sign with a team where he can play 20-25 minutes a night. His biggest flaw is three-point shooting, which has been at just a 29.1% clip over the last two seasons. He needs to improve that figure if he wants to gain a consistent starting role.
According to Hoopshype, the Bulls, Pistons, and Hawks will show significant interest in the forward when free agency opens, and he will sign a deal worth about $3-4 million per year.
Verdict: Probably shouldn’t sign, but if he is available at the end, make a call
Glen Robinson III – Had an underrated season for the underwhelming 76ers. Still, he can stroke it from deep and is a wing defender with his size and length. However, I expect other East contenders to try to ink a deal with him before the Lakers do.
Verdict: Sign if other wing options do not pan out
Marc Gasol – Longtime veteran of the NBA, Marc is the better Gasol brother in spacing the floor and on defense. He’s a former Defensive Player of the Year and can be plugged into any system. The main issue is Gasol will be turning 36 early in the season and is becoming less mobile. He’s developed a consistent outside shot and will always be one of the smartest players on the court. However, it may be a year or two late for Los Angeles to add him.
Verdict: Would have been nice to have two years ago
Feature image courtesy of Fadeaway World.
All stats/notes from ESPN.com and Basketball-Reference.
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