Lakers Free Agent Targets
After day 1 of the July moratorium, it appears that the Lakers have already lost this off-season with Timofey Mozgov as the only new verbally committed addition to show for. While this summer was supposed to be the year for the Lakers to land a top notch free agent, it is becoming apparent that there is lack of trust in joining an organization that has seen little to no improvement over the past three seasons. Good news for the Lakers is that no one can officially sign until July 7th which means they can still try and negotiate with players and maybe convince them to come to LA just like DeAndre Jordan had a change of heart last year spurning the Mavericks. Below I outline who the Lakers should target at their biggest positional needs.
Last year the Lakers experimented at the shooting guard position using Jordan Clarkson, Lou Williams and Kobe Bryant. With the departure of Kobe, Clarkson sharing point guard with D’Angelo Russell, and Lou most likely coming off the bench, the Lakers need a true shooting guard to shoulder the scoring burden as they finished with the 2nd worst offensive rating in the league. Coming off his 3rd consecutive year averaging 20 points or more, DeMar DeRozan should be the number 1 choice to fill this void. A former USC Trojan who grew up in Compton, CA, DeRozan is no stranger to LA and would be a welcomed addition to the Lakers who need as many offensive weapons as they can get. While certainly one of the most expensive free agents on the market, the Lakers would be wise to invest in DeRozan as he is only entering the prime of his career at age 26 and can be the first major piece of the puzzle in restoring the Lakers to their winning ways.
While not a household name for the casual NBA fan, Evan Fournier led the Orlando Magic in 3P%, 3PM and 3PA. As the Lakers usher in the Golden State offense, Fournier would be a perfect fit to fill the shooting guard role that Klay Thompson currently plays on the Warriors. If you take a look at both Thompson’s and Fournier’s stat line below at the age of 23, you find that they put up very comparable numbers with Fournier shooting a better overall FG%. While I am not saying that Fournier is going to be the next Klay Thompson, his playing style fits the system that Luke wants to implement. Fournier wouldn’t be the flashiest of Laker pickups this off-season, however it certainly could be the best value for the organization as Fournier continues to develop his game.
If the Lakers learned anything from their experiment with Roy Hibbert, it was that the days of the slow, post up big are rapidly dying away. The addition of Al Horford would be the ideal choice for the Lakers because of his ability to stretch defenses with his mid-range shot, his ability to move without the ball to get open shots and his vision to make the passes in traffic. Another plus for Horford is that he has only shot lower than .500 FG% in one season over his 9 year career, helping the Lakers to recover from their dismal effective FG% where they finished last in the league. The Lakers would enjoy the change in pace Horford would bring to the center position as they would get a quick and nimble player who can run the length of the floor and finish in the paint. The Lakers should be doing all that they can to secure Horford as he could be enticing to attract other caliber free agents.
While not a long term fix for the Laker’s center position, Joakim Noah could prove valuable as a mentor for the Lakers young big men of what it takes to play defense in the NBA. As a former 2014 NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award and 2x NBA All-Defensive Team, Joakim Noah would provide the attitude and change in mentality that the Lakers desperately need in order to compete on a regular basis. With the league's worst defensive rating last season, there is no doubt that Noah would be an upgrade that would instantly energize the Lakers defensively and hopefully enlighten the youngsters that offense isn’t the way you win in this league. There is certainly doubts if Noah can stay healthy as he has continued to struggle with knee and shoulder issues. Either way, the Lakers should look at players who have his defensive mindset, to bring in this season, as the defense was completely absent from last season.
The wild card with the most potential is Festus Ezeli. Finishing his 3rd season with the Warriors, if there ever was a team that could land Ezeli outside of Golden State it would be the Lakers given Walton’s familiarity with Festus. Averaging less than 10 minutes per game for his career, it is unclear whether or not Ezeli has the ability to be a starter in the league. His primary strengths include protecting the rim at the defensive end of the floor and picking up the trash offensively with a lot of putback slams. If Festus were to join the Lakers he would receive plenty of minutes and hopefully develop a 10-15 foot jump shot to spread the floor. While Ezeli is no sure bet, the Lakers will get more out of their dollar investing in Ezeli as opposed to Mozgov because of Ezeli’s athleticism and upside due to his age.
The Lakers are on the verge of losing out on another year of free agency. As constructed, if they are unable to upgrade the shooting guard and center position, it will be another long year for the purple and gold who need the support of elite players to guide them into the future on how to win consistently in this league. While free agency looks bleak, Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss must do whatever it takes to attract at least one prime free agent otherwise the Lakers will continue to slide into irrelevancy as superstars overlook the Lakers in favor of other teams.