Those expecting a major upheaval from the Los Angeles Lakers this offseason are likely to be disappointed.
Unless Dwight Howard bolts in free agency or Pau Gasol is traded, the primary cast of this season’s underachieving squad is all but certain to remain intact as the Lakers look to preserve cap space for the summer of 2014, when only Steve Nash and Howard would be on the books and the team would be in prime position to reload.
Heading into the 2013-14 season, the Lakers have five players under guaranteed contracts: Kobe Bryant, Gasol, Steve Blake, Jordan Hill and Nash. While Metta World Peace has an early termination option, he’s likely to remain with the team and not opt out. Jodie Meeks has a team option, meaning the Lakers decide his future, but he’ll probably return since his salary is relatively inexpensive ($1.5 million). Chris Duhon has a non-guaranteed deal and can be waived by June 30 to alleviate cap space.
All three of the Lakers’ free agents -- Earl Clark, Antawn Jamison and Howard -- are probable to return, with Howard commanding a max contract and Jamison presumably re-signing for the veteran’s minimum. Clark, however, is the wild card, as his market value will be dictated by the free agency climate.
The Lakers have $66.6 million in salary between their five players under contract, but assuming World Peace and Meeks are retained and Duhon is waived (they’d still have to pay him $1.5 million), that figure will be about $77.4 million. Throw in Howard ($20.5 million in 2013-14), Clark and potentially Jamison, and it’s clear the Lakers will have a salary north of $100 million and little financial flexibility to add any significant pieces.
With only the mini-midlevel exception (a little over $3 million) and the veteran's minimum at their disposal, the Lakers will have to do something they’ve rarely done before: find cheap talent.
As such, the Lakers will look to sign free agents to one-year deals in their price range, which will mainly limit the field to veterans chasing championships or unproven role players looking to catch a break. While none of these additions will single-handedly turn the Lakers into a contender, there’s potential to find a player or two who can shore up weaknesses and deficiencies and help them compete better next season.
Here are some players the Lakers should look for this offseason:
Defensive big men
Elton Brand | F/C | UFA | 15.2 PER
Brand holds value as a two-way big man capable of playing the 4 or the 5. He has a solid midrange game (43.7 percent shooting) and is a stout team defender despite being undersize (ranked seventh in blocks per 48 minutes among power forwards). His shooting ability would fit alongside Howard or Gasol (allowing them to post up) and he’d provide the hard-nosed interior defense the Lakers’ bench needs.
Chris Andersen | C/F | UFA | 17.4 PER
The energetic high-flying big man has been one of Miami’s defensive X factors this season -- the Heat’s defensive rating improves from 102.0 to 97.3 with him on the floor -- as his length and athleticism make him one of the game’s best rim protectors. He’s a dangerous finisher offensively, thrives in small-ball lineups, and would prevent the Lakers’ defense from collapsing when Howard sits.
Kenyon Martin | F/C | UFA | 13.9 PER
Martin is an athletic defender capable of hedging on pick-and-rolls and making sound rotations as a weakside defender. He’s become more of a center at this point -- he shoots 26 percent outside of 5 feet and is limited offensively outside of dunking -- but he’s proven he can still defend bigger wings in a pinch. With him on the floor, the Knicks’ defensive rating jumps from 104.8 to 101.4.
Anthony Morrow | G/F | UFA | 12.1 PER
Morrow has long been one of the best 3-point shooters in the league (career 42.4 percent shooter), which unfortunately is about all he brings to the table -- he isn’t much of a ball handler or distributor and is a liability defensively. Still, the Lakers went through shooting lulls from behind the arc this season, and Morrow would give them a more reliable option if World Peace or Meeks is having an off night.
Martell Webster | F/G | UFA | 13.9 PER
After struggling with injuries the past few seasons, Webster finally stayed healthy and enjoyed a career-shooting year (60.1 true shooting percentage). He shot 44.2 percent on spot-up 3-pointers, which was higher than any Laker besides Nash (47 percent) or Blake (48.4 percent). He’s an underrated finisher in transition and can be a solid defender when engaged, holding opposing small forwards to an 11.9 PER this year.
Francisco Garcia | F/G | TO | 11.1 PER
If the Rockets choose not to bring back Garcia next season (team option), the Lakers should pursue him, as he’s an elite shooter (40.7 percent on spot-up 3-pointers), solid ball handler and above-average defender (held opposing small forwards to a 6.6 PER as a Rocket). What’s more, he has the size and versatility to log minutes as a small-ball power forward, which he did for Houston in spot minutes.
Marquis Daniels | F/G | UFA | 9.2 PER
While he won’t provide much offensively, Daniels is a lock-down defender capable of guarding 2s and 3s (he was seventh in points per play allowed). The Bucks’ defensive rating jumped from 103.2 to 99.9 with him on the floor. Overall, he held opposing small forwards to a 12.4 PER and all opponents to an average of 34.5 percent shooting.
Ronnie Brewer | F/G | UFA | 10.0 PER
For reasons unknown, Brewer was largely ignored in New York and Oklahoma City despite being productive in limited minutes. He’s a defensive pest who’s traditionally been among the league leaders in steals-to-foul ratio, implying he’s aggressive and attentive without fouling. Though he’s regressed as a shooter (shot 28.8 percent outside of 8 feet), he still slashes and moves well without the ball.
Stats used in this piece are from ESPN.com, NBA.com/Stats, MySyergySports.com and 82games.com.
Salary cap information used from ESPN.com, HOOPSWORLD.com and CBAFAQ.com.