They may call it "free" agency, but make no mistake, it is a matter centered entirely around dollars. Teams either have a ton of cap space and/or a willingness to spend it or they've got bupkis. The Lakers are behind door number two. With their payroll high, and with only the mid-level exception and veteran's minimum at their disposal, the odds of a big splash via free agency are long.
They will, however, need to be active on some level.
There are currently seven players (Ron Artest, Kobe Bryant, Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, Sasha Vujacic, and Luke Walton) under contract. Though, for all intents and purposes, it might as well be eight, considering Derek Fisher's obvious desire to stick around and Mitch Kupchak continually referencing Fish in future plans.
The remaining free agents, however, strike me as anywhere from "decent odds of returning" (Shannon Brown) to "iffy" (Josh Powell) to "unlikely" (D.J. Mbenga, Adam Morrison) to "I'm pretty sure I saw a U-Haul attached to his car as he left El Segundo" (Jordan Farmar).
Devin Ebanks might have a better than average shot of sticking, but won't be counted on to provide championship-caliber depth.
The Lakers' biggest needs this offseason are point guard depth, outside shooting and reserve bigs. Mitch Kupchak cited the backcourt as the top priority, and I concur. Thus, I'll begin with ones and twos rumored to be on the radar or considered realistic, interesting options. The list, a tier above "we're getting all minimum priced guys, so deal with it," won't blow minds, but does include players potentially capable of lending a hand.
As a guide, I've omitted restricted free agents, as those worth pursuing (J.J. Redick, Anthony Morrow, CJ Watson, etc.) will be out of the Lakers' price range. Cockamamie schemes where Joe Johnson or Dwyane Wade get talked into a sixth man role for mid-level money and a ring were left to another blog. Sign-and-trades, rare and typically complicated, got stiff-armed as well. The quality of each signing is always rated with the assumption of a reasonable price tag and contract length, since a deal is unlikely under any other circumstances.
Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images
Steve Blake should have made a good impression
on the Lakers in their last meeting.
POSITIVES: Very good from downtown. Distributes the ball nicely. Can score, but isn't married to the concept. Scrappy. I've heard at least one scout label Blake's defensive ability better than its reputation. He notched a triple-double against the Lakers during the final regular season game, which is certainly a nice audition.
NEGATIVES: More of a luxury backup than a truly ideal starter, he doesn't necessarily solve point guard issues down the road. If you aren't amused by my observation Blake looks like your typical Fresno tweaker, think how unamused you'll be hearing it 30-50 times per season.
On a scale of 1-10, this signing is a... 9. There may be no single player more (potentially) affordable and capable of addressing multiple needs by himself.
POSITIVES: Deadly shooter (although he hasn't hoisted nearly enough over the last two seasons). Has grown into a fairly good playmaker over the recent years and could maybe handle spot duty at the point. Very good rebounder for a guard. Not a lockdown defender, but willing to work. Used to playing off the bench. Probably the most well-rounded of any B/C-List free agents.
NEGATIVES: Unless he's wiling to take a severe pay cut for the chance at a ring, you'll never get back the 45 seconds of your life spent reading that mini-scouting report. And, of course, bizarrely insistent on wearing the NBA's girliest headband.
On a scale of 1-10, this signing is a... 9, except I just don't think it'll happen. He's the one "pie in the sky" guy included, purely because of the outstanding fit.
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The Lakers could provide a great opportunity for Mason to bounce
POSITIVES: Just wrapped a "so-so" campaign in San Antonio, but his recent track records speaks to his credentials as a shooter. Can run the point in a pinch, which he often did before George Hill's emergence. Known as a good character guy-- managed to request a trade without becoming a pain in the neck. Time spent with the Spurs is rarely time wasted.
NEGATIVES: The Lakers would be adding another underwhelming athlete to a team lacking explosion. Not a fantastic defender.
On a scale 1-10, this signing is a... 7. Pretty much the definition of a solid role player who could help in a few ways.
POSITIVES: Decent backup point with plenty of experience as a starter. Can move the ball around. Seems like a hard worker.
NEGATIVES: Luke Ridnour isn't the NBA's most dynamic player, but Luke Ridnour still couldn't guard Luke Ridnour, if you follow me. Committing to him means eventually bringing in another point guard, or willingly settling on a substandard replacement for Derek Fisher.
On a scale of 1-10, this signing is a... 6. I've always considered Ridnour the NBA version of "adequate." I get why the Lakers would sign him and he certainly makes sense on paper, but even measured against a sea of imperfect options, he leaves me pretty underwhelmed.
POSITIVES: Versatile. Can handle the ball and take it to the cup. Ran the point off the bench for Boston before injuries eventually cost him a spot to Tony Allen. Solid defender. I'll have an organic excuse to reference the world's most fabulously self-indulgent piece of bling at least 200 times.
Win McNamee/Getty Images
Marquis Daniels believes in putting money in a sock and spending it frivolously.
NEGATIVES: Not a great shooter from anywhere on the court, much less from distance. Injured a lot.
On a scale of 1-10, this signing is a... 7.5. Daniels has admittedly never quite lived up to the promise many (including yours truly) saw earlier in his career. Still, I could see him thriving as a role player being asked to do a little bit of everything and excel at nothing in particular. Plus, that necklace!!!
POSITIVES: After seven grueling games against Boston, Laker fans know Allen is capable of making no less a player than Kobe Bryant work for his points.
NEGATIVES: After seven grueling games against Boston, Laker fans know Allen is often a train wreck on offense. As someone looking at things from the Lakers' perspective, even I stressed out whenever the guy would handle the ball or put up a shot. Injury-prone. Possibly redundant if Shannon Brown is retained.
On a scale of 1-10, this signing is a... 6. If he is teamed with players capable of taking ball handling responsibilities, I would maybe bump the number. Otherwise, I'm giving credence to the way Boston has seemed continually determined not to play him over the years.
POSITIVES: It's been a while since he played in Phil Jackson's system, but he's familiar with it (should it carry on with or without PJ). Active defender. Can get on a scoring roll. Pretty fearless.
NEGATIVES: With a career shooting percentage below 40, he's hardly a model of efficient scoring. Not much of a true point guard, but decidedly point guard-sized.
On a scale of 1-10, this signing is a... 5. The Lakers could do worse in building depth and the price will likely be right. By a season's end, I also imagine it'll be clear why Pargo is both a useful player and a journeyman.
POSITIVES: Pure shooter. Can get on serious rolls from distance. He and Sasha Vujacic on the same team will quintuple ticket sales among 13-18 year old girls, and perhaps even land a Tiger Beat sponsorship for the Lakers. It would be the next best thing to signing Justin Bieber.
NEGATIVES: Can't do much on offense except shoot.
On a scale of 1-10, this signing is a... 7. As far as pure specialists go, you could do worse than someone who forces a defense to stretch, but realize there will be games where he frustrates.
POSITIVES: Can hit the three. Has become a very willing defender, spent time in Miami as the team's designated stopper. Good rebounder for a guard. Very strong, very tough. Will take a big pay cut no matter where he plays. Hates Paul Pierce and the Celtics as much as the Lakers do. Funny dude (which is good for my job).
Q would arrive in L.A. already itching to slap a Celt.
NEGATIVES: Injury-prone. Luke Walton wouldn't trade backs with him. Needed to drop about 25 pounds to regain usefulness, and he'd be playing in a city with In-N-Out and Pink's. Can't do much off the dribble or create for others. Somewhat redundant if Shannon Brown is retained.
On a scale of 1-10, this signing is a... 6.5. I've admittedly fostered a soft spot for Q since his Clipper days, so I may be terribly overrating his usefulness. Still, he strikes me as a pretty decent haul at half the MLE or below.
POSITIVES: Can distribute the ball and find people shots. Willing to play defense.
NEGATIVES: Not a great shooter or finisher. His time in New York firmly established he's not a starting point guard on a bad team, much less a good one. Not even sure he qualified as a great backup for the Knicks.
On a scale of 1-10, this signing is a... 5. Circa 2006, I was actually of the opinion it was worth trading a then-healthy Chris Mihm to land Duhon. I've since decided trading Mihm for nothing but cap relief was a considerably better call.
Positives: There are worse options for stretching the floor. He's not always terrible discriminating in his selection, but nonetheless can't be left alone. Has championship experience. My dad is a big Eddie House fan (for real), so it would be fun for him if he latched on with the Lakers.
Khampha Bouaphanh/AP Photo
One assumes if Raja Bell is a Laker, this little incident has been buried.
Negatives: Can shoot you out of a game as easily as into one. Can barely dribble, much less run the point. Not much of a defender. Similar to Vlad Radmanovic, if his treys aren't falling, brings little to the table. Older than you may realize. There's often a reason when players of a reasonable caliber can't seem to stick anywhere.
On a scale of 1-10, this signing is a... 4. Sorry, Dad.
POSITIVES: Can shoot the three. May not be the defender he once was, but still reasonably good. Tough. Smart. Experienced. Understands what being a role player is about. Used to picking up new systems on the fly. Good quote.
NEGATIVES: Will turn 34 before the season starts and coming off an injury to boot. Can't do much beyond spotting up on offense. Bell on the roster means having to field questions daily about how he and Kobe are getting along, despite all evidence of them being fine.
On a scale of 1-10, this signing is a... 6. Assuming the guy is healthy, it could be tough to get better value for what I imagine will be the veteran's minimum. Then again, I could also see Bell as a classic case of getting what you pay for.
POSITIVES: If he's even 70 percent of his pre-injury self, he and Lamar Odom represent one helluva bench tandem. Capable (in theory) of creating his own shot and for others. Says money won't play a factor where he lands next. He wouldn't be the first player to recover better than expected from health problems.
We all thought Grant Hill was done, right?
NEGATIVES: If he's 30-40 percent of the pre-injury player, or just the continually injured version, LO remains the sole force behind an erratic bench unit. Hasn't exactly fostered a "team first" rep.
On a scale of 1-10, this signing is a... total wild card. The "stars align" upside could be better than a 10. The pessimistic take on what could very well lie ahead is the numerical equivalent of lighting a sack of money on fire. But I'd be lying if I claimed not to be intrigued at rolling some dirt cheap dice.
POSITIVES: The Lakers liked him during rookie season with flashes of promise. Great size. Familiarity with system (assuming it remains intact). If anyone on the planet should be motivated to be a model teammate and employee, it's this cat. I'll go out on a limb and predict his asking price will fall a few bucks below LeBron's. Fans seemed to enjoy the "Critter" nickname I bestowed upon him as a rook.
NEGATIVES: Made no dent with either Memphis or Washington. If he struggles as a lead guard, could be redundant if Shannon Brown is retained. Plus, that "gun in the locker room" thing.
On a scale of 1-10, this signing is a... 5. Very low risk (financially) and could very well be high reward. Based on everything he's done since departing L.A., however, there's little reason to necessarily count on the best case scenario.
Other names I could see popping up: Luther Head, Devin Brown, Rasual Butler, Earl Watson, Carlos Arroyo.
Part II (forwards and centers) will be discussed tomorrow.