After adding No. 2 pick Brandon Ingram, what trades and free-agent signings can help L.A. the most this offseason?

Our NBA Insiders debate the future of the Lakers.

Why Kevin Durant refusing to meet with the Lakers is a good thing for the organization: How can the Lakers make it up to Kevin Durant? A few uncontested 3-point attempts the next time his team – whichever one that is – comes to town? Dinner out at one of L.A.’s five-star restaurants? A date with a Kardashian? Believe it or not, Durant just might have done the Lakers a favor by reportedly leaving them off the list of six teams he will meet with when NBA free agents can begin negotiating late Thursday night. Wait, what? -- The Orange County Register

How will the Lakers fare in NBA free agency?: The length of the Lakers’ shopping list seems extensive. Fortunately for the Lakers, they have plenty of money for a spending spree. Once free agency begins at 9:01 p.m. PT Thursday, however, the Lakers could soon realize $60 million in purchasing power will not ensure maximum leverage. -- Los Angeles Daily News

Here's who the Lakers might be looking to pick up (Hint: Kevin Durant is not on the list): There are quite a few holes to fill on the Lakers’ roster. They currently have no centers and only one small forward with legitimate NBA experience — the embattled Nick Young. Lucky for them, they get to go shopping. And they have a lot of money at their disposal when free agency begins Thursday at 9:01 p.m. PDT. -- Los Angeles Times

Lakers prepared for another summer of rejection

June, 29, 2016
Jun 29
10:24
PM PT
Holmes By Baxter Holmes
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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Maybe this summer will be different. Maybe this is the one that breaks the spell of the past three and sends superstar free agents stampeding back to Los Angeles for more than just an offseason vacation in Rhode Island-sized Brentwood mansions. Maybe now, finally, NBA A-listers will sign with the Los Angeles Lakers, revitalize the league's glamour franchise and carry it to a slew of champagne-soaked Junes.

Or, as Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said recently, "It might not be different." With those five words, Kupchak doused expectations of Lakers fans, preparing them instead for a fourth straight summer of rejection, another offseason of nope.

Sure enough, the latest free agency bonanza, which kicks off at 12:01 a.m. ET Friday, figures to unfold much like the trio that preceded it: with the Lakers striking out on all their top targets, the biggest fish whom the Lakers once always seemed able to reel in.

But that was before the team hit the darkest stretch in its otherwise rich history, missing the playoffs for three straight seasons (a franchise-long drought); and posting a franchise-record for losses in three straight campaigns (winning only 17 games in 2015-16). Along the way, they were turned down by LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and DeAndre Jordan, and All-Star big men Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard each walked away in free agency to accept less money from other teams.

As if the script hasn't been flipped enough, one year after losing Greg Monroe and LaMarcus Aldridge to small markets (Milwaukee and San Antonio, respectively), the Lakers couldn't even get an audience with Kevin Durant, sources told ESPN's Chris Broussard. Meanwhile, Durant has secured sit-downs with other teams, including two of the Lakers' rivals: the Clippers and Boston Celtics.

With a projected $60 million to spend thanks to the skyrocketing salary cap, the Lakers can afford two max-level players (compared to only one last summer) and still have several impact players in their sights, including Hassan Whiteside, Al Horford, Nicolas Batum, Harrison Barnes and Ryan Anderson, sources tell Broussard.

Even then, none of those players would instantly lift the rebuilding Lakers from the Western Conference cellar. Overall, positives are hard to find, but there is one element of free agency that, at the very least, will be different for the Lakers this season –- their pitch.

"We can focus a little bit more on the basketball side of it, because we have more to sell," Kupchak said.

Mitch KupchakAndrew D. Bernstein/Getty ImagesLakers GM Mitch Kupchak has had to endure several summers of free agency rejection, and despite plenty of cap space, Kupchak is prepared for another disappointing free agency season. But it won't be for lack of trying.

In recent free agent sit-downs, the Lakers, knowing full well that their on-court product was putrid, relied on their television partners and AEG to help produce video presentations that pushed their Hollywood connections, postcard-perfect climate and glorious yesteryear. When the subject turned to basketball, crickets chirped.

"We just didn't have that much to sell," Kupchak said.

To drive home that point, Kupchak relayed how, generally speaking, the dialogue flowed last summer.

"Well, you're going to get to play with Kobe [Bryant]," Kupchak said he would tell a prospective free agent, mentioning the ball-dominant icon, who was headed into his 20th and final NBA season.

"But Kobe has been injured," Kupchak said the free agent would respond, noting Bryant's three consecutive season-ending injuries. "Is he going to be healthy, Mitch?"

"Well, I don't know that."

"And then who else am I going to play with?"

"Well, you're going to love playing with Julius Randle," Kupchak would say, referencing the bruising power forward, who was the seventh overall pick in the 2014 NBA draft.

"But he only played one game," the free agent would respond, a nod to the broken leg that ended Randle's rookie season in the Lakers' opener.

"And then you're going to love playing with the No. 2 pick, who hasn't played at all," Kupchak would say, naming rookie point guard D'Angelo Russell.

In short, it's not hard to see why Aldridge complained that his Lakers meeting focused too much on branding and marketing and not enough on his actual day job. And it's hard not to see why the Lakers have struck out year after year after year.

But, all things considered, the Lakers believe their position has improved entering this summer, thanks to their deeper pockets and promising young core of Russell, Randle, Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr. and, now, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2016 draft, Duke freshman standout Brandon Ingram.

Beyond that, Bryant's absence allows for a superstar to take the reins of the franchise, a selling point that the Lakers believe is plenty appealing.

The particulars of their new pitch will, Kupchak said, "depend on the free agent." In terms of who will deliver it, Kupchak indicated that he, Lakers' executive vice president of basketball operations Jim Buss and rookie head coach Luke Walton will lead the meetings.

Kupchak added that depending on how free agency unfolds, "There may be meetings, there may not be meetings. Things may be done quickly, they may take a week or two. There may not be face-to-face meetings, there may be a couple."

So there are unknowns. The Lakers' aforementioned core is composed of players 24 years old or younger. The 36-year-old Walton, an ex-Golden State Warriors assistant, is the NBA's youngest coach. And the Lakers' front office could undergo a massive shake-up a year from now if Buss follows through on his public proclamation that he'll step down if the Lakers don't make a deep run in the 2017 playoffs. (There are rumblings that if Buss leaves, Kupchak could be out the door as well.)

While uncertainty looms, the Lakers for now can only focus on tangible progress, even if taking baby steps only amounts to a minimal win increase following the worst record in franchise history. At the moment, the most important goal for a roster built around so much youth is to add veterans.

"History tells you that a bunch of young guys on the team is probably not a good thing," Kupchak said. "They look around for leadership or they look around for advice from somebody who's been through this a couple times and if there's nobody to talk to, well, you don't know how to handle the situation.

"So I think we will look to add some veteran leadership, and hopefully it's not only leadership but guys who can help us win games. It's unlikely that would come about via trade, although it's possible, but it's more likely that would come about through free agency."

The Lakers and their fans will hold out hope that a franchise-altering player will return the team to relevance, but, at the moment, the more realistic formula for success is developing its fledgling talent, though Kupchak stresses that those players are under no timeline.

"I don't think there's a plan in terms of, if it doesn't work a year from now, we're going to break it up," Kupchak said. "Or if we don't win 36 games or 42 games or 48 games [next season], it's over. That's not the plan at all.

"I think what we'd like to do is put together a group of players that are growing, that are fun to watch and they improve as the season goes along -- clearly, with the intent to keep the interest of our supporters, our fans, our partners, our season-seat holders. You do have to win games.

"That doesn't mean we have to win 40, or 45, or 50. It may not even mean you make the playoffs. I don't know what it's going to take to make the playoffs next year. Maybe you've got to win 48 games to get in in the West. And maybe we win 47. Or maybe we win 37. I don't know.

"But as long as the team is fun to watch, our fans and our partners can see a team that's growing and getting better as the season goes along, I think that's the barometer that's best for us."

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Welcome to one of the great accidents in sports history -- a one-time mega-leap in the salary cap that will unleash an orgy of confused spending. This is Year 2 of a three-year earthquake during which the NBA's salary cap will nearly double from $63 million to around $110 million, with almost half of that bump coming in this single outlier free-agency period.

Teams still aren't quite sure what will happen or how they might exploit the chaos. A year ago, with most of the jump still looming, they could at least be sure almost every long-term contract would soon look like a bargain. That might no longer be the case; the league projects a smaller increase next summer (from $94 million to $107 million, though most expect it to go higher) before the cap flattens in 2018 and beyond -- pending a potential lockout in 2017, that could upend parts of the collective bargaining agreement..

A bad long-term deal signed this summer could still look bad two years from now. Teams have to be more choosy even as conditions require they spend boatloads to reach the minimum payroll of $85 million.

The boom will have some predictable consequences, but the tremors will shake the NBA landscape in ways we can't anticipate. Here are five things to watch as we enter the free-agency Thunderdome.

1. Timing, and the Marvin Williams/Dwight Howard conundrum

In the past three years, the Pistons and Blazers have beaten the market with aggressive deals for Jodie Meeks and Al-Farouq Aminu right after the midnight opening bells. Given the glut of cap space, team executives expect more insta-deals for second- and third-tier free agents.


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Ramona Shelburne says that out of respect to the organization, Kevin Durant needs to take a meeting with the Lakers. Amin Elhassan breaks down Durant's supposed itinerary for when he does meet with the team.
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Amin Elhassan reacts to Chris Broussard's report that Kevin Durant has no desire to meet with the Lakers.
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Angels slugger Albert Pujols shares why he is inspired by the recently retired Kobe Bryant.
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Take a look at stare kid and his repertoire of expressions as he reacts to various blunders happening around the sports world.
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Kevin Durant will meet Thursday with the Oklahoma City Thunder before flying to New York to meet with the other five teams on his free-agent short list over the weekend at an undisclosed location in The Hamptons, according to league sources.

NBA rules preclude any team -- even the incumbent Thunder -- from discussing contract specifics with Durant or any free agent before 12:01 a.m. ET Friday. ‎Thursday's discussions with the Thunder, however, are more likely to be focused on team direction and broader topics to meet league guidelines.

Durant, who was in Los Angeles filming a TV commercial, was expected to fly to Oklahoma City with agent Rich Kleiman on Wednesday night, sources said.

Durant's first meeting Friday morning in The Hamptons on Long Island will be with the Golden State Warriors before meeting with the LA Clippers later in the day. On Saturday, he will meet with the San Antonio Spurs and later the Boston Celtics.

He will conclude his weekend meetings Sunday with the Miami Heat.

Durant, 27, has spent his entire nine-year career with the Thunder franchise. He averaged 28.2 points per game last season and led the Thunder to within one victory of the NBA Finals.

Free agents can't sign a new contract until July 7.

The New York Knicks


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For years, the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics battled each other for NBA championships.

Now, the two teams are again competing against each other, this time for a building block that both teams think could help return their teams to their former glory.

Al Horford's Atlanta Hawks beat the Boston Celtics in the NBA playoffs this year, but the organization hasn't held that against the center from the Dominican Republic. If anything, his play in that series against Celtic stars like Isaiah Thomas may have convinced the Celtics of Horford's worth. They are in hot pursuit of the free agent.

For their part, the Lakers boast a collection of young players like Brandon Ingram and D'Angelo Russell who could benefit from Horford's leadership. That's part of why the team is interested. Horford, 30, averaged over 15 points and 7 rebounds last season and he's a four-time NBA All-Star.

Whether Horford eventually decides to stay in Atlanta or sign elsewhere, his new contract will likely be the highest ever paid to a Latino player in NBA history. Free agents can begin talks with other teams on July 1.

Click here to keep up with all the NBA action with ESPN.

In search of the next DeMarre Carroll

June, 29, 2016
Jun 29
3:18
PM PT

Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

It's time for our annual search for what some team executives used to call the "next DeMarre Carroll" -- guys with NBA track record so limited,smart teams might be able to swipe them on the cheap.

Our list last year included Bismack Biyombo, Mirza Teletovic, Ed Davis, Cory Joseph, Will Barton, Derrick Williams, Jonas Jerebko and some other success stories, plus some semi-busts such as Kyle O'Quinn.

The unprecedented $20 million-plus leap in the salary cap ahead of next season makes the scavenger hunt tougher. There are not enough quality free agents to soak up the money; some teams will splurge on a no-names just to hit the minimum salary floor, or punt the floor altogether. Tested veterans such as D.J. Augustin will not be sitting there waiting for minimum contracts.

Guys entering free agency today with resumes equivalent to what Biyombo, Davis and Teletovic carried a year ago are going to get paid a ton. There is no point in putting Kent Bazemore, Allen Crabbe, Ian Mahinmi or Jerebko (if Boston lets him walk) on this list; those guys are going to bank $10 million per season or, in at least Bazemore's case, much more.

You have to dig deeper to find a real bargain, which means your chances of hitting go down. These are worse players, and some of them will bank crazy one- and two-year deals from teams desperate to unload cash on any leftover free agent with potential.


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Hassan Whiteside presents free agency's most interesting dilemma. Does it make sense to commit max money to a player who was out of the NBA 20 months ago?


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Kevin DurantLayne Murdoch/NBA/Getty ImagesPart of the Lakers' pitch to Kevin Durant will be the ability to team with another top-tier free agent, a source said.

Despite not being on the list of teams scheduled to meet with free-agent forward Kevin Durant, the Los Angeles Lakers have not abandoned their hopes of landing him, according to a person with knowledge of the club's thinking.

The Lakers intend to contact Durant and his representatives July 1 and are confident they will get a meeting, the source said.

"I can't imagine Durant wouldn't talk to us," the source said. "That would shock me."

According to ESPN sources and media reports, Durant is scheduled to meet with the Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder, Miami Heat, Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Clippers, beginning July 1, the first day free agents are allowed to talk with teams other than their own.

The Vertical reported Tuesday night that those meetings will take place Friday and Saturday in the Hamptons on Long Island.


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Kobe Bryant meditates on retirement in Taiwan

June, 28, 2016
Jun 28
2:39
PM PT
By One Nacin
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive

Mindful of oneself. Finding one's center ... and we're not talking Shaquille O'Neal.

That's what Kobe Bryant was doing on his recent trip to Taiwan.

Bryant was in Taiwan recently, and the NBA's Taiwan edition of their website revealed Bryant took time out to participate in a meditation retreat.

Of course, the former Los Angeles Lakers star isn't just spending time in meditation. He's running basketball camps in China with athletic hopefuls as well. Bryant's popularity around the world is due to his embracing of multiple cultures. He is married to a Mexican-American, Vanessa, and speaks Italian and Spanish.

Bryant is considered the most famous NBA player in China (as documented in ESPN's World Fame 100). He also found time to spend with other famous people in China, namely action star Jackie Chan.

Thank you Jackie for a great dinner in Beijing!

A photo posted by Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) on

Fame has its pressures, but there are also pleasures, as well.

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Kobe Bryant
PTS AST STL MIN
17.6 2.8 0.9 28.2
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsJ. Randle 10.2
AssistsM. Huertas 3.4
StealsD. Russell 1.2
BlocksR. Hibbert 1.4