Lakers lose out on LaMarcus Aldridge: Who should they go after now?
By Eric Pincus
Jul 04, 2015 | 4:43 PM
NBA free agency began in Los Angeles at 9:01 p.m. on Tuesday. The Lakers have agreed to terms with exactly zero free agents.
The team met twice with forward LaMarcus Aldridge, who announced on Saturday that he'll join the San Antonio Spurs.
Marc Gasol doesn't have an agreement yet with the Memphis Grizzlies, but it's reportedly just a matter of time.
DeAndre Jordan will play for the Dallas Mavericks, Greg Monroe the Milwaukee Bucks, Brook Lopez the Brooklyn Nets, Robin Lopez the New York Knicks, Tyson Chandler the Suns, Amir Johnson the Boston Celtics, Tobias Harris the Orlando Magic, Brandan Wright the Memphis Grizzlies, Paul Millsap the Atlanta Hawks, Kevin Love the Cleveland Cavaliers, Draymond Green the Golden State Warriors, Bismack Biyombo the Toronto Raptors and Omer Asik the New Orleans Pelicans.
The Lakers chose not to acquire a big man in the draft, bypassing Duke center Jahlil Okafor in favor of guard D'Angelo Russell. And with Russell joining Kobe Bryant and Jordan Clarkson in the backcourt, the team didn't have a pressing need to chase players like Rajon Rondo (to Sacramento Kings), Dwyane Wade and Goran Dragic (Miami Heat), or Monta Ellis (to Indiana Pacers).
The Lakers' return centers Robert Sacre and Tarik Black are both young players on minimum contracts who still need to prove themselves. The team also has forwards Julius Randle, Ryan Kelly and rookie Larry Nance Jr.
After last season's 21-61 debacle, the franchise has improved in the draft, but so far free agency has been a washout. To make matters worse, unless the Lakers finish with a top-three pick in the 2016 NBA draft, they'll owe their selection to the Philadelphia 76ers to conclude the ill-fated Steve Nash trade.
The Lakers have up to $22 million in cap room but so far no one to spend it on.
The team can look to bring back its own free agents, like Jordan Hill and/or Carlos Boozer. Ed Davis has already agreed to move on to the Portland Trail Blazers.
Perhaps the best free agent left is Grizzlies reserve Kosta Koufos, a 26-year-old 7-footer who averaged 5.2 points and 5.3 rebounds in 16.6 minutes a game last season.
Free agent Larry Sanders, who accepted a buyout from the Milwaukee Bucks last season to deal with anxiety and depression, recently announced he'd be playing locally over the summer with the Drew League.
If Sanders has worked through his personal issues, the 26-year-old, 6-foot-11 center has been one of the better defenders at his position in the NBA over recent years.
JaVale McGee is also looking to return to the league after getting traded to (and then waived by) the Philadelphia 76ers last season. McGee has tremendous size but a questionable work ethic.
McGee, Sanders and Koufos are likely on the Clippers' radar as well, after the team lost out on Jordan.
The Lakers will also audition undrafted center Robert Upshaw on its summer-league squad in Las Vegas. Upshaw has impact size and talent defensively but was kicked off of two NCAA teams (Washington and Fresno State) for violating team rules.
A solution to the Lakers' problem could be Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert, who is available in trade.
The Clippers hold out a small hope that the Mavericks will participate in a sign-and-trade agreement with Jordan in a multi-team trade with the Pacers to land Hibbert -- but why exactly would Dallas want to help the Clippers fill a massive hole at the five?
Hibbert is currently salaried at $15.5 million but would receive a 15% bonus if traded, pushing his salary up to $17.8 million. The Pacers would be on the hook for the additional $2.3 million, but the acquiring team would need to account for the larger salary number in trade.
The Lakers have enough cap space to absorb the 7-foot-2 center who has fallen out of favor with the Pacers but is a former All-Star and a capable rim protector.
The Golden State Warriors are also said to be looking for a new home for forward/center David Lee and his $15.5 million salary.
The Milwaukee Bucks are believed to have Miles Plumlee and his $2.1-million salary available in trade as well. The Washington Wizards may look to move forward/center Nene and his $13-million salary.
The Oklahoma City Thunder are still negotiating with restricted free agent Enes Kanter, a potent scorer but poor defender.
The likelihood of the Lakers acquiring Sacramento Kings forward/center DeMarcus Cousins appears quite slim.
The summer may be salvageable for the Lakers, but the start has been dismal and the path ahead unclear.
Perhaps General Manager Mitch Kupchak can find an unexpected valuable player in trade.
More than anything, the team needs to prove adept at talent evaluation. It desperately needs its kids -- like Russell, Randle and Clarkson, along with Jabari Brown, Anthony Brown (taken 34th in the draft), Nance and Black -- to quickly develop into impact players.