If they were almost any other NBA team, the Los Angeles Lakers' 2011-2012 season would have been considered a success. In a year where they had to get acclimated to new coach Mike Brown's defense-oriented system without a true offseason, the team was still able to win 41 of 66 games and win their first round playoff series against the Denver Nuggets before succumbing to eventual Western Conference champion Oklahoma City.
However, this is the Lakers we're talking about, and every year is NBA Finals or bust. In its loss to the Thunder, what was exposed most about Los Angeles was its need for quality depth. The team has three elite players in Kobe Bryant, Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol but beyond that core the roster was low on production and athleticism.
The Western Conference has a slew of young, deep teams that are nipping at the heels of veteran teams like the Lakers for elite status. Though they will be a playoff contender as long as they have Bryant on the roster, in order for the team to truly be championship caliber again they simply must retool their bench.
With very little available cap space available and harsh luxury tax penalties kicking in soon, Los Angeles must be savvy in free agency in order to reload without breaking the bank.
Here are 10 players the Lakers could pickup this summer for cheap that could help them reclaim their past glory.
After a phenomenal rookie season that no one could have predicted, California native Landry Fields regressed in his second year in the league, but would still be a great addition to the Lakers' bench. He is a restricted free agent, but with Iman Shumpert recovering from a knee injury and the team working a new deal with J.R. Smith, it is quite possible that New York chooses to let the 24-year-old swingman walk.
Last season, Fields averaged 8.8 points, 4.2 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game, improving his facilitating but shooting the ball much less efficiently. Fields connected on just 25.6 percent of his three-point attempts and showed much less confidence in his shot.
Still, he is a talented young guard who plays extremely hard when he is on the court. A quality defender, Fields is good at keeping opponents out of the paint and using his 6'7" frame to force them into difficult shots. He can guard both the shooting guard and small forward positions well, providing some rest for Kobe Bryant.
Fields moves extremely well without the ball, constantly cutting and moving off of picks to create a high percentage shot. The ball does not stick in his hands, and if he can find his shooting touch again he would be able to capitalize on open looks created by double teams on Bryant, Bynum and Gasol.
He is a very physical guard who is willing to play inside and attack the glass. He is one of the league's better rebounding guards and that is a trait that would make the Lakers, already a difficult team to keep off the boards, even harder to beat in the paint.
His poor postseason performances will cost him some money in free agency, but if the Lakers could come to terms with Fields it would give them a great sixth man off the bench and a potential building block for the future.
One thing the Lakers would love to add is a pure scorer off the bench. They had Jason Kapono last season, but he only worked spotting up for shots and had absolutely no ability to put the ball on the floor.
Fortunately Michael Redd, former all-star 2-guard of the Milwaukee Bucks, is an unrestricted free agent and should be available for a fairly low price. In his comeback season with Phoenix last year, Redd averaged 8.2 points and 1.5 rebounds per game in just over 15 minutes.
Though he had a down shooting year, hitting just 31.8 percent of his threes, Redd is still a lethal option from distance and would help to stretch the floor and open up driving lanes. He can create his own shot and works well with the ball in his hands or moving around the court.
In addition, he can still react to a closeout and make a play off the dribble, which makes him a solid scoring option in the Lakers' rotation.
Redd appeared in 51 contests for the Suns, and though he did not play heavy minutes proved to be surprisingly durable. He would give Los Angeles a true backup shooting guard behind Kobe Bryant, which it did not have last season.
Still proving that he can play in the league coming off of knee problems, Redd will not be commanding significant money and would be a nice veteran addition to the Lakers' bench.
One of several young, unproven talents to get burn for Charlotte last year, Derrick Brown quietly had a solid third season in the league, averaging 8.1 points and 3.7 rebounds per game while shooting 51.8 percent from the field. Brown is a gifted offensive player and a tremendous athlete, something that the Lakers desperately need.
The 24-year-old Brown has a tremendous motor and is a great leaper. His athletic ability allows him to sky for rebounds and score around the basket. He is decent off the dribble and would provide L.A. with someone who can finish at the rim.
Brown runs the floor extremely hard and would provide Los Angeles with a transition scoring force. The team needs athletes that can keep up with the young guns out west, and though Brown is not an elite player he is capable of playing well at a very fast tempo.
He is not a great three-point shooter, but has decent range on his jump shot and is able to lure opposing forwards out to the perimeter. Should the team not be able to move Metta World Peace, Brown could provide some nice reserve minutes behind the veteran defender and be a change-of-pace player off the bench.
Los Angeles could use any youth they can get, and adding a low-profile player like Brown who can produce on the court and takes advantage of his opportunities would be a step in the right direction.
Admittedly Boris Diaw doesn't fit with the "youth and athleticism" theme I've been harping on in this article, but he would still be a very nice addition for the Lakers and should come at a fairly low price after being bought out last season.
Diaw averaged 6.4 points, 4.9 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game last season, solid numbers considering he started the season woefully out of shape and was extremely disgruntled in Charlotte before ending up as a contributor in San Antonio's playoff run.
Despite their reputation as a team filled with dominant big men, the Lakers needs to add some depth behind Bynum and Gasol. Though he is a little undersized, Diaw can line up effectively at both power forward and center.
He is not a banger by any means, but Diaw is an extremely skilled player who is reminiscent in some ways of Pau Gasol himself. He is one of the league's elite passers out of the post, he has excellent court vision and is great at finding cutters and open shots. He is also able to spread the floor with his jump shooting. Diaw connected on 31.3 percent of his threes in the regular season and 50 percent in the playoffs.
With his ability to draw opposing big men away from the basket he can help to open up the court for players like Bryant and Bynum. Boris Diaw may not be a long-term answer but he would be a great piece for the Lakers to add to their frontcourt rotation.
With outside shooting being a major concern for Los Angeles this offseason, it has to look no further than the Staples Center to find a sharpshooting guard that could be an immediate impact player. Randy Foye is coming off of two solid seasons with the Clippers and would be a great addition to the Lakers' roster.
Starting the majority of last season after Chauncey Billups' injury, Foye averaged 11 points, 2.1 rebounds and 2.2 assists for the Clips while shooting 38.6 percent from three-point range. He is an excellent spot-up and catch-and-release option, but is also capable of putting the ball on the floor.
He uses his perimeter shooting as a way to open up the floor, but is also quick enough to drive by his opponents and attack the basket. He is not the most physical guard out there, but he is willing to take contact around the rim.
Foye would be L.A.'s first guard off the bench and would be a great player to not only backup Bryant but spend time alongside him. Foye could play the 2-guard with Kobe at small forward in a more mobile lineup, but his handle and passing ability mean that Foye could even spend some time initiating the team's offense in a point guard role.
There will likely be many teams interested in adding a knockdown shooter and the Lakers may have to outbid a few teams, but it would be worth it to add a player of Foye's caliber off the bench.
It may be hard for Grant Hill to see himself on the Lakers after battling the team so many times in the playoffs, but he would make an excellent piece for Los Angeles to bring aboard. At age 38 he is one of the league's oldest players, but is a superbly conditioned athlete who still has something left in the tank to contribute.
Last season, Hill averaged 10.2 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game in 28.1 minutes of playing time. He was consistently asked to guard the opposing team's best perimeter player and nearly helped Phoenix to an improbable playoff berth.
Because of his age and mileage Hill will likely be looking to either remain in Phoenix or to go to a title contender, meaning the Lakers will have to outbid teams like Miami or Oklahoma City that would love to add the veteran swingman.
However, the team should seriously consider Grant Hill because of his ability to impact the game at both ends of the court. Though he had a very down shooting year last season, he is normally a reliable perimeter option and could help to space the floor for Los Angeles. He is great at coming off of picks to free himself up for open looks but can also beat his man off the dribble.
Defensively he would be able to give Kobe Bryant a break from guarding the other team's best player in order to preserve his legs. Though injuries have robbed him of his elite quickness, he can still move well on the court, is extremely disciplined and makes his man work for every point.
For a salary cap conscious team like the Lakers, signing a player like Grant Hill for a year or two would be a great move to add a contributor for the present and preserve money for the future.
No player benefited more from the hole at point guard created by Derrick Rose's myriad of injuries than John Lucas III. Having bounced around for the first few seasons of his professional career, Lucas finally got an opportunity with Chicago, playing in 49 games and being a valuable reserve guard.
Lucas averaged 7.5 points, 1.6 rebounds and 2.2 assists while shooting 39.3 percent from three-point range last year, making his presence felt in just 14.8 minutes per game. He is a score first point guard who can pull-up, drive to the basket or spot up at the three-point line.
The 29-year-old Lucas proved this season that he deserves to be in an NBA team's rotation, and the point guard hungry Lakers would be a great fit for him. He may not be a starting caliber player, but he could be a very solid backup behind Ramon Sessions if they re-sign him.
At just 5'11" Lucas is quite undersized, but he is a scrappy player who does what it takes for his team to win. He can push the ball in transition and though he is a willing shooter is primarily focused on making his team better and is a gifted passer.
He does not have much upside, but if he can replicate the production he gave Chicago last season John Lucas III would be a great signing for the Los Angeles Lakers.
A restricted free agent this season, there is just no way Minnesota will retain Michael Beasley after the talented but frustrating forward spent the brunt of the season in coach Rick Adelman's doghouse. With Beasley likely testing the free agency waters, Los Angeles would be wise to try and bring him in, even if it means moving some pieces around.
Last season, Beasley averaged 11.5 points and 4.4 rebounds while coming off the bench for all but seven of the games he played in. Still, he was able to make an impact on the court thanks to his shooting and athleticism. Beasley connected on 37.6 percent of his three-point attempts and that is the kind of quality perimeter shooting that the Lakers need to bring aboard.
With Metta World Peace's production declining, the team needs to think about the future of the small forward position, and Beasley, who is only 23, could potentially be a long term piece if he succeeds. He would be excellent as a sixth man, providing L.A.'s bench with some much needed offense and creating mismatch problems.
His personal and legal problems are well documented, and there's no question that Beasley needs a fresh start in the league. Having the opportunity to play on a veteran team that is looking to contend for a championship should do him some good, as opposed to playing on a lottery team in Minnesota.
He is far from a great defender, but he has long arms and deceptive quickness, meaning that Mike Brown should be able to improve his play on that end of the court.
Beasley obviously has to improve his attitude and team play, but he has plenty of talent and would be a great addition to the Lakers' bench.
Yet another perimeter marksman who could provide the Lakers with instant offense off the bench, Jodie Meeks was a valuable part of Philadelphia's young core of players before completely falling out of the rotation during the postseason. Now, Meeks will likely look to sign elsewhere and Los Angeles would be wise to throw an offer his way.
Meeks averaged 8.4 points and 2.5 rebounds last season while shooting 36.5 percent from three-point range. He is an excellent catch-and-release guard and knows how to get to his spots on the floor. He can also use picks to get open and does not need the ball in his hands to be effective. Meeks would thrive off the attention defenses pay to Bryant on a drive or Bynum in the post.
He is a solid athlete and would give the Lakers a pair of young legs that can play at a faster pace and try to create easier scoring opportunities in transition. He is decent off the dribble, but is primarily a jump shooting guard.
Not a great defender, Meeks would primarily be a single-focus role player. He would be asked to space the floor and put up as many quality shots as he could get off. He does not make many mistakes on the basketball court and is also an excellent foul shooter, giving the Lakers a player to insert late in games.
Adding Jodie Meeks would give the team a young 2-guard to spell Kobe Bryant as well as a deadly shooter who must be guarded anywhere on the court.
Not exactly a hot commodity on the open market coming off a season-ending achilles injury, a healthy Chauncey Billups is still an excellent floor general who can contribute at a very high level. The Lakers could use any available upgrade at the point guard position, and adding Billups would make perfect sense for the team.
Last season, primarily playing out of position at shooting guard, Billups averaged 14.9 points, 2.5 rebounds and four assists while shooting 38.4 percent from distance. He provided the fledgling Clippers with some much needed veteran leadership and had the team looking like a potential title contender before his injury.
Billups is 35 years old and has never been a great athlete, but he is an extremely savvy player who has a superb basketball IQ. He has incredible court vision and always knows what play to make, understanding how to maximize the talent that he is playing with.
In a sixth man role, Billups would thrive picking apart second unit defenses with his lethal shooting and passing abilities. Most importantly, he would provide L.A. with another clutch shooter that is not afraid of the moment.
Too often opposing defenses realize that the final play of a crucial game is being run for Kobe Bryant and they are able to key in on him, but Billups has plenty of big shots on his resume and would give the team another closer.
The team wants to retool and contend around its current core, and adding a proven veteran like Chauncey Billups would give the Lakers more playoff experience and one of the league's best ball handlers.