Highlighting LA Lakers' Top Free Agent Target at Every Position
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With no picks in the upcoming draft, free agency will be the Los Angeles Lakers’ only means (barring a trade) of re-tooling the roster on the heels of perhaps the most disappointing season in franchise history.
But even then there’s a catch.
See, the Lakers are shoulder-deep into luxury tax territory and have zero financial flexibility beyond retaining their own free agents.
Regardless of whether the organization has money to throw at big-name free agents or not, the NBA’s laws won’t allow them to. All the team can do is woo players with the lure of a big market, warm weather and championship aspirations, and hope that they sign for the veteran’s minimum.
Factoring in cost and team need, here are the Lakers’ top free-agent targets at each position.
Point Guard: Nate Robinson
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The point guard role is solidified with Steve Nash and a resurgent Steve Blake both under contract for next season.
But the Lakers may still want to target a non-traditional point guard, one that can score in bunches off the bench and do a decent job of creating for his teammates.
Nate Robinson fits that mold perfectly. He may be the league’s ultimate irrational confidence guy. Even if he was on the court with Kobe Bryant, he wouldn’t hesitate to take the game’s final shot.
Robinson has played a massive role for the banged-up Chicago Bulls this season, single-handedly winning them games, even in the playoffs.
He shot a career-best percentage from beyond the arc this year. If that is more than just a fluke, his value goes up even more.
Coaches around the league could be wary of taking on Robinson due to his willful play, which could keep his contract at the minimum he made this season.
He could be just what the Lakers need though, a guy capable of shouldering the scoring load while Bryant is out to begin next season.
Shooting Guard: Martell Webster
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After a lackluster career to date, Martell Webster enjoyed a breakout 2013 campaign. He's demolished his career bests in nearly every major category.
Most relevant to the Lakers was his 42 percent accuracy from three-point range, a figure which ranked 12th in the NBA. Webster was also third at his position in true shooting percentage, and his offensive rating was off the charts—impressive when you consider he played for the league’s least efficient offense.
He's got great size for a wing and puts forth commendable effort on the defensive end, though he lacks mobility (think Joe Johnson). Webster is affordable too, having made just $1.6 million last season.
The question is: Will other teams open their wallets for Webster after witnessing his career year?
Small Forward: Chase Budinger
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Chase Budinger is coming off an injury-marred year for the Minnesota Timberwolves that held him back from improving on a promising 2012 season.
The former Arizona Wildcat can shoot the three and also finish around the basket, but just finished up the worst offensive season of his career thanks to his health issues. That means Budinger will be flying under the radar this offseason and may be had for a minimum contract.
Defensively, Budinger has always been solid if unspectacular. He rebounds the ball very well for his position and is athletic and mobile enough to hang with most wing players in the NBA.
Overall, he projects as a competent backup small forward for the Lakers who can take over the starting role from World Peace in a year's time with sufficient growth.
Budinger definitely has upside, but he comes with question marks as well.
Still, the Lakers don't have to risk much on his potential to reap a hefty reward if he lives up to it.
Power Forward: Elton Brand
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The Lakers need to pursue the classic “veteran who will sacrifice dollars for rings” archetype given their cap situation. Elton Brand fits neatly into that category.
Brand turned 34 during this past season, but remained a productive player for the Dallas Mavericks.
He would be a nice frontcourt complement next to either Dwight Howard or Pau Gasol, as his game revolves around face-ups and pick-and-pop jumpers. Brand shot a respectable 43 percent on his long two-pointers (16-to-23 feet) in 2013.
Brand continues to be a valuable defensive player as well. He averaged 10 rebounds and two blocks per 36 minutes last season and his defensive rating bested his career average despite the shoddy defense the Mavericks played around him.
As a third or fourth big man who can play 15-to-20 effective minutes, the Lakers could do a lot worse than Brand.
Center: Dwight Howard
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Forgive the obvious selection here, but there’s no getting around it—re-signing Dwight Howard has to be the Lakers’ top priority this summer.
Howard is the bridge to the future in L.A., a bona fide superstar who can carry a team to 50-plus wins on his own when he’s healthy.
At full strength, he remains the biggest defensive force in the league and was the only player in the league in 2013 to average at least 17 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks per game.
There are many imperfections to Howard’s game. His post offense is lacking and he shoots free throws worse than Steve Nash would with his eyes closed (That’s pure speculation, but would you doubt it?).
Yet when he’s engaged, his size and athleticism allow him to consistently get easy baskets. It’s no fluke that he was a 20-point scorer in four of his last five seasons in Orlando.
And he’s the sole reason the Lakers didn’t have the worst defense in the league. At 27 years old he’s just hitting his prime and being another year further removed from back surgery means he’s that much closer to returning to the form that had many pundits lauding him as the second-best basketball player in the world just two years ago.