The Los Angeles Lakers are badly in need of an offseason overhaul after severely underachieving last season.
Their salary-cap situation doesn’t help them any in that regard. The Lakers are already over the cap and bordering on familiar luxury-tax territory for next season.
And that’s before you get to Metta World Peace picking up his $7.3 million option (guaranteed) or L.A. retaining any of their impending free agents (including Dwight Howard and the expected $20 million-plus salary he will command).
So in reality, the Lakers are staring down the barrel at another nine-figure payroll or thereabouts, meaning they are profoundly restricted when it comes to adding talent via free agency.
In fact, there are only two ways that L.A. can ink players to new contracts. One is by offering them the veteran’s minimum as they did last year with Antawn Jamison. The other is to use their mid-level exception.
Or, should I say, what’s left of it.
Tax-paying teams don’t have access to the full NBA mid-level exception as it is. The most they can offer a player is a deal lasting up to three years with a maximum starting salary of just over $3 million per year.
In L.A.’s case, they used up about half of their mini mid-level last season when they signed Jodie Meeks to a two-year deal that paid him $1.5 million in 2012-13.
Thus, the most lucrative contract they can offer any free agent is up to three years starting at about $1.6 million.
Here are three intriguing players they can target with that salary slot.
Remember Ronnie Brewer?
Just a few short years ago, he was a highly productive starting wing with the Utah Jazz going toe to toe with Kobe Bryant in the playoffs. He hasn’t done anything as noteworthy lately, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing as it’s bound to keep his price tag down.
The Lakers are in need of athletic wings who can defend on the perimeter. That’s exactly what Brewer specializes in. He’s long and mobile, with a real knack for getting his hands on the ball and coming away with steals. He also rebounds very well for his position.
Brewer can relieve Metta World Peace as the guy who checks the other team’s top perimeter threat, and his size gives him the versatility to play either the two or the three.
Over the past couple seasons, Brewer has been mistakenly used as a floor spacer on offense – a terrible idea given that he’s one of the worst shooting wings around. As long as he isn’t forced to do what he can’t, he has the ability to be a useful offensive player.
Brewer is an intuitive cutter who can exploit space for easy baskets. In Utah, he was an elite finisher around the basket, converting at least 65 percent of his attempts at the rim in each of his four seasons with the Jazz, per Hoopdata.
He’s also a surprisingly adept ball-handler and passer who rarely coughs it up. And he just turned 28.
Considering that he made just under $1.1 million last season and did nothing to earn a raise, Brewer is one of the rare guys in his prime who can actually help the Lakers tremendously and whose contract they can take on.
Elton Brand fits the classic “veteran in search of a ring” archetype, similar to Jamison last season.
At age 34, Brand remains a productive player for 20-25 minutes a night who can even be a competent starter in a pinch.
He would fit nicely on the Lakers as a third big man who can mesh with either Dwight Howard or Pau Gasol offensively, as his game revolves mostly around pick-and-pops and face-up jumpers.
Brand is still a plus defender as well. The Lakers’ defense falls off a cliff when Howard leaves the floor. They allowed six points per 100 possessions more with Dwight on the bench, according to NBA.com. If it’s Brand coming in to replace him, L.A. can stay afloat on that end of the court.
The former Duke Blue Devil averaged 10 rebounds and two blocks per 36 minutes, posted the second-highest defensive rebound rate of his career and managed to beat his career average in defensive rating despite the shoddy defense the Dallas Mavericks played around him.
After he was amnestied by the Philadelphia 76ers last offseason, Dallas was the highest bidder for Brand’s services at $2.1 million. At this point in his career, he’s likely not looking at a raise and the Lakers can offer him 80 percent of that money plus the possibility of playoff basketball.
Chase Budinger is coming off a year in which he was plagued by injury, hindering the progress he had made in his young career.
The Southern California native would be an ideal fit on the wing for the Lakers. He’s a proficient long-range shooter who can also finish well around the rim. And he’ll be flying under the radar after the forgettable, injury-stricken campaign he spent out of the limelight in Minnesota.
If he can round out his offensive game by attacking the basket with greater frequency and earning more trips to the foul line, Budinger has the potential to be an efficiency maven on offense; the perfect counterweight to Bryant on that side of the ball.
Defensively, Budinger has always been solid if unspectacular. He rebounds 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.
Given that he played for the veteran's minimum last year, the Lakers don't have to risk much on his potential to reap a hefty reward if he lives up to it.