Where do the Los Angeles Lakers turn now that Dwight Howard has left town?
Free agency has been a disappointment thus far for the Los Angeles Lakers.
As you may have heard, Earl Clark bolted big-market L.A. for the greener pastures of the small-market Cleveland Cavaliers. Are you happy now, Dan Gilbert?
The most disappointing aspect of Howard’s departure is that it doesn’t even provide the Lakers with enough cap relief to go after impact free agents.
Even without Howard’s $20 million-plus on the books, L.A. is over the cap. As a matter of fact, they remain deep into luxury-tax territory. They only have the taxpayer’s mid-level exception (valued at about $3.2 million this season) and veteran’s minimum contracts to offer.
So, where do the Lakers go from here? Let’s break it down, beginning with the team’s needs and finishing up with a quick look at potential free-agent targets.
Pretty much everything besides point guard.
Steve Nash and Steve Blake have L.A. covered at the lead guard spot, but the cupboard is bare everywhere else.
There are currently no bigs on the roster behind Pau Gasol and Jordan Hill (although the Lakers drafted big man Ryan Kelly out of Duke), and Jodie Meeks is the only backup wing, except he’ll be slated to start with Kobe Bryant out rehabbing his torn Achilles to begin the season.
Aside from simply filling out positions, the Lakers need a wide array of skills as well—most notably athleticism on the perimeter.
The Lakers are too slow to guard effectively on the perimeter, and now they don’t have Howard as a security blanket to cover their mistakes. They need athletes who can defend on the wings.
Ideally, those guys can knock down threes as well, because shooting is another critical area for L.A. to address.
As detailed earlier, the team’s most vital roster decision has already been cinched. In fact, it wasn’t even their decision to make.
Howard chose to leave for Houston, leaving a yawning hole in the middle of the lineup. Clark also chose to move on, leaving the Lakers with only one real decision to make on their own free agents.
That decision is whether or not to retain Antawn Jamison.
Jamison was a very useful player on offense last year, serving as the de facto stretch-4 that Mike D’Antoni loves to employ, but it seemed he gave up two points for every one he scored and didn’t help the Lakers’ athleticism quotient at all.
Drafting Ryan Kelly—who seems best suited to play a stretch-4 role in the NBA—would appear to make Jamison a redundancy, and therefore expendable.
If he agrees to come back for another one-year minimum contract, then L.A. can take him on for added depth and hope he can contribute again offensively, but that’s the only way he remains in purple and gold.
The Lakers need to add depth on the wings, and in Mike D’Antoni’s offense those wings really need to be able to shoot.
Morrow is coming off a lost season where he hardly played, but has proven himself to be a dead-eye shooter who can contribute over significant minutes over the course of his career. He’s a career 42 percent shooter from deep and led the league in three-point accuracy in 2009.
In three of his four seasons, Ellington has shot better than 39 percent from beyond the arc, including last year. He’s a floor spacer who can knock down open jumpers and that’s about it. He should come cheap and fills a need for the Lakers.
Shooters Who Can Defend
In the modern-day NBA, you want at least one guy on the floor at all times who can hit open threes and defend the other team’s top scoring threats. Just look at the roster composition of the two teams that met in the Finals. The added value of these players usually means pricier contracts than the ones doled out to the one-trick ponies.
Delfino is a perennially underrated role player. He’s tough as nails and doesn’t shy away from launching daring threes or covering superstar perimeter scorers. His shot is streaky, but he can swing a game on both ends of the court.
Another Rockets castoff, Garcia had some big moments for Houston last postseason, even starting three games in their first-round series. Garcia’s three-point percentages have fluctuated wildly throughout his career, but in situations where he got significant minutes, his shot flourished. He’s also comfortable checking opposing scorers and posts one of the best blocked shot rates for a wing player year after year.
Athletic Wings Who Can Defend
As Bryant and Metta World Peace continue to age, the Lakers have no one on the perimeter who can match up athletically against opposing wing scorers.
Brewer is a manic ball of non-stop energy and speed. He’s long and lean, can rack up steals and loves to get out in transition. He can be bullied in the post, though, and he’s almost a liability in the half-court offense. Brewer loves to chuck threes but is a terrible three-point marksman.
The other Brewer has seen his career slow down after being a huge factor on the Utah Jazz teams that were faux-contenders early in his career. Brewer can’t stretch the floor at all, but he’s great at moving without the ball and finding subtle ways to contribute offensively. Defense remains his calling card, however. He’s long and athletic, with quick hands and a proven track record of being a very capable perimeter defender.
The Lakers badly need depth up front. They only have one big man who’s a proven starter and no one off the bench who can play at all.
Brand’s solid mid-range shooting fits in D’Antoni’s scheme and complements Pau Gasol’s post game well. In addition, Brand has always been an excellent defender who can rebound and protect the rim. His age means he’s probably a step or two slower than he was in his prime, but he can still be an effective role player for 20-25 minutes a night.
It’s generally not a good idea to go after guys who’ve spent most of their time with the Charlotte Bobcats, but Mullens does fill a need for the Lakers. He’s big and can really stretch the floor. Sure, the Lakers just drafted Ryan Kelly on those merits, but Mullens has more upside, especially defensively. He’s a restricted free agent, so L.A. would need things to break right in order to bring him in.