Realistic Free-Agent Options LA Lakers Should Pursue During 2014 Season
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About the only two things that seem fairly certain are that Kobe Bryant will sign a contract with the Lakers, and LeBron James will not.
Barring an unsuccessful return to the starting lineup, Bryant most certainly will continue his quest for a sixth NBA championship as a member of the Lakers. His signing next summer to an extension will determine just how much cap room the Lakers truly have and which premium talent they can and should pursue after July 1.
Ideally, Bryant would agree to a drastic cut in pay, knowing that his fellow Olympic gold-medal teammates—LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony—wanted to come to L.A. to win championships with him. But, the reason that won't happen is simple: Kobe won't take that big of a pay cut, and LeBron has won titles in Miami, so why leave? Also, Carmelo can get a huge extension ($110 million) should he opt to stay in New York.
Bryant recently told Serena Winters of Lakers Nation that he will sit down and negotiate the best deal he can possibly get with the Lakers. Yet, he must know he won't be up for a raise—not after earning a record $31 million this coming season, coming off a severe Achilles injury and turning 36 next August.
He's "uncomfortable" discussing it now, but Bryant undoubtedly will agree to lesser money as long as he sees a major commitment by management to bring together a championship contender in 2014-15.
As for just who the Lakers can pursue and hope to sign—provided Bryant takes a pay cut of at least 50 percent—the list is actually not as long as one might think.
The Lakers can forget about talented center DeMarcus Cousins. As reported by USA Today, the 23-year-old took himself off the market this week when he signed a four-year, $62 million extension to remain with the Sacramento Kings, where new minority owner Shaquille O'Neal plans to mentor him.
The Lakers need a couple of younger, All-Star caliber players who can challenge in the Western Conference. The transition back to greatness is probably a two-three year process, so impatient Lakers fans may need to take up yoga this season and practice their breathing.
Evan Turner: Shooting Guard, Philadelphia
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There is a real possibility that Turner could become an unrestricted free agent on or before June 30, 2014. And if he does, the Lakers should spend the money and grab him.
Even though his shooting percentage dipped last year—from 54 to 42 percent—Turner still impressed by increasing his scoring average from 9.4 to 13.3 points per game for the Sixers.
Playing 35 minutes a night, Turner developed into a pretty good all-around player, grabbing six rebounds and handing out four assists per game. At 6'7", Turner is considered a superior defensive player and outstanding rebounder. That's a commodity the Lakers could certainly use.
As he enters his fourth season in Philadelphia, the former Ohio State first-round draft pick is having reservations about just how much the Sixers want to win. The team traded his backcourt mate, Jrue Holiday, and are without a center now that Andrew Bynum took his nonexistent game to Cleveland.
The Sixers can offer Turner a qualifying offer for next season of $8.7 million. But, considering that Philadelphia should finish near the bottom of the standings this year, it may be looking to the 2014 draft (Andrew Wiggins?) as its next move and not bring back a guard who has yet to live up to his potential.
On the other hand, Turner, who turns 25 in October, would represent a nice quality piece for the rebuilding Lakers.
Greg Monroe: Center, Detroit Pistons
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Acquiring 6'11", 250-pound center Greg Monroe would make a lot of people forget about Dwight Howard in a hurry. His upside is much higher than the departed D12, and he will be just 24 next summer when Detroit must decide whether to tender him a new offer.
Monroe could make $5.47 million next season if he stays with Detroit for another season. If Monroe does not accept a qualifying offer, he would become a restricted free agent.
The Lakers could offer much more should he decide to test the market—probably a four-year contract worth at least $35-40 million.
He would be worth every purple and gold penny.
Monroe broke out in his third season in Detroit averaging 16 points and 10 boards in 33 minutes.
Luol Deng: Forward, Chicago Bulls
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The 6'9" Luol Deng has played nine seasons in the NBA, all with the Chicago Bulls. His current contract, worth $14.2 million this season, expires at the end of the year, and chances are the Bulls will use their money elsewhere next summer.
Deng would be a great fit for the Lakers heading into the 2014-15 season for a number of reasons. He'll be 29 a year from now, still young enough to coexist in a transition period while serving as mentor for the younger talent the team allegedly will pursue over the next couple of seasons.
Deng averaged 16.5 points and 6.3 rebounds per game last year while starting 75 of Chicago's 82 regular-season games. Even with Derrick Rose sidelined, Deng's numbers were about the same as past years', and he averaged a very solid 38.7 minutes per contest.
Deng's presence could allow the Lakers to let Pau Gasol walk away as a free agent next summer since they would never offer him another contract at $19 million per season
The Lakers might not offer Deng as much as he's used to making, but if they bring in another couple of solid complementary pieces, the British native might be OK with a smaller deal spread out over two to three years.
Eric Bledsoe: Point Guard, Phoenix Suns
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Prior to last season, ESPN.com's Hollinger analysis said of the 23-year-old point guard (h/t nbadraft.net):
He played only 436 minutes (in 2011-12) and his regular-season numbers were pretty ugly. He can't shoot and has an insanely high turnover ratio, which it makes it awfully tough for him to be an effective offensive player. Last season his 45.4 true shooting percentage was about as bad as it gets for a guard, and his turnover ratio would have been the worst at his position with enough minutes. He had a negative pure point rating for a second straight season, which is bad, bad news if you're an aspiring point guard. Basically, you'd be hard-pressed to find a more inefficient offensive player.
In his third season with the L.A. Clippers, Bledsoe did show improvement on the offensive end, upping his shooting percentage to 45 percent (40 percent from three-point range). He was rewarded by being traded to the Phoenix Suns in July along with Caron Butler in a three-team deal that also involved the Milwaukee Bucks.
What's intriguing about Bledsoe is his defense—he is considered one of the most aggressive defensive point guards in the league, and he'll get his chance to showcase that talent as a starter for the Suns.
If Bledsoe has an average season as the starting PG in Phoenix, the Lakers could make a move for the former first-round pick out of Kentucky. He has the potential to take over that PG spot in L.A. and man it for a long time in purple and gold.
Kyrie Irving: Point Guard, Cleveland Cavaliers
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As the Cleveland Cavaliers have a team option on Kyrie Irving after this season, the odds of him becoming a member of the Lakers are slim.
New head coach Mike Brown recently said of Irving, via The Cleveland Plain Dealer:
"I'm very impressed. We've had an opportunity to interact quite a bit this summer. I don't want to smother him, so I give him his space."
But, while the Cavs can and most likely will hold on to their prized possession, Irving does seem to leave the door open to possibly leaving.
When asked by Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal if he would sign a full give-year extension with Cleveland, Irving dodges the question: “I’m not really worried about that right now. Right now I’m focusing on the year ahead, my third year, then I’ll worry about that in the summer time.”
Is it realistic to expect the Lakers will have a chance next summer at bringing Irving to Los Angeles? Probably not, but until this future superstar closes the door and signs a big max extension with the Cavs, the Lakers owe it to themselves to pull out all the stops.
Pau Gasol: Forward/Center, Los Angeles Lakers
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This is truly a realistic free-agent scenario for the Los Angeles Lakers. Entering his 13th season, the 33-year-old Pau Gasol has something to prove to critics who claim his career is quickly evaporating.
When healthy, Gasol remains one of the top forwards in the game. People forget that he played hurt most of last year and was in coach Mike D'Antoni's doghouse early on because their philosophies on how to play the game were so different.
Gasol will make $19 million in the final year of his contract and says he wants to continue his career somewhere in 2014. He has a close relationship with Kobe Bryant and would like to stay in Southern California.
Gasol knows he cannot command another $19 million contract, but if he has a decent year this season, the Lakers would be wise to sign him for $8-10 million for one-two years.
Gasol talked with the Associated Press (h/t ESPN Los Angeles) this summer about his return to the center position after the trading of Dwight Howard. He sounded like someone who would like to win another ring in Los Angeles.
I think I have the most uncertain period behind me. The team has suffered a lot of changes, but as far as me, I am back in the position of a lot of responsibility, which I like, and I'm just going to focus on getting healthy. Now with Dwight gone I am the reference inside and I am more like I was a couple of years back when we made the finals three straight times and won two straight championships.
Management should take note.