Realistic 2014 Free-Agency Targets for the LA Lakers
Now that the Los Angeles Lakers and Mike D'Antoni have parted ways, the process for targeting free agents this summer gets a bit tricky.
The Lakers will probably wait until after the May 20 draft lottery to name a new coach, and that will, in effect, impact some of the free-agency pursuits they consider.
For a team that finished a franchise-worst 27-55, the Lakers' needs are many. Only Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Robert Sacre are on the roster, so the team must fill upward of 13 spots this summer. Point guard Kendall Marshall has a team option and will likely be back (at $915,000) to fill one of those spots.
The conventional wisdom seems to be that the Lakers forgo pursuing any high-priced big names this summer and make a splash in 2015 when such stars as Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge, Rajon Rondo, Roy Hibbert, Marc Gasol, DeAndre Jordan and Tony Parker are available.
Still, there's every reason to believe the team will certainly listen if Carmelo Anthony or LeBron James shows any interest in coming west to Los Angeles. And then there's Luol Deng, the 29-year-old power forward from Great Britain and the Cleveland Cavaliers who will test free agency this summer and has been rumored as a target of the Lakers, per USA Today's Sam Amick (h/t Lakers Nation's Ryan Ward).
Deng is sure to command a multiyear contract with someone, probably in the neighborhood of $12-14 million per. That would seem too rich for the salary-cap-conscious Lakers.
Among the many possible scenarios, the Lakers may already be talking to the Minnesota Timberwolves about a deal that would send their No. 1 draft pick and other assets packing in exchange for Love.
That, in turn, would further alter management's mindset when it looks at the free-agent market.
Regardless of who the next coach is, the Lakers would be wise to give power forward Jordan Hill a significant raise and re-sign him.
Despite major differences between ex-coach Mike D'Antoni and Hill, the former Arizona star proved last season that he's one of the league's better rebounding forwards with an improving offensive game. In 72 appearances, Hill averaged 9.7 points and 7.4 rebounds in just 20.8 minutes.
The 6'10" Hill is a high-energy guy who had a couple of stretches during the year where his scoring shot up due to increased playing time. D'Antoni was forced to give Hill more minutes in April when Pau Gasol left the lineup with a severe case of vertigo.
Over the last eight games of the season, Hill averaged 16.6 points and 10.1 rebounds, including 39 and 20 in the Lakers' season-ending, back-to-back wins on the road over the Utah Jazz and San Antonio Spurs.
Hill made $3.5 million this season and is just finding his NBA legs at 26. He's sure to find suitors this summer, and the Lakers should be one of them.
There is no doubt the Lakers would like to have Nick Young back with them next season. And the Los Angeles native would like nothing more than to sign a longer-term deal with his boyhood team and play alongside Kobe Bryant.
The key, of course, will come down to money and how much each side is willing to compromise to make it happen.
Via Serena Winters of Lakers Nation on Twitter:
Nick Young told me a situation where he takes less money to remain a Laker is "definitely" in the realm of possibility
"Swaggy P" came home to Los Angeles at the reduced rate of $1.107 million this season and more than earned a big increase for next year. His energy, scoring, defensive hustle and personality helped alleviate some of the pain fans felt over the course of a terrible season.
Do the Lakers want him enough to give him a long-term deal?
If Jordan Farmar doesn't re-sign with L.A. (he made $1.1 million this season and would like to return), the Lakers should consider the player who succeeded him in Westwood.
Darren Collison had an outstanding rookie season with the then-New Orleans Hornets, where he started 37 games replacing an injured Chris Paul. He later went to the Indiana Pacers and Dallas Mavericks before coming to the Clippers to sign a two-year deal last fall.
Collison was instrumental in keeping the Clippers humming after Paul went down with a separated shoulder that kept him out for six weeks.
At 26, Collison would make a solid addition to the Lakers roster. Over the course of five seasons, he's averaged 12 points on 46 percent shooting and five assists per game.
Collison will never be the starter with the Clippers as long as Paul is there. With the Lakers, he would likely get that opportunity.
Had Mike D'Antoni been given an option year on his contract and remained L.A.'s head coach, the question of Gasol returning to the Lakers would be moot. Now, there seems to be at least a 50-50 chance the big Spaniard will return.
A lot will depend on whom the Lakers hire as coach and what type of system the team wants to run. If that coach favors either a triangle (Steve Kerr) or half-court game (Byron Scott), then having Gasol as the main focal point in the post makes sense.
Gasol is testing free agency for the first time in his illustrious career and aims to take full advantage of it. On his blog, he discussed the possibilities of coming back to the Lakers before Mike D'Antoni's resignation last week.
Via Lakers Nation:
Re-signing for the Lakers is a possibility, but I'm not sure whether to say it's a remote one. If there's anything or anyone who could make me stay it's Kobe Bryant. I'd stay for him, but there'd have to be significant changes.
I've never concealed the fact that D'Antoni's style doesn't suit my game. Everybody knows this. I don't know if my decision will be swayed by whether Mike stays or leaves. Obviously, the coach is a very important factor for any team.
Gasol will entertain offers from several clubs, which may include the New York Knicks under Phil Jackson and the Memphis Grizzlies and brother Marc Gasol. He would have to take a huge pay cut ($19 million this season) for it to work in Los Angeles.
But now, with D'Antoni in the rearview mirror, Pau Gasol and Lakers management can begin their dance. It's realistic to think the future-Hall of Fame selection could return to the Purple and Gold.
Is it realistic to think the Lakers would take a shot at landing the 24-year-old Gordon Hayward? Of course it would.
At 6'8", Hayward is one of those hybrids who can play a couple of different positions but mostly excels as a big shooting guard. In four games against the Lakers this season, he averaged 20.5 points, 5.3 rebounds and 6.3 assists.
A good barometer of what Hayward's upside looks like came in a January game against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Hayward hit on 13 of 16 shots (including two-of-three from downtown) for 37 points in a 112-101 victory. He also pulled down 11 rebounds.
A No. 1 pick of the Utah Jazz, Hayward is sure to get some big offers this summer and may command as much as $10 million per season.
The Lakers have witnessed firsthand what this high-energy player can do. And even though Hayward's shooting percentage dipped this season (41 percent) as his minutes increased (36.4), there's no reason to doubt his potential as a very solid No. 2 or 3 option on a future Lakers championship team.