Best Potential Free Agents for Los Angeles Lakers to Replace Jodie Meeks
Jodie Meeks' tenure in Tinseltown didn't work out so well for the Los Angeles Lakers, though, the work he did therein paid off in spades for him. According to Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, Meeks will sign a three-year, $19.5 million deal with the Detroit Pistons once the NBA's early-summer moratorium is lifted next week.
Meeks showed tremendous class in announcing his departure from the team:
Wanna say thank you to the Laker organization and the fans for a great 2 years! Loved every ounce of playing in La!— Jodie Meeks (@Jmeeks20) July 1, 2014
Just don't expect anyone in Lakerland to be caught weeping once he's officially gone. As solid and admirable a contributor as he was, Meeks would've been no better than Kobe Bryant's backup had he stayed in L.A. Surely, even the cap-flush Lakers weren't going to shell out that sort of scratch to a second-stringer.
It could be some time before the Lakers brass, led by Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss, hits the market in search of Meeks' replacement. They've currently got their sights set on a meeting with Carmelo Anthony and may well turn their attention toward retaining Pau Gasol shortly thereafter.
When the time comes, though, these five guys—some bargain-basement backups, other intriguing starting options next to the Black Mamba—could all factor into the Purple and Gold's plans.
In the (likely) event that the Lakers strike out in their pursuit of Carmelo Anthony, it wouldn't take much of a mental stretch to envision them turning their attention to Lance Stephenson.
He's tough, he's competitive, he can play any of the perimeter positions on either end of the floor—a key for a Lakers squad that's short on warm bodies, much less ones who can play—and, at 23, he's young enough to grow alongside soon-to-be-rookie Julius Randle.
Moreover, Stephenson could fall well within L.A.'s price range. According to ESPN's Chris Broussard, the kid known to many as Born Ready was none too pleased with the Indiana Pacers' initial contract offer:
Sources: L Stephenson & Pacers at impasse. Indy offers 5 yrs/$44 mill. Lance wants more, will talk to others. Chi, LAL, Hornets interested.— Chris Broussard (@Chris_Broussard) July 2, 2014
The Lakers can't match the years that Indy's throwing at Stephenson, but they can certainly surpass the dollar figures if they so choose. It'd be a risk to hand the keys over to a volatile talent like Lance. Then again, the chance to play alongside and learn from another notoriously fierce competitor (i.e. Kobe Bryant) could do wonders to boost Stephenson's already-impressive development.
Then again, making a big play for a guy like Stephenson might not be in the cards for L.A., as Bleacher Report's Kevin Ding noted:
The Lakers want their fans—and Bryant—to know they are trying to go big.
On the other hand, the Lakers are more likely to have to go home and wait for lower-tier free agents to settle for their rich one- or two-year offers, and they want to be able to remind those guys that the Lakers reached out to them early in the free-agent period, too.
Shelling beaucoup bucks for Stephenson, though, would require that the Lakers make room for him in the starting lineup. A move by Bryant to small forward and/or the more frequent use of three-guard lineups could accomplish that, as Mitch Kupchak suggested during a recent appearance on ESPN Radio in L.A. (h/t Lakers Nation's Serena Winters).
But if the Lakers aren't keen to make it rain on someone like Stephenson, they could seek an audience with Rodney Stuckey instead. The Seattle native carved out a niche for himself as a combo guard off the bench during his seven seasons with the Detroit Pistons. He did, however, average 20.4 points across five starts in the Motor City this past season.
Luckily for the Lakers, the market for Stuckey's services is drying up faster than a creek on a hot summer day. The Golden State Warriors (Shaun Livingston), the Indiana Pacers (C.J. Miles) and the Orlando Magic (Ben Gordon)—all thought to be suitors for Stuckey—have already jumped on other wing options for mid-level salaries.
It might only be a matter of time, then, until Stuckey has no choice but to sign at a severe discount—a dream scenario for a Lakers squad that wants to hoard cap space and preserve future flexibility as much as possible while still building a competitive club.
Like Stuckey, Jerryd Bayless is a bit of a 'tweener—too small to be a regular 2-guard, not quite good enough with the ball to consistently run point—who's settled in as a serviceable sixth man during his six NBA seasons.
Unlike Stuckey, Bayless has bounced around quite a bit since leaving Arizona in 2008. The Portland Trail Blazers, the then-New Orleans Hornets, the Toronto Raptors, the Memphis Grizzlies and the Boston Celtics have all had tastes of Bayless' game.
Not that anyone's been put off by it. If anything, the fact that he's been passed around the league to the extent that he has points to his value in the eyes of those squads that have acquired him.
That value was on display in fits and spurts in Beantown last season, where Bayless shot 39.5 percent from deep. Bayless' skill set and age (he doesn't turn 26 until August) assure that he'll be no worse than a serviceable option off the bench.
And if it's any consolation for the Lakers, Bayless' build and profile aren't all that different from Meeks'—and could come at a fraction of the cost.
Bayless spent all of eight days as a teammate of Jordan Crawford's with the Celtics this past season before Crawford was dealt to the Golden State Warriors in January. Another move—this time south instead of west—could suit Crawford's journeyman career, especially now that the Dubs have signed Shaun Livingston to serve as Stephen Curry's backup.
Crawford fits a similar mold to those carved out by Stephenson, Stuckey and Bayless: a mid-20s combo guard who can certainly get shots for himself but has recently proven a capable creator for others as well. His size and skill set would allow him to sop up minutes at either backcourt spot.
Trouble is, Crawford's never really been a consistent contributor on a competitive club. He played only sparingly for the Atlanta Hawks as a rookie before being dealt to the Washington Wizards, and he struggled to find his niche in Golden State after a surprisingly productive stint at point guard in Boston.
Crawford's reputation as a bit of a wild card could deter a team like the Lakers, though, that very same "quality" might make him too affordable to pass up, especially if L.A. wants an irrational-confidence guy on its bench.
Caron Butler isn't a shooting guard, per se, but his skill set and history would seem to fit the Lakers' description nonetheless.
Butler spent the 2004-05 season in purple and gold after arriving in L.A. as part of the Shaquille O'Neal deal with the Miami Heat. He's certainly not the budding All-Star he was back then, on account of age and knee injuries, but he can still shoot the heck out of the ball when given the chance to do so. Butler hit 39.4 percent of his three-pointers last season, including 44.1 percent of those he took after joining the Oklahoma City Thunder.
According to USA Today's Sam Amick, Butler is already on the Lakers' radar, though, like every other free agent in L.A.'s sights, he'll have to wait for the "Melo-drama" to play out before he can expect any true courtship from them.
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