The Los Angeles Lakers are a team in transition after being one of the Western Conference's worst teams last season. If they can make some noise on the trade and free-agent markets, however, they have a chance to get better rapidly.
L.A. will already have the benefit of a healthy Kobe Bryant returning to action, but that won't be enough. He needs at least a couple big pieces around him in addition to rookie forward Julius Randle. If the Lakers play their cards right, then they can potentially make that happen.
The Lakers have little interest in rebuilding since they may not have Kobe for much longer and there is plenty of pressure from the fanbase to put forth a winning product. Los Angeles has plenty of lines cast currently, but it remains to be seen if anyone will bite.
Here is the latest buzz surrounding some of the biggest names out there on both the trade and free-agency fronts this offseason as they relate to the Lakers.
Spanish star Pau Gasol has been a staple in the paint for the Lakers since they acquired him in 2008. He helped lead L.A. to two NBA championships and made the Western Conference All-Star team on three occasions while with the Lakers as well. On the heels of a strong 2013-14 campaign statistically, the Lakers have a decision to make.
Gasol can sign anywhere he desires as a free agent, but the Lakers do have some leverage. They can offer him more money than any other team, which is why Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.com sees the Lakers potentially trying to keep Gasol if some of their more ambitious plans don't work out:
If Lakers don't land Melo or LeBron, Gasol is considering contenders, but I still wouldn't count LA out as they can offer most $$— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) July 6, 2014
If Gasol's desire to win outweighs his hunger for money, though, the Lakers may be in trouble. According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports, the San Antonio Spurs and Chicago Bulls are both possible destinations of interest:
Spurs persistence on Pau Gasol keeping them a serious contender, inching closer to the Bulls, league sources tell Yahoo.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) July 10, 2014
The Bulls present an interesting scenario in that a sign-and-trade deal could conceivably be orchestrated. Per K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune, the Bulls might have interest in trading the expiring contract of Carlos Boozer and draft picks to the Lakers in exchange for Gasol.
If the Lakers don't plan on re-signing Gasol, then this is certainly something worth considering. Bringing in Boozer would give the Lakers more salary-cap flexibility next offseason, and he wouldn't be a terrible supporting cast member in the interim.
It seems like the Lakers are waiting for other chips to fall before they make a decision on Gasol, but getting something of value for him rather than losing him for nothing should be a no-brainer from Los Angeles' perspective.
Few NBA players are as volatile as guard Lance Stephenson, but few are more versatile as well. The 23-year-old instigator broke out in a big way for the Indiana Pacers this past season, as he averaged nearly 14 points, seven rebounds and five assists per contest. With his ability to fill up the stat sheet, it comes as no surprise that he is garnering plenty of interest.
The Lakers are among his top suitors, according to ESPN.com's Chris Broussard, but they have some elite company to contend with:
In addition to Dallas & Lakers, Boston also showing interest in Lance Stephenson, source said— Chris Broussard (@Chris_Broussard) July 7, 2014
Los Angeles already has an all-world shooting guard in the form of Bryant, but he and Stephenson should be able to coexist on the floor. Stephenson doesn't necessarily need the ball in his hands to be a factor like Kobe, and he would certainly benefit from playing alongside a legitimate superstar.
A return to Indiana is certainly possible for Stephenson as well, but he is considering all options currently. Per Candace Buckner of the Indianapolis Star, agent Alberto Ebanks isn't willing to make his client settle for a contract or locale that is less than satisfactory.
"We're in a rush to get a really good deal done and we're in no rush to enter into something that's short of being a good situation for him and the next team or the current team," Ebanks said.
The Lakers are a tough team for players and agents to get a read on since their success in 2014-15 depends largely upon what they do in the coming days and weeks. If Stephenson believes in their direction, though, he could provide them with a huge boost.
He may not be on the same level as the likes of LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh, but wingman Trevor Ariza is undoubtedly a hot commodity on the free-agent market. He is coming off his best NBA season by far, and he is ready to cash in with a fat contract.
Several teams have sent out feelers in Ariza's direction with the Lakers being among them, according to Ken Berger of CBSSports.com:
The Mavs, Cavs, Lakers and Heat are pursuing Wizards free agent Trevor Ariza, league sources say. Ariza seeking deal starting at $9-$11m.— Ken Berger (@KBergCBS) July 7, 2014
Ariza previously spent parts of two seasons with the Lakers as a bench player and helped them capture an NBA title in 2009. He has long been an excellent perimeter defender, but his overall game has evolved and improved significantly over the past several years.
Which player is most likely to sign with the Lakers?
He averaged over 14 points and six rebounds per game for the Washington Wizards last season as a full-time starter. Most notably, though, he became one of the NBA's top marksmen from long range, as he hit nearly 41 percent of his three-point attempts.
That type of outside shooting prowess is something the Lakers would benefit from significantly. Ariza may not be Plan A, Plan B or even Plan C for L.A. at the moment, but he may offer the most bang for their buck when it is all said and done.
Although signing Ariza wouldn't move the needle nationally as much as bringing in a perennial All-Star, it would clearly make the Lakers a better team.
Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter