Best Bargain-Bin Free-Agent Options for Los Angeles Lakers to Fill out Roster

Stephen Babb@@StephenBabbFeatured ColumnistJuly 17, 2014

Best Bargain-Bin Free-Agent Options for Los Angeles Lakers to Fill out Roster

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    The Los Angeles Lakers took another step toward rounding out their roster on Thursday, reportedly winning a bid to claim amnestied power forward Carlos Boozer.'s Brian Windhorst reports that "Boozer was released by the Chicago Bulls earlier this week and teams with cap space could make a bid on a portion of his $16.8 million contract. The Lakers made the highest bid in a blind auction and were awarded him on Thursday shortly after 5 p.m."

    Marc Stein tweeted, "ESPN sources say that Lakers won Carlos Boozer auction with a high bid of $3.25 million."

    After adding free-agent power forward Ed Davis and re-signing Nick Young and Jordan Hill, Los Angeles' rotation is starting to take shape. Its most significant addition was the acquisition of Jeremy Lin from the Houston Rockets, which cemented some depth at the point guard spot and gave Lin another opportunity to reboot his career.

    But the work may not be over yet for the Lakers. 

    It's unclear exactly how much cap space the organization has remaining after claiming Boozer, but we can surmise that the big spending is complete.

    Now it's time to scrape the bottom of the barrel for some affordable help. Fortunately, some free agents along those lines remain available. 

5. Andrew Bynum

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    How the mighty have fallen.

    Would the Los Angeles Lakers dare to give Andrew Bynum another shot? Things have only gone downhill since he and the franchise parted ways in 2012. Injuries kept him off the court for the entirety of the 2012-13 campaign, and they've continued to derail his attempts to return to action in Cleveland and—ever so briefly—in Indiana.

    Doubts remain about whether Bynum is mature and motivated enough to be a serious player in this league.

    But there's no doubting the talent or promise. In his last season with the Lakers, Bynum averaged 18.7 points and 11.8 rebounds—earning a trip to the All-Star Game in the process. 

    Given the extent to which the 26-year-old has seemingly hit rock bottom, one might speculate that he's prepared to buckle down and make a legitimate comeback attempt. Though he hasn't exactly been a center of free-agent attention thus far, a quiet re-emergence may be just what the doctor ordered.

    Picking up Bynum would be something of a risky move for the Lakers, but what's the worst that can happen? As things currently stand, the team's best option to start at center is Jordan Hill—who showed impressive flashes during the waning weeks of last season. Bynum at his best would almost certainly be an upgrade.

    At the very least, he'd add some depth to a spot that could use it.

    Bynum can't be too choosy about how he's used at this juncture of his career. He should know by now that most teams aren't eager to give him a chance. If he had the right attitude coming into this kind of arrangement, it could pay off for Los Angeles.

4. Al-Farouq Aminu

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    The Los Angeles Lakers need help on the defensive end, and that's just about all they'd get from Al-Farouq Aminu. 

    Aminu has played all four of his seasons with the New Orleans Pelicans, and he's already established himself as a somewhat one-dimensional role player. The 6'9" forward defends and rebounds. He's never averaged more than 7.3 points per contest, but he tallied a career-high 7.7 rebounds in 2012-13 (while picking up a respectable 6.2 rebounds per game last season).

    The 23-year-old may never develop into much of a shooter, but the Lakers have plenty of offense.

    But this is a team that gave up 109.2 points per game last season, the second-worst mark in the league.

    Aminu wouldn't change that single-handedly. A reversal of this club's defensive fortunes will require a cultural shift, an entirely different way of doing and thinking about things—a rapid evolution that will no doubt start at the top with whoever's hired as the new head coach.

    All the same, personnel matters. In a perfect world, Los Angeles would have its pick of two-way players who can both score and defend.

    In reality, such players are few and far between. Specialists like Aminu may be the best the Lakers can afford in the near term.

3. Francisco Garcia

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    By some metrics, Francisco Garcia probably isn't much of an upgrade over in-house free agents like Wesley Johnson and Xavier Henry. 

    The big difference is that Garcia is a veteran, and he defends like one.

    He's probably a downgrade from an offensive perspective, but—again—the Lakers have that part covered. They need guys who can get stops, and that's a big part of what has kept Garcia in the league. He's a poor man's three-and-D specialist, making a respectable 35.8 percent of his three-point attempts for the Houston Rockets last season.

    Garcia opted out of the second year of his deal with the Rockets, so he might entertain a departure to a team like the Lakers.

    The 33-year-old averaged just 5.7 points in 19.7 minutes per game last season in Houston and hasn't put up double-figure scoring since 2008-09. If Los Angeles is looking for production, it's probably better off looking in a different direction.

    But if it has room on its roster for a defensive specialist who's been around the league, Garcia could be a smart buy.

2. Emeka Okafor

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    After sitting out the entirety of the 2013-14 campaign with a neck injury, Emeka Okafor should be quite the bargain this summer. It doesn't hurt that he's already made $89,578,416 in his nine-year career. 

    But if Okafor's 2012-13 season with the Washington Wizards is any indication, he can still play. The 31-year-old averaged 9.7 points and 8.8 rebounds per contest, starting 77 games. 

    Besides some solid production, what's in it for the Lakers? Okafor adds a solid defensive presence in the paint. For his career, he has averaged 1.7 blocks per game and established himself as one of the league's better low-post defenders.

    He's also a source of veteran stability and leadership, the kind of guy you might want mentoring Jordan Hill.

    Okafor might not have a transformative effect on these Lakers, but he's the kind of addition who would help instill a desperately needed defensive culture. And he'd almost certainly do so at a very attractive price.

1. Jermaine O'Neal

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    Starting to notice a theme?

    Yes, the Lakers need some interior defense and depth. And another experienced veteran would be even better.

    Jermaine O'Neal gives a team all the same things as Emeka Okafor. The big difference is that he actually played last season—and did a pretty nice job. O'Neal averaged 7.9 points and 5.5 rebounds in 44 games for the Golden State Warriors. He's still a solid rim protector (0.9 blocks in just 20.1 minutes per contest), and he'd help lock down the paint for a team that could use the interior presence.

    The 35-year-old has also proved to be plenty consistent. He yielded similar numbers during 2012-13 with with Phoenix Suns, and he's comfortably settled into the role of a reserve.

    The only problem is that he might be thinking about retiring.

    In May he told the San Francisco Chronicle's Rusty Simmons, "If I'm watching the playoffs from home and it doesn't eat at me that I'm not playing, I'll know I'm done."

    Simmons added:

    O'Neal said throughout the season that this might be his last, but being reduced to three minutes by a bone bruise in his right kneecap has given him pause.

    He said he'll also talk to his 8-year-old son, who granted him one final season with Golden State during a conversation last year. He'll listen to his family, and the decision about his future will become clear during the rest of the postseason.

    Should O'Neal indeed return for another season, you'd also have to think he'd prefer to return to the Warriors. Golden State is much further along than the Lakers in its quest to contend for a championship. It would be hard for O'Neal to leave that kind of situation behind.

    That said, if general manager Mitch Kupchak could convince O'Neal that Los Angeles is turning over a new leaf, you never know.