Most NBA teams are settling in after an offseason of change or inaction, introducing new faces, welcoming back old ones, giving little or no thought to forthcoming additions and subtractions.
The Los Angeles Lakers are not most teams.
Blockbuster trades—like that of Kevin Love to the Cleveland Cavaliers—are typically the only moves that matter this late into the offseason. August is the month interesting, non-forced NBA storylines go to die. Free-agency signings no longer matter. The ones that do went down weeks ago.
Rare is the team that qualifies as an exception. This year's Lakers are one of the few.
Whatever moves they make—even if inconsequential by classical measure—are relevant because, well, they're the Lakers; but also because they're a team searching for identity and direction after years of having both. And they're still searching, even now, amid the dog days of summer, sifting through the dregs free agency has left behind, per Sam Amick of USA Today:
After missing out on LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony in July, the Lakers held a free agent workout Tuesday in Los Angeles. The workout included forward Michael Beasley; big men Dexter Pittman, Greg Stiemsma, and Daniel Orton; and guards Bobby Brown, Toney Douglas, Ben Hansbrough and Malcolm Lee, a person with knowledge of the situation told USA TODAY Sports.
Beasley, the enigmatic 25-year-old who wasn't able to make the most of his return to the Miami Heat last season, was working out for the the Lakers for a second time.
None of the above options are transformative names capable of reversing Los Angeles' current makeshift course. The Lakers are no different than any other team there. Signings this late in the summer won't change much. They're mostly ancillary.
Still, for the Lakers, they are not completely insignificant.
Who and what exactly are they looking for? Amick's list of names includes guards, forwards and centers. With two roster spots to spare, the Lakers don't appear to have zeroed in on any one position. Is this more of a "best players available" search?
First and foremost, it's a "don't you dare put sand in the potato salad" venture. The Lakers aren't going to compromise their offseason blueprint, the one that compelled them to ink mostly one-year contracts and maintain maximum financial flexibility over the next two summers. The path they're paving is temporary, to be sure, but they want to keep it that way as they track toward permanent solutions (i.e. free-agency additions in 2015 and 2016).
Players who might demand multiyear deals—scant as they are this time of year—likely won't catch their attention. They are instead inclined to look at those who will need nothing more than one-year commitments.
Actual function comes into play beyond financial implications. That the Lakers have worked out Michael Beasley twice is telling, attesting to their need at small forward, which Bleacher Report's Ethan Norof perfectly painted in under 140 characters:
The #Lakers starting small forward is Wes Johnson. I don’t understand how upgrading at the position wasn’t a greater priority.— Ethan Norof (@Mr_Norof) August 26, 2014
Talent-wise, Beasley—the second overall pick in 2008—could come in and start at small forward for the Lakers. That's how bone-thin they are there. He probably wouldn't start, of course—the Lakers have to play some defense, right?—but he's an instant offensive upgrade over anyone else they have at that position.
At this stage of his controversy-crammed career, Beasley, like Bleacher Report's Zach Buckley touched on following his first showcase with the Lakers, offers a low-risk, high-reward return:
If he pans out, they have a player to help in the present and the future. He's capable of creating his own shot, and the 36-year-old Bryant will need someone to help carry the scoring load.
Should Beasley wind up busting more than booming, the Purple and Gold can cut their losses and move on. Outside of serving as a footnote in this potentially tragic basketball story, there's really no harm done to the Lakers.
Similar sentiments apply to Daniel Orton, the 24-year-old former first-round pick. In him and Beasley, the Lakers can invest very little before losing even less, or gaining even more than the initial risk warrants.
For a team already packed with reclamation projects, redemption-seeking veterans and career nomads—from Wesley Johnson and Xavier Henry, to Carlos Boozer and Jeremy Lin, to Ed Davis and Jordan Hill—such expenditures are basically win-win.
Interest in other misfits is of little surprise as well.
With Steve Nash's and Kobe Bryant's health in question, looking at guards like Toney Douglas and Bobby Brown makes sense as insurance. Taking a gander at Greg Stiemsma and Dexter Pittman—in addition to Daniel Orton—is of equal importance when the team's only surefire 5 is Robert Sacre. Neither Hill nor Davis is a true center.
So while the Lakers' list of available talent is contrived from convenience, it's also out of necessity. They still have needs to satisfy and holes to fill. And with the goal being to remain as competitive as possible, they're (mostly) looking at those who have been around the block a time or two and stand to contribute if and when called upon.
"I expect us to compete every night," head coach Byron Scott told The Dan Patrick Show,via Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times. "[The Lakers are] going to play a tough, physical brand of basketball and we're going to play defense."
Overly ambitious defensive standards aside, the Lakers' late-summer actions reflect that of their primary aim: competing now without compromising their fate later .
Signing Beasley, Douglas, Pittman, Orton or any of the other players they're currently evaluating won't make the Lakers a juggernaut, or even a legitimate playoff contender. Bryant has stated his intent to keep the Lakers in the playoff hunt, but the Western Conference is too brutally constructed for this roster—last-minute additions and all—to vault itself into the top eight.
The Lakers ranked 28th in defensive efficiency last season, per NBA.com, and aren't built to drastically improve, or improve at all. Their 25-win offense—that ranked 21st in efficiency—is tightly tethered to the mortality-marred Bryant as well as a coach who has routinely implemented below-average attacks.
Of all the players Los Angeles recently worked out, who stands to be the best fit?
Surprising people, turning some heads, is not out of the question. Remain healthy, see Bryant and Nash contribute at close to high levels, and the Lakers will win some games they otherwise wouldn't. Should Boozer and Lin exceed expectations, the Lakers will look that much more competent on the offensive end. If Julius Randle proves to be more NBA-ready than thought, the Lakers will be that much deeper.
This, more than anything, is what their offseason has been about: arming themselves against the unknown, against the inordinate number of "ifs" that are attached to their roster and future.
Nothing has changed now that the summer is winding down. The Lakers are still after cheap, floor-familiar players and in the business of potentially employing question marks who might yield short- and long-term gains.