The Los Angeles Lakers are going to look a lot different next season, which is a good thing after just 17 wins this past year.
While there are certainly quality young pieces on the roster, including Jordan Clarkson, D'Angelo Russell and Julius Randle, the organization still needs plenty of help in order to be competitive. The good news is there are opportunities for upgrades both through the draft and free agency.
The Lakers were awarded the No. 2 overall selection in the NBA draft lottery, which not only saved them from having to send their top-three-protected pick to the Philadelphia 76ers, but also provides a chance to add a potential superstar. Most analysts consider the top two players in this class (Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram) to be a tier above the rest, and Los Angeles could be in great shape no matter who it lands.
So how will the draft shake out? Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News sees a high likelihood of the Lakers filling a need with Ingram:
This scenario seems most plausible partly because Philadelphia is expected to select LSU forward Ben Simmons at No. 1. Even if the Lakers could choose between the two, however, various NBA talent evaluators argued Ingram would better help their needs.
Ingram would bolster both the Lakers’ deficiencies both in 3-point shooting and on defense.
Simmons is talented as a 6'10" forward with the skills of a guard. He would instantly make any team much more dynamic with his ability to dribble and pass the ball at his size. The problem is most coaches won't know exactly how to use a unique weapon like him with such a specific game.
On the other hand, Ingram is a pure scorer from the wing who can get points inside or out against any defender. He could instantly join a team and become a go-to option offensively while still improving down the line.
With the Lakers having an opening at small forward, Ingram would be the perfect option regardless of what the 76ers decide.
Still, the team has plenty of other options. Beyond looking at other potential picks at No. 2, including Dragan Bender or Kris Dunn, the team could also trade the pick, according to Bleacher Report's Kevin Ding:
The Lakers will actively explore trading the pick. They want to get better as soon as possible—in part to make sure Philadelphia doesn’t get too good of a pick next year when the Lakers’ first-rounder conveys to the 76ers if it’s outside the top three. Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak is also seeking a better blend of youth and experience on the roster.
There will likely be a large market for the No. 2 pick considering the upside of Ingram and Simmons, although it makes sense for the Lakers to try to target a proven veteran who can provide an immediate upgrade to the struggling franchise.
Additionally, a high-profile player could provide the star power necessary with Kobe Bryant no longer in the picture.
Of course, general manager Mitch Kupchak wasn't sure about any potential deal as of the NBA lottery, per Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times:
If the team doesn't trade away the pick, there will still be an opportunity to add experienced players through free agency. As Luke Adams of Hoops Rumors broke down, the Lakers will have a lot of cap room after more than $55 million comes off the books from unrestricted free agents (about $53 million from Bryant and Roy Hibbert).
With Adams listing a projected salary cap of $92 million, the team will have an opportunity to sign at least one max player.
One potential option is Toronto Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan. ESPN's Stephen A. Smith reported the All-Star wants to return to his hometown of Los Angeles and presumably the Lakers (via Ryan Ward of Lakers Nation).
TMZ Sports then added fuel to the fire with former college teammate Romeo Miller "hinting strongly that he knows the Lakers are the right spot" to end up in free agency:
After averaging 23.5 points per game during the regular season and having a strong showing in the playoffs, DeRozan would certainly qualify as the type of star the team would like to add going into next season.
Meanwhile, perhaps the biggest hole on the roster comes at center, a position that would be harder to fill in the draft. Fortunately, there are quality options available in free agency, as Alex Kennedy of Basketball Insiders suggested:
Whiteside led the NBA with 3.68 blocks per game and ranked third with 11.8 rebounds per game, proving his value as one of the best defensive players in the NBA. Although the Miami Heat will want to re-sign him, Los Angeles should aggressively pursue the center.
Another option for the position is Joakim Noah, who is reportedly intent on leaving the Chicago Bulls this summer, according to Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times. Even on the wrong side of 30 years old and coming off an injury-shortened season, Noah is a two-time All-Star who would provide the type of experience and leadership the front office is looking for this offseason.
The options are plentiful for the Lakers to restock the roster and become competitive next season, but the organization will need to be aggressive either through the draft, free agency or on the trade market to get it done.
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