The Los Angeles Lakers have built a strong foundation for their rebuild, highlighted by the addition of Brandon Ingram with the second pick in the 2016 draft. However, they must still make a major splash either through free agency or the trade market in order to start moving toward title contention.
Along with Ingram, the presence of D'Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle should give the fanbase reason for optimism. The question is whether any of those players is capable of becoming the face of a championship team like LeBron James or Stephen Curry.
Los Angeles' front office may want to wait another year before making that determination. It may be forced to make a quicker decision depending on which opportunities arise this summer, though.
Let's check out some of the latest buzz around the franchise.
Could Lakers Target Russell Westbrook?
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Westbrook is exactly the type of cornerstone the Lakers need. He ranked fourth in Value Added last season behind only James, Curry and James Harden, according to ESPN's Hollinger Stats. Pairing him with Ingram would give the team a potentially dynamic one-two punch.
The question is whether they can pry him away from the Oklahoma City Thunder in the wake of Kevin Durant's exit. While it's a long shot, OKC finds itself at a crossroads, and it seems like the perfect time for L.A. to at least explore the option.
ESPN's Brian Windhorst reported that multiple league executives believe the Thunder will at least listen to offers if the superstar point guard won't extend his contract during the offseason. And David Aldridge of Turner Sports noted that it doesn't appear he's interested in a new deal right now:
David Aldridge @daldridgetnt
Told emphatically by league source there's no chance Russell Westbrook will do a renegotiation/extension of his contract (one yr remaining).2016-7-4 22:22:20
It could be time for the Lakers to pounce.
Zach Lowe of ESPN pointed out that the front office could try waiting until the guard entered free agency and attempt to sign him without giving up assets, but going the trade route may be wiser:
In practice, that is a risk, especially given the Lakers can no longer get star free agents to pick up their calls. Everyone will have cap space again next summer, including the crosstown Clippers. Unless you know for sure—wink, wink—Westbrook is in, there is value in picking him up ahead of time and securing the right to offer him more years and more cash.
The nightmare scenario is trading a key asset or two for Westbrook only to see him sign elsewhere as a free agent next summer. But at some point the Lakers will need to take a risk, be it offering a monster contract or a making a blockbuster trade, it order to get over the rebuilding hump.
Drew Gooden Generating Big-Market Interest
Regardless of whether or not the Lakers are able to acquire a marquee name like Westbrook, there's still work to do in filling out the roster. A battle-tested veteran like Gooden would be a nice pickup for a team with so many young players.
The 34-year-old power forward failed to make much of an impact for the Washington Wizards last season, averaging 2.7 points and 2.8 rebounds in 30 games. That hasn't prevented several high-profile teams from showing interest, as noted by Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated:
Marc J. Spears @MarcJSpearsESPN
NBA free agent forward-center Drew Gooden has received inquiries from New York, Toronto, Lakers & Clippers, source said.2016-7-7 21:00:02
Gooden's days of being a nightly double-double threat are likely a thing of the past. That said, he's still capable of making a bigger impact than he did for Washington if given a more involved role. He'd probably receive that in a rotation behind Randle and Timofey Mozgov.
Furthermore, there's value in having a player like Gooden in the locker room as the franchise's new generation begins learning what it takes to succeed in the NBA. He's got over 850 games of experience in his NBA career between the regular season and the playoffs.
Alan Anderson Emerges As Depth Option
Anderson is another reserve player still on the market who could fit in Los Angeles. He's bounced around the NBA and also had an extended stint overseas with several different teams since going undrafted out of Michigan State in 2005.
He checked in at 5.0 points per game in 13 appearances for the Wizards last season. His best campaign came in 2012-13 with the Toronto Raptors, when he averaged 10.7 points. Though he's not a major contributor, his outside shooting makes him a solid bench piece.
His market could begin to pick up as teams focus on filling specific needs in the rotation. Darren Wolfson of KSTP previously reported that the Lakers were one of four teams showing at least some level of interest in the swingman:
Darren Wolfson @DWolfsonKSTP
(2/2) DeLaSalle HS alum Alan Anderson has the 76ers, Cavs, Lakers, and Clippers, among teams interested.2016-6-30 19:16:19
Like Gooden, he's not the type of player who's going to make a major impact for Los Angeles. But he's a reasonable stopgap target at this stage of free agency, and the Lakers need a little more wing scoring in the short term.