5 Free Agents Los Angeles Lakers Should Target in 2017 NBA Offseason
Summer free agency is still months away, but for the Los Angeles Lakers, the opportunity to sign some meaningful talent can’t come soon enough. The team has one of the worst defenses in the league, a dearth of bigs who can stretch the floor and continuing question marks at the point guard position.
The bloated four-year contracts L.A. handed Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov last summer have clearly impacted future spending. Nonetheless, according to Basketball Insiders' Eric Pincus, the team is projected to have $31.5 million in available cap space this summer.
That’s enough for one max-type offer or any combination of more prudent deals.
Nick Young has the ability to exercise his player's option at the end of the season, while Metta World Peace, Thomas Robinson and Tyler Ennis will also be free agents. On the other hand, L.A. will likely have two first-round draft picks.
The big picture is that the Lakers won't have a lot of holes to fill, but they certainly need some upgrading.
Yet despite the number of quality players that will be available and a management reboot in Magic Johnson as president of basketball operations and Rob Pelinka as general manager, there are certain challenges that will be hard to overcome.
The new collective bargaining agreement makes it easier for teams to retain their own stars by paying them more and signing them to longer terms than the competition can.
Plus, the lure of the Lakers simply isn't what it once was. Why would the likes of Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Gordon Hayward and Blake Griffin want to play for a team whose last playoff berth was a first-round bounce four years ago?
Reality bites sometimes. But that doesn't mean L.A. has to settle for marginal players that cost too much once again. Indeed, there will be a number of quality players on the market that are—at least in theory—gettable.
Patty Mills, San Antonio Spurs (Unrestricted)
Point Guard Patty Mills isn’t a starter or a superstar for the San Antonio Spurs. But he has carved out a career as a useful role player and a dangerous shooter.
The Australian baller was the 55th overall draft pick in 2009 for the Portland Trail Blazers and played sparingly for the team before signing as a free agent with the Spurs in 2012. He's been a spark plug off the bench ever since.
Mills isn’t big at 6'0" but he sets tough screens, switches onto bigger players and plays the passing lanes superbly. And then there are the deadly daggers from the perimeter, where he shoots 41.6 percent on a sturdy 4.5 attempts per game.
With six seasons under Gregg Popovich, Mills is all about the team concept and delivering a consistent effort. L.A. needs that kind of presence.
The question is whether San Antonio will dig deep enough into its pockets to keep the scrappy point guard. There's also the issue of what kind of role the Lakers could tempt Mills with.
Ersan Ilyasova, Atlanta Hawks (Unrestricted)
The Atlanta Hawks picked up power forward Ersan Ilyasova at the trade deadline and sent back Tiago Splitter and a couple second-round picks to the Philadelphia 76ers. It's Ilyasova's fifth team in two years, including three squads this season alone. The 6'10" power forward will be up for grabs again this summer.
Ilyasova's role shifts with each city, but he always delivers a consistent effort. Since arriving in Atlanta, he has primarily backed up Dwight Howard as a small-ball center, completing a lights-out 52.9 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc.
One only has to look at the Lakers frontcourt to see how the Turkish sharpshooter might fit in. Ilyasova attempted 5.6 three-pointers per game with the 76ers over 53 games this season. Julius Randle, Larry Nance Jr., Mozgov, Tarik Black, Ivica Zubac and Robinson have combined for approximately one attempt per game.
See how this works?
Throw the sniper in there and watch the points pile up. And lest anyone think Ilyasova is a one-trick pony, his 5.7 rebounds per game average this year is respectable. This guy would definitely fit a position of need in Los Angeles.
J.J. Redick, Los Angeles Clippers (Unrestricted)
The Lakers traded away high-volume scorer Lou Williams this season and could also lose Young if he opts out and heads elsewhere.
One way to plug the hole would be signing J.J. Redick, another guard who lives to get buckets.
The veteran gunner has started 67 games this season for the Los Angeles Clippers and has averaged 14.7 points, 2.2 boards and 1.4 assists with a solid 41.4 percent mark from three-point range. He has also shown some defensive improvement as years have passed.
Every team needs a guy who will step in and let it fly. Redick is obsessive about the perfection of his sharpshooting craft. He’s also brutally honest about team effort.
"I don't know what to expect from this team anymore," he said recently, per Bill Oram of the Orange County Register. "We're in a bad place right now. ... We've been s--t since the All-Star break."
The team bounced back with a win against the Cleveland Cavaliers after that statement. The Clippers are currently fifth in the West.
Redick isn't a panacea for all that ails the Lakers, and he most certainly isn’t a franchise star. But he is a voice of reason who can shoot the ball—two qualities that don't always coincide.
Nerlens Noel, Dallas Mavericks (Restricted)
It's no secret that the Lakers could use a young, athletic rim protector at the center position and Nerlens Noel is that kind of player—lean and rangy at 6'11" and mobile, despite a torn ACL that caused him to miss his rookie season three years ago.
At 22, Noel is still raw and something of a puzzle. His time with the 76ers was erratic, to say the least. Spectacular dunks and blocks contrasted a nearly nonexistent offensive presence outside the paint. He can't shoot, isn't a good ball-handler and can seem completely lost at times.
But the high-flying big still has a lot of upside and could potentially be molded by coach Luke Walton. That's something that can't be said about Mozgov, the lumbering leviathan who has been shut down for the remainder of the season in order to let younger prospects grow.
L.A. expressed interest in Noel before the midseason trade deadline, according to Sporting News' Sean Deveney. But the Dallas Mavericks wound up with the 2013 sixth overall pick, who has played well since then, averaging 10.1 points, 7.5 boards and 1.3 blocks off the bench.
Putting forth an offer sheet for a restricted free agent carries some risk—the Lakers' money would be tied up for about a week as the Mavs decide whether to match. But if the gambit works, L.A. will have the kind of young defensive stopper they need.
Jrue Holiday, New Orleans Pelicans (Unrestricted)
When he's on his game, Jrue Holiday is one of the league's best all-around point guards.
The 26-year-old has had his injury issues over the years, including a troublesome stress fracture in his right leg that required surgery. But he's been firing on all cylinders as of late, averaging 15.7 points, 7.2 assists, 4.0 boards and 1.6 steals through 54 games.
He'll hit the open market this summer, and there's little doubt the Pelicans would like to keep him. But this is a team that has continually shuffled the deck in recent seasons and is way out of the playoff picture. New Orleans is 5-7 since acquiring DeMarcus Cousins at the trade deadline.
According to ESPN.com's Zach Lowe, the Pelicans are worried that Holiday will walk. If so, he'll find plenty of suitors.
Meanwhile, the Lakers will continue to try and find the right balance between their young guards, D'Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson, both of whom are at their best when in attack mode. Either or both could become legitimate stars at some point.
But one thing becomes abundantly clear: This is a team that has not had a consistently good floor general in a long time. Holiday, who is finally healthy and still in his prime, could be that guy.
At 6'4" and with excellent court vision, this is a mature, patient guard who knows pick-and-roll inside and out. He's not a three-point specialist, but he's good enough from outside to keep opponents honest. And, he's the kind of defender that the Lakers simply do not have.
Maybe Russell will be this versatile some day. But Holiday could step into Walton's system and execute it properly immediately.
Stats are courtesy of Basketball Reference and are current as of the end of games, March 18.