Let’s face it…if the Lakers hope to regain their championship form from the 2009 and 2010 postseasons, they must acquire players this offseason who can fill their three major needs: a quick point guard who can penetrate and create for others, an athletic wing player who can come off the bench and stretch the floor and a defensive-minded center who can spell Andrew Bynum.
Unfortunately, because the Lakers have a team salary of $92,422,877 (assuming that Shannon Brown doesn't return)—the highest in the league as of now—they are limited in free agency, and can only offer the mid-level exception, bi-annual exception or minimum salary exception to free agents. Thus, unrestricted free agents, such as Jason Richardson, Jamal Crawford, J.R. Smith, Caron Butler, Carl Landry, Glen Davis, Marc Gasol and Samuel Dalembert will likely sign elsewhere with a team that can pay them more than the mid-level exception.
So, aside from signing Jeff Foster, or a player of his caliber to the mid-level exception, which would provide Los Angeles with a great rebounder and defender off the bench, the Lakers can't do much in terms of addressing their other two needs through free agency.
In addition to their salary cap woes, the Lakers have no first round draft picks in the upcoming 2011 NBA Draft. Although they have four second round draft picks, Los Angeles will be hard-pressed to find a player at that point in the draft who can immediately step in as the starting point guard or as a key contributor off the bench.
Thus, the Lakers will have to address their needs by making the necessary trades.
Of all the teams that the Lakers have been in discussions with this past week, Cleveland provides them with the best chance to get quality players for a cheap price.
Here is a potential scenario:
Lakers 2011-12 Lineup:
PG: Sessions (Fisher)(Blake)
SG: Kobe Bryant (Eyenga)
SF: Matt Barnes (Devin Ebanks)(Luke Walton)
PF: Pau Gasol (Lamar Odom)(Samardo Samuels)
C: Andrew Bynum
When the Cleveland Cavaliers select Kyrie Irving with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, Ramon Sessions will be pushed to the No. 3 point guard on the team's depth chart —behind Irving and Baron Davis—making the 25-year old guard expendable.
Because there is no reason for Cleveland to be paying its third point guard more than 4,500,000 per year, the Cavaliers are actively shopping Sessions, looking to swap him for either a veteran presence or draft pick. As a result, the Lakers will be to able acquire Sessions for relatively cheap, losing only Artest, Caracter and the No. 46 overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft.
Although Artest's defensive presence will be missed, his inability to knock down open jumpers—he shot 39.7 percent from the field last season—as well as his poor decision-making made him a liability on offense.
With Sessions, the Lakers get a young point guard who thrives on getting into the lane. Although he struggles with his perimeter shot—he is a career 18.3 percent shooter from three-point range—Sessions is a true point guard with a pass first, shoot second mentality.
Sessions has an underrated first step, which allows him to blow by defenders and into the lane where he can either dish the ball to a cutting teammate or put it up for a floater. Because of his tendency to attack the basket, Sessions was among the league leaders in total free throws attempted last season with 423, which was more than Chris Paul, Manu Ginobili, Deron Williams or John Wall.
Sessions' athleticism and his ability to create for his teammates is just what the Lakers need. Los Angeles can no longer rely on Kobe to carry the entire team offensively; it's simply too much work for him at this stage of his career. The acquisition of Sessions would take some of the pressure off Bryant to be both Lakers' main facilitator and scorer.
Don't overlook Samardo Samuels and Christian Eyenga's value in this trade. In his rookie season, Eyenga averaged 6.9 points and 2.8 rebounds per game, and proved to be a spark off the bench with his electrifying dunks.
Samuels, who struggled in limited minutes at the beginning of the season, showed that he has the potential to be a consistent threat, posting two double-doubles in March. Thus, the addition of Samuels would provide the Lakers with depth behind Gasol and Bynum, something Los Angeles didn't have last season.
Overall, the Lakers gain one starter (Sessions) and two key bench players (Samuels and Eyenga) while only losing Artest. In the process, Los Angeles gets much younger and fills one of its major needs.