5 Biggest Holes Los Angeles Lakers Must Fill During 2015 Offseason
The Los Angeles Lakers roster may be the weakest it's ever been in the history of the franchise. The Lakers match the New York Knicks and Philadelphia 76ers in terms of having the least amount of talent available to suit up for an NBA game.
Even coach Byron Scott concedes that L.A. has holes up and down its roster, telling Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News after a recent practice, "We need pieces at every position".
Looking ahead to next season, the only places presumed to be occupied are the starting shooting guard and power forward spots. Kobe Bryant and Julius Randle should be staples at those positions, though both will be coming off season-ending ailments.
Other than that, Nick Young should slot in as usual as a backup wing, and promising rookie Jordan Clarkson eliminates the need for a backup point guard—unless he proves worthy of the starting job himself.
The rest of the roster is in flux, and the Lakers can stand to make improvements across the board.
Let's take a look at L.A.'s five biggest holes and offer suggestions on where to find the best players to fill them.
Starting Point Guard
When has this not been a hole on the Lakers roster?
The two candidates to lock down the job this season, Steve Nash and Jeremy Lin (both of whom were unsuccessful), will be free agents this summer.
Nash is headed for retirement, while Lin will not rejoin the Lakers after clashing with head coach Byron Scott all year.
So where do the Lakers turn?
They can keep things in-house and hand the keys to rookie Jordan Clarkson, who is getting an extended audition as the lead guard.
While Clarkson has performed well and should benefit from his rookie experience, a player of his skill set seems better-suited to come off the bench in a classic sixth-man role—a guy who comes in looking to score but can create a little for his teammates as well.
Signing a free agent is an option. The Lakers missed out on trading for Goran Dragic at the deadline, but L.A. is on his short list of long-term homes. A source close to the star point guard believes the Lakers are a "perfect fit" for Dragic in free agency, per Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News.
Rajon Rondo will also be an unrestricted free agent over the summer. Los Angeles could chase him, knowing Kobe Bryant is on board with bringing in the former NBA champion.
Appealing restricted free agents like Brandon Knight and Reggie Jackson may be stretches after just being traded to new teams at the deadline that could sign them to lucrative new deals first.
The Lakers can also draft a starting point guard (assuming they keep their pick, of course). Emmanuel Mudiay and D'Angelo Russell are two top prospects who may turn into All-Stars at the position in the future.
Starting point guard is the spot with the most potential solutions, but L.A. has proved time and again it is incapable of finding the right one.
The Lakers have trotted out multiple guys as their starting center this season. The most successful has been Ed Davis, but the lanky lefty will surely opt out of his minimum-level deal to hit the open market.
Robert Sacre and Jordan Hill both have team options for next season. L.A. will likely bring Sacre back given the minuscule salary involved, but he's not a starting-caliber center.
The team will probably retain Hill as well but more to be trade bait than anything else—he's a useful player with a hefty $9 million expiring contract attached.
Los Angeles can go shopping for a starting 5 in free agency. The summer's biggest catch would be Marc Gasol, who is widely considered to be the best center in the NBA.
Nick Young will lead the recruiting drive for Gasol, telling Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News, "I’ll talk to Marc (Gasol.) Me and him are cool."
The chances of landing Gasol are slim, though. After all, he has a good thing going in Memphis, where the Grizzlies perennially compete for championships and the citizens shower the big Spaniard with love.
Greg Monroe would be the consolation prize. The Detroit Piston has played outstanding basketball since the departure of Josh Smith, but serious concerns would arise defensively with him and Julius Randle starting in the frontcourt.
DeAndre Jordan would fit the bill defensively, but given his recent numbers and Doc Rivers clamoring for an All-Star nod, the price may exceed the value.
Once again, the draft may be the best place to seek a center. Duke's Jahlil Okafor is the consensus No. 1 pick, and if the Lakers miss out on him, Kentucky's Karl-Anthony Towns projects as a defensive anchor with skills in the top three as well.
Starting Small Forward
No one is clamoring for a third year of the Wes Johnson Experience.
According to 82games.com, the Lakers are getting less production from the small forward position than any other spot in the lineup.
You can thank Johnson—who has spent a forgettable two seasons as L.A.'s starting 3—for that.
With Johnson scheduled to become a free agent this summer, the Lakers can capitalize on the opportunity to move on to someone else.
Finding a free agent to fill the void will be tough, though. The top two options are both restricted and valuable to their current teams.
That said, the Lakers should go hard after both Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris and see if their current teams balk at the deal.
Another option is to go after a shooting guard in free agency and slide Kobe Bryant over to the 3. Unrestricted free agents Wesley Matthews and Danny Green would fit nicely in that scenario.
The draft is lackluster with high-end wing prospects this year. There is a scrum of five small forward types ranked between No. 8 and No. 13 on Chad Ford's big board, but the Lakers will almost certainly be picking in the top five.
In that situation, they would rather select an elite point guard or center prospect, given that those spots represent glaring needs as well.
Backup Big Man
Los Angeles can't just settle for fixing the starting lineup; depth is necessary as well to form a competitive ballclub.
Carlos Boozer will join Ed Davis in free agency, leaving a void in the depth chart for an effective backup big as well.
The Lakers have some more in-house options here, as Jordan Hill has excelled previously in a reserve role. Even assuming he gets moved, Ryan Kelly is a developing stretch 4 who may be ready for an expanded part next season, and Robert Sacre is always a fallback option.
There are also some intriguing bigs floating under the radar that L.A. could swoop in on in free agency like it did this past summer with Davis.
Thomas Robinson was traded yet again and remains a player with nice upside who just needs to find a stable rotation spot.
Brandan Wright has been one of the most efficient bigs in the league the last two years but is fighting for playing time in Phoenix and may want a bigger role of his own.
The Lakers also own the Houston Rockets' first-round pick in the 2015 draft, a pick that is likely to fall in the mid-20s. That's a good spot to pick up a functional backup big man as well.
It's a similar concept on the wing, where the Lakers have no depth on the roster past Nick Young.
Wayne Ellington has been a sold fill-in this season, but if he costs more than the minimum as a free agent this offseason, L.A. may have to pass.
The team may have to pass on Xavier Henry as well. The young guard suffered an Achilles tear before his 2015 campaign ever got going, and the injury may have wiped away whatever potential he had remaining.
Replacement-level wings who excel in one area are always available on the cheap in free agency. That's how the Lakers ended up with Ellington, after all.
A healthy number of those players exist, including Gerald Green, Marcus Thornton, Marco Belinelli, Mike Dunleavy and Gary Neal.
This is where L.A.'s first-rounder via Houston can really shine. A bundle of wing prospects are projected to go late in the first round. Chad Ford has five of them ranked between No. 25 and No. 31 on his big board, led by San Diego State freshman Malik Pope.
One general manager told Ford, regarding Pope, "If he were in the draft, I'm not sure you could pass on him once you move out of the lottery. He's not the same player, but he's got Antetokounmpo-type raw talent. On sheer raw capability, he's one of the five or six most talented guys in the draft."
That's the kind of chance you take with a late first-round selection. A guy like may start out as a backup wing but end up as a permanent fixture in the starting lineup down the road.