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The Most Important Free Agent for Los Angeles Lakers to Land This Offseason

David Murphy@@davem234Featured ColumnistApril 6, 2015

HOUSTON, TX - MARCH 17: Tobias Harris #12 of the Orlando Magic stands on the court during a game against the Houston Rockets on March 17, 2015 at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2015 NBAE (Photo by Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images)
Bill Baptist/Getty Images

As the end of another losing season approaches, it is painfully obvious that the Los Angeles Lakers need help across the board. Yet when it comes to pinpointing a top free-agent target during the offseason, the same unlikely pipe dream names keep getting recycled.

There are always cases to be made for star-power candidates, no matter how convoluted.

Marc Gasol may not ultimately leave the Memphis Grizzlies, but he has said he "won’t say no to anything," per Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News

Kevin Love of the Cleveland Cavaliers seems completely uninterested in the Lakers, but former All-Star Alonzo Mourning told Slam Magazine, “I think he’s probably going to go to LA. I could see that.”

And Max Kellerman of Max and Marcellus on ESPN 710 said that, according to a reliable source, “(Rajon) Rondo is a mortal lock to sign with the Lakers.” Part of the Rondo allure has to do with the fervor aging Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant has for pursuing his basketball buddy.

But Bryant’s playing days are drawing to an end, and Rondo, heading into his 10th NBA season, is not the force he once was. Is a past-his-prime point guard worth betting the farm on for a forward-thinking team?

Andy Bailey @AndrewDBailey

Rajon Rondo's 79th of 81 PGs in real plus-minus. Kobe Bryant has the worst net rating on the not-so-good Lakers. Yeah, put them together.

Los Angeles has a budding point guard star in Jordan Clarkson—the Western Conference Rookie of the Month for March.

They also have a very good chance at a top-five draft pick in a class that is loaded with intriguing bigs like Karl-Anthony Towns, Jahlil Okafor and Willie Cauley-Stein.

But what else have the Lakers not had for far too long? Is there a player who could be pried away from his current team without breaking the bank? Is it possible that the most important free-agent signing isn't a headline-attracting name?

Tobias Harris of the Orlando Magic presents such a scenario.

He’s young, aggressive and plays the small forward position—a spot where Los Angeles has lacked fortitude since Metta World Peace left the building, and Trevor Ariza before him.

Harris won’t turn 23 until this summer. He has good size at 6’9”, and plenty of power to go along with it. He fights fiercely for rebounds. He’ll even fight his own teammate to grab a board!

Born Salty @cjzero

Magic's Tobias Harris & Aaron Gordon Angrily Fight For Rebound (h/t @tweetdavebenz, @joshvanklomp) https://t.co/Qxdn7Ye4mK

And, most importantly, he may actually be obtainable.

According to Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders, Orlando plans on extending a qualifying offer to Harris this summer, making him a restricted free agent: “The belief is that the Magic would match almost anything under $13 million a season, the question is will Harris get an offer sheet worth more than that number in July and will the Magic budge off their price range?”

Harris was the 19th overall pick out of Tennessee in 2011, selected by the Charlotte Bobcats and promptly traded to the Milwaukee Bucks. After an uneventful season and a half in Milwaukee, the sophomore small forward was traded to the Magic as part of a six-player swap.

And then things took off. Harris went from 4.9 points, 2.0 rebounds and 0.3 blocks through 28 games with the Bucks to 17.3 points, 8.5 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in 27 games with the Magic that same season.

Currently, the fourth-year player is averaging 17.2 points and 6.3 boards in 34.9 minutes per game. He has the Magic’s second-highest win share total at 4.4, second only to Nikola Vucevic, and the lowest turnover percentage on the team at 10 percent. Harris is also averaging a steal per game this season, as well as shooting 49 percent from two-point range and a career-high 37 percent from beyond the arc.

Johnny @jnavla

Karl-Anthony Towns / Julius Randle / Tobias Harris / Kobe Bryant / Jordan Clarkson ... How could you not like a Lakers lineup like that?

Harris led the way for the Magic on the road against the Bucks on Saturday night, scoring 23 points and adding 10 rebounds and three blocks. He even knocked down 5-of-9 attempts from downtown. But despite the scoring heroics against his former team, it was defense that ultimately mattered to Harris.

“In the fourth quarter, I felt we were more physical and we kept them off the glass,” said Harris, per The Associated Press (via Fox Sports Wisconsin). “We were locked in defensively.”

This guy would be a tremendous upgrade from Wesley Johnson in all respects, and has a much more complete game than Nick Young—an unabashed lover of all things related to scoring but not much of an impediment to opponents on the other end of the floor.

This isn’t to say that Harris is a perfect player, or that he warrants the level of attention or money that will be thrown at elite free agents like LaMarcus Aldridge, Greg Monroe or Goran Dragic this summer—that's not the case being made.

But the fourth-year player from Orlando can be a highly effective piece of the puzzle in a near total rebuild, and acquiring him would provide the financial flexibility that is absolutely needed for such a large reconstruct.

Lakers Pulse @LakersPulse

Not wanting to sign a guy like Tobias Harris who is only 22 because he isn't a superstar is silly. Lakers need talent, he's a good start

The Lakers won’t make any decisions until after the draft—the team could have as many as two first-round and two second-round picks, depending on the final standings and how the lottery balls bounce. And then comes the all-important free-agency process, where Los Angeles has holes to fill at every position.

Despite obvious home run wishes, L.A.’s front office is also looking at more pragmatic offseason moves. As one example, picking up the $9 million team option on Jordan Hill is reportedly starting to loom as a distinct possibility.

As Sean Deveney of Sporting News recently wrote: “The Lakers want to be active on the free-agent market, but considering the going rate for big men, front-office executives have told me the Lakers are leaning toward keeping Hill, unless they get some assurance they can land a star big man in free agency.”

If the Lakers do indeed keep Hill, they’ll have a solid piece of a big-man rotation—and a highly tradable asset given his expiring contract. Plus, they’d still have enough cash to go after a high-quality player who falls just outside of top-tier status.

How should a “most important free agent” be determined? There is no singular answer, but signing a two-way competitor like Harris would fill a crucial positional need and add a dose of hyper-competitiveness to a roster that sorely needs both

The Lakers have been searching for answers in recent years. Tobias Harris would solve at least one part of the conundrum.

And that is something of significance and value, something that is likely to have a measurable effect on the Purple and Gold’s future success.

All advanced statistics provided by Basketball-Reference.com unless otherwise stated. 

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