5 Value Free Agents the Los Angeles Lakers Should Target This Offseason
The Los Angeles Lakers will look to make big moves during the offseason—hopefully nabbing a prime lottery draft pick and successfully luring a free-agent game-changer.
But it’s not all about the splashy acquisitions—there are holes to fill across the board, and the Lakers’ war chest has to cover them all.
This is territory that management has had a modicum of success with recently—identifying young, undervalued players and giving them minutes to develop.
The Lakers need to keep the trend going this summer. After all, value finds are the bread and butter of all good teams.
This doesn’t necessarily mean rock-bottom bargains—it can entail investing solid cash for an upwardly trending player whose sticker price will continue to climb in the future.
The Lakers also have their own free agents to consider, including big man Ed Davis, who should be re-signed at a nice bump that doesn’t preclude targeting top-level players.
It’s also worth noting that the league’s salary cap could soar in future years, adding flexibility to multiyear deals.
But regardless, if there is one thing management must avoid, it is throwing mad money at fading stars.
Kosta Koufos, C, Memphis Grizzlies
Before the howls of protest begin, remember—this is about free agents who are not exorbitantly priced and can fill a practical need.
Kosta Koufos is that man—an unrestricted free-agent center who has been with four teams in seven seasons and is still only 26 years old.
Enter the Lakers with a modest yet respectable value bid.
Koufos is a solid rebounder and shot-blocker who has been feeding on table scraps the last two seasons as Gasol’s primary backup.
The 7-foot journeyman averaged 5.2 points, 5.3 rebounds and 0.8 blocks in 16.6 minutes per game during the regular season. While those numbers aren’t mind-blowing, his per-36 average of 11.2 points, 11.4 boards and 1.7 blocks are right in line with those of Lakers big man Davis—who, incidentally, was Koufos’ teammate in Memphis last year.
Koufos is earning $5.7 million this season, which was a bump up from his previous contract of $3 million per year. It’s doubtful he’ll attract substantial offers while the big names are in play.
The Lakers should offer $7.5 million because 7-foot shot-swatters aren't that common.
Khris Middleton, SF, Milwaukee Bucks
Khris Middleton of the Milwaukee Bucks is a 23-year-old swingman who can play the 4, 3 and 2. He has also become one of the league’s most buzz-worthy restricted free agents.
The former second-round draft pick out of Texas A&M was considered a throw-in when the Detroit Pistons traded him to the Bucks in a deal featuring a Brandon Knight-for-Brandon Jennings swap. But Middleton has since become one of Milwaukee’s key components.
The swingman is a talented two-way player who ranks No. 8 in ESPN’s real plus-minus equation—a formula that measures a player’s impact on the team while on the floor.
Middleton’s rating of 6.59 places him right between Russell Westbrook and DeMarcus Cousins. That’s good company for a guy who played minimal minutes in just 27 games during his rookie season last year.
Needless to say, the Bucks are high on Middleton. That fact isn’t lost on the rising star.
“From the day I got here, they really believed in me and that definitely helped me out on the court,” Middleton said recently, per Zach Buckley of Bleacher Report.
The team has a qualifying offer of $2,725,003 on the third-year player. But just how high will Milwaukee go to match competing bids?
The Lakers should triple that qualifying offer—to $8 million.
Tobias Harris, SF, Orlando Magic
The Orlando Magic finished their season with the fifth-worst record in the league—just marginally better than the Lakers. One particular player could be key to the rebuild hopes of each team.
That would be Tobias Harris—an aggressive small forward who has tons of upside and won’t turn 23 until this summer. The fourth-year player is a restricted free agent for the Magic and, like Middleton, will be heavily pursued by other teams.
At 6’8”, Harris plays both forward positions but is a standout at the 3. He averaged 17.1 points, 6.3 rebounds and a steal per game this season. He would be an enormous upgrade for the Lakers after two underwhelming seasons from free agent Wesley Johnson.
The Magic have a qualifying offer on Harris for $4,433,683. The question is, how much of a bump is enough?
Zach Oliver for Orlando Pinstriped Post recently wrote:
The true value of Harris is very hard to gauge. A source with knowledge of previous talks with Harris and the team said the Magic offered Harris a deal in the range of $9 million per year prior to the season. Talks between the involved parties never gained much steam after Harris' camp reportedly turned down the Magic's original offer.
Harris is a value player the Lakers should target aggressively in the offseason. Putting this guy alongside power forward Julius Randle in the starting lineup would solve a big piece of the reconstruction puzzle.
The Magic have said they want to bring Harris back “no matter what,” according to Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel.
But at what cost? The Lakers should loosen up the purse strings and offer $12 million—Harris is a game-changer.
Gerald Green, SF/SG, Phoenix Suns
At 29, Gerald Green has had a nomadic hoops dream journey.
But Green’s career found balance during the 2013-14 season as he posted a career-high 15.8 points in 28.4 minutes per game with the Phoenix Suns. This season, however, the 6’8” swingman saw his minutes slip to 19.5 per game.
"It's frustrating at times, I'm not going to lie, because I'm a basketball player, but I know everybody has made sacrifices on this team," Green said, per Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic. “As long as we win with the main goal to make the playoffs, that's all that matters.”
But the Suns didn’t make the playoffs, and now Green is an unrestricted free agent. Additionally, coach Jeff Hornacek called out Green’s defense late in the season, leading to an angry rebuttal by the wing’s agent, Kevin Bradbury of BDA Sports.
“The numbers show pretty clearly that Gerald is not the terrible defensive player he is being made out to be,” Bradbury said, per Sean Deveney of Sporting News. “The Suns played him a lot last year, they liked what he brought, when he was rolling, the team was rolling, and no one was out there complaining about his defense.”
That's the kind of brouhaha that could lead straight from the Valley of the Suns to the Land of the Lakers.
Green has some history in L.A. with summer league and training camp appearances, as well as a stint with the Los Angeles D-Fenders. One small downside is his age—he doesn’t exactly fit the profile of a long-term contributor for a youth-driven team.
Still, there’s no denying that Green is an electrifying scorer who still possesses considerable athleticism.
Green made $6.65 million this season with the Suns—a substantial bump from his previous contract of $3.5 million per year. L.A. should test the waters by offering two years at $5.25 million per year with a second-year player option.
Brandon Knight, PG, Phoenix Suns
The Brandon Knight story is a bit of a curious one. The talented 6’3” guard has been with three teams in just three seasons, despite starting virtually every game he has been in.
He just seems to have a knack for being traded.
The Detroit Pistons dealt him to the Milwaukee Bucks in return for Brandon Jennings last season. And in February he was traded to the Phoenix Suns.
The former No. 8 draft pick out of Kentucky appeared in just 11 games for the Suns before suffering an ankle injury that required minor surgery.
Knight will be a restricted free agent this summer, with the Suns holding a $4,790,680 qualifying offer. But after missing the playoffs, Phoenix will also have to prioritize its buying power as it looks to attract marquee names.
At 23, Knight has a ton of upside ahead of him. He’s a prolific scorer with a great ability to penetrate to the basket. He’s also a solid on-ball defender with sneaky hands, averaging 1.6 steals while with the Bucks this season.
The Suns like what they got in the trade during the deadline, but the Lakers should challenge them with a $7.5 million offer.
Granted, Los Angeles can't make offers to all the players profiled here. But any one of them could bring something positive to the table.