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Los Angeles Lakers Must Turn Free-Agent Focus to Filling Obvious Hole at Center

David Murphy@@davem234Featured ColumnistJuly 1, 2015

Portland Trail Blazers' LaMarcus Aldridge (12) works against Los Angeles Clippers' DeAndre Jordan (9) during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Portland, Ore., Tuesday Feb 16, 2010. (AP Photo/Greg Wahl-Stephens)
Greg Wahl-Stephens/Associated Press

The official start of NBA free agency has arrived, and the Los Angeles Lakers are hard at work looking to plug a gaping frontcourt hole.

Time is somewhat relative, as the 12:01 a.m. ET Wednesday opening bell for free agency also means 9:01 p.m. Tuesday on the West Coast.

Per Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News, the Lakers front office got a quick jump on the process:

The Lakers plan to meet with Portland center LaMarcus Aldridge once free agency starts on Tuesday night, according to a league source familiar with the team’s itinerary. The Lakers will then follow that up with a meeting on Wednesday with Clippers center DeAndre Jordan, the league source said.

Medina goes on to point out that L.A. can offer either player a “four-year deal worth $80 million as opposed to a five-year deal worth $108 million they can make with their respective teams.”

Ben Bolch @latbbolch

Heard that LaMarcus Aldridge was leaning toward Lakers, a sign that their brand is not only back but never went away despite appearances.

The Lakers will have roughly $23 million in salary-cap space to work with once they sign deals with their new rookie acquisitions from Thursday night’s draft—point guard D’Angelo Russell, power forward Larry Nance Jr. and small forward Anthony Brown.

Selecting Russell with their prized No. 2 pick was an instant indication that the Lakers would look to the open market to solve their center quandary. Speaking with the press after the draft, Lakers manager Mitch Kupchak confirmed that focus, per Joey Ramirez of Lakers.com.

“I think we’d look to focus on the frontcourt,” Kupchak said. “We’re going to do the best we can. We’re always optimistic going in.”

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Mark Medina @MarkG_Medina

With Lakers taking Russell, Kupchak conceded he'll focus more on marquee free agents in the frontcourt. Think Aldridge, Gasol, Love, Jordan

The Lakers further solidified their intention Monday when they opted not to exercise Jordan Hill’s $9 million team contract option, per Sean Deveney of Sporting News.

So now the chase begins. The Lakers can’t bank on either Aldridge or Jordan, of course—each will also be meeting with other, equally amorous suitors, including their current teams. 

According to David Aldridge of TNT, additional meetings for the Portland Trail Blazers big man include the Houston Rockets, San Antonio Spurs, Dallas Mavericks, Phoenix Suns, New York Knicks and Toronto Raptors.

Meanwhile, per AP writer Jon Krawczynski, the Lob City giant is to begin meetings with his home team, the Mavericks and the Knicks.

There’s also the matter of positional preference for Aldridge. The 6’11”, nine-year veteran has steadily increased his focus on the power forward slot over the years to such an extent that he spent only 9 percent of his minutes at the pivot this season, compared to 54 percent as recently as the 2010-11 season, according to Basketball-Reference.com.

That doesn’t mean you don’t sign the four-time All-Star in a heartbeat. But there’s no such low-post quandary with Jordan, a player who will never be confused for anything other than a glass-munching paint monster. 

Mike Greenberg @Espngreeny

Of all the players I've heard the #Lakers might realistically get, the most intriguing would be DeAndre Jordan.

And he’s very much wanted by his cross-hallway Staples Center rivals. As Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times reported Monday, unnamed NBA officials have indicated that there are a variety of recruiting tools aimed at the 6’11” center: “Jordan has gotten a call from Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, the officials said. Bryant wanted Jordan to know the Lakers are interested.”

For that matter, Bryant is also active in the Aldridge recruitment process. Per Sam Amick of USA Today Sports, the five-time NBA champion was expected to be a part of the Tuesday night meeting.

Perhaps at the end of the day, the Lakers can find a way to have their cake and eat it too. As unlikely as the pipedream might seem, Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports reports that the L.A. front office is trying to clear more cap space to make a run at both behemoths.

Adrian Wojnarowski @wojespn

Around the league, executives believe the Lakers are pursuing space to offer free agent deals to LaMarcus Aldridge and DeAndre Jordan.

As Bleacher Report's Dan Favale points out, however, this is a highly improbable scenario.

Moving on from the dynamic duo concept, there are other big men for the Lakers to consider as well.

At 25, Greg Monroe is a proven low-post scorer who has played both center and power forward over his five years with the Detroit Pistons. Monroe is a solid rebounder but has never shown a strong rim-protecting aptitude—a quality L.A. sorely needs. The Motor City big man averaged just 0.5 blocks per game this season and 0.6 blocks over his career. 

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 15:  Greg Monroe #10 of the Detroit Pistons prepares to shoot a free throw against the New York Knicks on April 15, 2015 at Madison Square Garden in New York City.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloa
Ned Dishman/Getty Images

Other possibilities include Kevin Love of the Cleveland Cavaliers, who will be meeting with the Lakers this week, according to Chris Broussard of ESPN. On the other hand, it’s doubtful L.A. will have a realistic shot at Marc Gasol of the Memphis Grizzlies. According to ESPN’s Marc Stein, the All-Star center isn’t scheduling meetings with rival teams. 

Other names to keep an eye on if the top tier falls out include Omer Asik of the New Orleans Pelicans, Kosta Koufos of the Grizzlies and the Lopez brothers—Robin of the Trail Blazers and Brook of the Brooklyn Nets.

The free-agent dominoes could drop quickly, though, with news from Stein that Brook Lopez will likely be off the market that fast.

Marc Stein @TheSteinLine

Says at least one source close to talks on expected 3/60M deal for Brook Lopez and 4/50M deal for Thad Young: "Consider them done deals"

The Lakers currently have some frontcourt players on the roster but none who would be thought of as starters at the center position.

Julius Randle will return in the fall after sitting out his rookie season with a broken leg, and he is best suited as a power forward with the potential to slide over to the 3. Ryan Kelly is a stretch 4 coming off a disappointing year, while Tarik Black showed promise as a still-raw, undrafted rookie backup center this season.

The team also picked up their $981,358 option on backup center Robert Sacre, per Eric Pincus of the Times.

Another interesting variable will be Robert Upshaw—a free agent who wasn’t drafted Thursday night but will appear with the Lakers' summer league squad in Las Vegas. Upshaw is a 7-foot rim protector who could be a low-cost steal for Los Angeles.

Also lurking in the wings is Lakers free agent Ed Davis, a 6’10” former lottery pick who performed well during his first season in L.A. Once again, however, Davis’ chief function has been at the 4, where he doggedly goes after loose balls and scores from extremely close range.

David Zalubowski/Associated Press

There may be a budgetary bump in the road, however. According to Medina, Davis is looking for a “two- or three-year deal worth $7-8 million a year, or a one-year deal worth $9-10 million.” That’s a steep jump from the $981,084 he earned from L.A. this season.

The theme should be obvious by now—there are plenty of available players who can function in the frontcourt for the Lakers, but not a lot of quality true centers.

Nonetheless, the Lakers already have an exciting group of young players to surround Bryant with in the fall. Russell has the talent and court vision to be a transcendent superstar in the league, and this year’s NBA All-Rookie First Team guard Jordan Clarkson will be another backcourt piece with which the Lakers can build. 

The L.A. front office will try to capitalize on its own momentum coming out of a successful draft and score a home run with a centerpiece big man.

The Tuesday night meeting with Aldridge was the first shot fired. The coming days will turn into a free-for-all as more stacks of free-agent chips are shoved to the middle of the table. 

The Lakers are looking to go all-in on a major frontcourt rebuild.

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