6 Low-Cost Targets for Los Angeles Lakers in NBA Free Agency

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistMay 4, 2017

6 Low-Cost Targets for Los Angeles Lakers in NBA Free Agency

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    The Los Angeles Lakers are stuck in a four-year rut that has redefined the word "struggle" for the historically dominant NBA franchise. 

    Suffice it to say, their free-agency shopping list is extensive. Unfortunately, their budget is not—thanks in no small part to the $136 million wasted on Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov last summer.

    This offseason must be one of restraint and smart investment. As eager as the fresh front office is to stop this seemingly endless skid, it has to exercise patience as this talented-but-raw roster matures.

    The Lakers need to sniff out bargains to help offset the financial burdens left from the last regime. Those are never easy to find in today's hoops economy, but these six targets should help fill on-court voids without necessitating the sacrifice of any purple-and-gold piggy banks.

Reggie Bullock, SF, Restricted

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    Luke Walton intimately knows the full value of the three ball. During his two seasons spent as a Golden State Warriors assistant, he saw them pace the league in three-point makes and percentage, all while making a pair of NBA Finals appearances and snapping a 40-year title drought.

    While he couldn't bring the Splash Brothers with him to SoCal, Walton did have a Warriors-esque offensive blueprint packed in his belongings.

    "The floor should be spaced with free-flowing ball movement going side-to-side," Walton said in October, per Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News. "If you're a shooter and you're open, I want you to shoot it."

    Problem is, there just aren't many shooters. The Lakers were, at best, mediocre outside—19th in makes, 22nd in percentage—and their top four marksmen are either already gone (Lou Williams, Jose Calderon) or entering free agency (Nick Young, Tyler Ennis).

    D'Angelo Russell led the under-contract Lakers with a 35.2 three-point percentage. Reggie Bullock buried 38.4 percent of his long-range looks a year after converting 41.5 percent.

    The former first-round pick took a while to find his NBA calling, but he made noticeable strides as a substitute sniper for the Detroit Pistons over the past two seasons. That said, they might not spend big to keep him. They'll have to take care of rising 3-and-D stud Kentavious Caldwell-Pope first, and former No. 8 pick Stanley Johnson should get the lion's share of developmental minutes on the wing.

    Bullock has only played 147 games over four seasons. Even if his shooting attracts suitors, it's almost impossible to imagine his bidding getting out of hand.

Ian Clark, SG, Unrestricted

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    Ian Clark's first year in Golden State was Walton's last. Apparently, one season is more than enough germination time to sprout a basketball bromance.

    Here's how Walton described Clark in November 2015, per Mike Sorenson of the Deseret News: "He's great, he's a phenomenal teammate, he's fun to coach, he works extremely hard, and when you see someone like that succeed when they're given an opportunity it's great."

    And here's Clark on Walton a year later (via LetsGoWarriors): "He's just a great guy to be around. You embrace his energy. You embrace his enthusiasm and his characteristics."

    Clark shares several characteristics with the Lakers' former super-sub Lou Williams. Clark doesn't have the same handles, but he can slip around overzealous closeouts and find scoring opportunities on the move. He's also younger, cheaper and more dangerous from distance (career-high 37.4 percent this season).

    Potential suitors might knock down his price as an undersized shooting guard (6'3") who doesn't always prioritize passing (career 3.1 assists per 36 minutes). But the Lakers have size elsewhere in the backcourt (Russell and Jordan Clarkson both stand 6'5"), and Walton's system doesn't require a primary passer.

    Clark is seemingly hitting the open market at the perfect time with career-best marks in traditional and advanced categories across the board. However, teams may not trust all the numbers given the remarkable talent assembled around him, potentially making his salary more than manageable.

Tyler Ennis, PG, Unrestricted

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    The Lakers have already extracted value out of Tyler Ennis once.

    Back in February, they flipped the seldom-used Marcelo Huertas for the former top-20 pick and immediately received dividends. Ennis, on his fourth team in three seasons, found the stable role he'd never had and used it to provide unexpected production—15.6 points on 45.1 percent shooting (38.9 from three) and 4.8 assists per 36 minutes.

    And these weren't empty stats, either. L.A., which had this season's third-worst record, outscored opponents by 5.4 points per 100 possessions over Ennis' 392 minutes. 

    "He's got a great feel for being a point guard, getting into the lane, making an extra pass, finishing around the rim, playing defense," Walton said, per Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times. "... If he can consistently be a threat from [three], he's going to be a very good player in this league."

    Ennis, still just 22 years old, looks like a project worth developing.

    While his scoring shined in L.A., he initially caught scouts' eyes with his penchant for passing. And that might be this group's greatest offensive need. Despite Walton's system calling for ball movement, the Lakers finished just 26th in assists per game (20.9) and assist percentage (53.2).

    If L.A. keeps its top-three protected pick and spends it on a point guard, that might punch Ennis' ticket out of town. But if the position isn't filled on draft night, this looks like a cost-effective way to do it.

Justin Holiday, SG, Unrestricted

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    There was one major problem with the Lakers defense—they never played any.

    L.A. not only finished dead last in defensive efficiency (110.6), it had the worst such mark of the 2010s. They also ranked behind everyone in opponents' field-goal percentage (48.3). But hey, at least they weren't last in defending the restricted area...they were 29th (65.5 percent).

    "We have to realize that offense is going to come. It needs to be done on the defensive end," Walton told reporters in March. "Everyone wants to score, especially young players. ... Too often, we concentrate too much on what we're getting on the offensive end and we let that affect our defense."

    The Lakers need more grinders—like Mission Hills native Justin Holiday, for instance.

    The lanky swingman (6'6" with a 7'0" wingspan) just completed his best NBA season to date. He played all 82 games for the New York Knicks, quickly endearing himself to the fanbase with solid, blue-collar offense and relentless work at the other end.

    When he took the floor, the Knicks surrendered 6.4 fewer points per 100 possessions, the biggest drop among their regulars. He paced their guards with a 13.0 defensive rebounding percentage and led their rotation players with 1.9 steals per 100 possessions. His 0.22 defensive real plus-minus ranked fifth among all shooting guards who averaged 20-plus minutes, per ESPN.com.

    As an added bonus, he's capable of hitting from three (career 34.2 percent) and rarely steps outside his offensive lane.

Ben McLemore, SG, Restricted

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    The elements that made Ben McLemore the seventh overall pick in 2013 are still evident, from the Ray Allen-like shooting form to the explosive athleticism that made him a dunk contest participant.

    But their sightings have become more sporadic as he's plummeted down the Sacramento Kings' pecking order.

    He logged 32.6 minutes per game as a sophomore; this year he received a career-low 19.3. He'd never started fewer than 53 games before opening just 26 contests in 2016-17.

    Some of the blame falls on his shoulders. His freakish physical tools have rarely resulted in positives on defense or the glass.

    But the Kings carry some of the burden, too. He needed fertile soil to grow and was instead tossed on a bed of rocks. He's played under four different coaches in four seasons and seen Sacramento spend draft picks, dollars and even DeMarcus Cousins to acquire players at his positionBuddy Hield, Malachi Richardson, Garrett Temple and Arron Afflalo.

    Yet, through it all, McLemore has shown some improvement. In 19 games after the All-Star break, he averaged 11.5 points in 22.2 minutes while hitting 45.6 percent from the field and 40.3 percent outside.

    "It's the business of basketball—things like this happen," McLemore told FanRag Sports' Wes Goldberg. "... I've been staying mentally tough throughout the course of the season and then my name got called, I'm prepared and I'm ready."

    Given the Lakers' shooting shortages, McLemore should be an attractive target. And even though he's a restricted free agent, Sacramento's glut on the wings might shy it away from matching his offer.

Mike Muscala, C, Unrestricted

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    There were 25 centers with double-digit three-point makes this season. No Lakers were on that list. Mike Muscala was, though, ranking 12th in triples (46) and third in percentage (41.8).

    Muscala also bettered the Lakers' bigs in interior defense. He held opponents to 49.5 percent shooting at the rim and blocked 1.2 shots per 36 minutes—which became his new career low. No Lakers who faced at least four point-blank attempts per game yielded a lower conversion rate (Tarik Black was closest at 50.9), and the only two with more swats per 36 minutes saw less floor time than Muscala (Black and Ivica Zubac).

    Still not buying Muscala's ability to help the Lakers up front? You should hear the sales pitch from Atlanta Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer, per Hawks.com's KL Chouinard:

    "He can play the 4 or the 5. He can score in the paint. He can space the court, and shoot and make threes. He can pass as well. He protects the rim. He's a really good player."

    If Budenholzer is such a fan of Muscala, would the Hawks really let him walk? They could. They already have $23.5 million going to Dwight Howard next season and probably need more than that to keep Paul Millsap around. They also must make a decision on fellow floor-spacing free agent Ersan Ilyasova, who averaged more points and minutes than Muscala.

    Atlanta's loss could be Los Angeles' gain. Muscala not only addresses needs for frontcourt shooting and defense, but at 25 years old, he also fits the timeline of the Lakers' young nucleus.

    As someone who's never averaged more than 17.7 minutes, he's unlikely to come priced at a premium.

    Statistics used courtesy of NBA.com and Basketball ReferenceSalary information obtained via Basketball Insiders.

    Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @ZachBuckleyNBA.