5 Tempting Free Agents Los Angeles Lakers Must Avoid in 2018 NBA Free Agency

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistMay 30, 2018

5 Tempting Free Agents Los Angeles Lakers Must Avoid in 2018 NBA Free Agency

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    Seth Wenig/Associated Press

    The Los Angeles Lakers enter the 2018 offseason equally loaded with cap space and optimism.

    That can be a glory-restoring combination or, if handled incorrectly, a terrible twosome that sets this organization back for years.

    They can't treat their two max-contract slots like money burning in their pockets. It's one thing to roll out the welcome mat for LeBron James, Paul George or both. It's quite another to make this "2016: The Sequel" and find this summer's equivalent of spending $136 million on Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov.

    We'll give the new front office the benefit of the doubt they won't repeat the sins of their predecessors. But L.A. could foil this opportunity without inking obviously egregious deals.

    The following five free agents, for instance, are all talented players. They're just not the best ways for the Lakers to splurge. Remember, if L.A. doesn't strike gold this summer, it can always retain its wiggle room for another big swing at the 2019 class.

    That might not sound too appealing now, but it's a smarter bet than spending big on these five.

Aaron Gordon, PF

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    Age: 22

    Free-Agency Stats: Restricted

    2017-18 Notable Numbers: 17.6 points, 7.9 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 16.5 player efficiency rating

    2017-18 Salary: $5.5 million

    Aaron Gordon is getting paid this summer. That already seems clear.

    He's already vocalized his hopes for max money, per Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel, and three likely suitors have already been identified—the Phoenix Suns, Dallas Mavericks and Indiana Pacers, per Sean Deveney of Sporting News.

    The Lakers seem like a logical addition to that list. Their core could mature on the same timeline as Gordon, who'd immediately improve their athleticism and defensive versatility. It isn't hard to conjure up images of future Lakers fans' mixtapes showing Gordon crush lobs from Lonzo Ball or seamlessly shift through defensive switches alongside Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart.

    But if Gordon is going to command near-elite money, what is the near-elite skill he's providing in return? He hasn't shown enough as a scorer to take touches away from Ingram and Kuzma. Gordon just cleared 30 percent from three the first time this season (33.6), but he was at 30 percent exactly after Orlando's 8-4 start.

    Gordon looks like an intriguing defender, but ESPN.com's real plus-minus put him 43rd among 90 power forwards. He's improving as a shot-creator, but his career-high 2.3 assists per game basically puts him on par with three-and-D swingman Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Gordon has never averaged eight rebounds or one block.

    If the Lakers want to spend on a project this summer, they can find a better fitting, more cost-effective option.

Isaiah Thomas, PG

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    Age: 29

    Free-Agency Stats: Unrestricted

    2017-18 Notable Numbers: 15.2 points, 4.8 assists, 37.3 field-goal percentage, 12.6 PER

    2017-18 Salary: $6.2 million

    Certain free-agency shoppers are going to view Isaiah Thomas as the ideal buy-low option this offseason.

    The two-time All-Star will be as motivated as any player on the market. In less than one year's time, he went from planning for a max-money payday to maybe scrambling for someone's mid-level exception.

    It's a brutal turn of events, but it's also business. And investing in a 5'9" scoring guard who bookended the worst season of his career with a hip injury and subsequent hip surgery doesn't sound like smart business.

    What could have been a summer defined by seemingly endless supplies of money now shifts to a bundle of uncomfortable and unanswered questions.

    "Can he recapture his scoring prowess?" SI.com's Ben Golliver wrote. "Are his defensive limitations too much for most teams to overcome? What's his ideal role: lead guard or spark-plug scorer? Will he recover his athleticism after the surgery?"

    Thomas' next contract should reflect this uncertainty. And if it propels him to sign a short-term, prove-it pact, the Lakers could have interest if they fail to catch a big fish this summer, per ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski.

    It's hard to see the payoff for L.A., though, outside of perhaps cheap production. The numbers would mostly be meaningless with the Lakers again fighting an uphill battle to the playoffs.

    Thomas has always looked to score first, and he could take that approach to the extreme while he races to recover whatever money he can. That sounds like an awful lot of offensive possessions that won't involve L.A.'s pivotal prospects.

Jabari Parker, PF

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Age: 23

    Free-Agency Stats: Restricted

    2017-18 Notable Numbers: 12.6 points, 4.9 rebounds, 38.3 three-point percentage, 17.1 PER

    2017-18 Salary: $6.7 million

    There's a portion of Jabari Parker's skill set that seems perfect for the purple and gold.

    Their 22nd-ranked offense lacked a leader. Ingram, Kuzma and Julius Randle all masqueraded as the top option at times, ultimately leaving all three in a tie for 44th in points per game (16.1). The last time Parker was healthy, he tallied 20.1 points a night while shooting 49 percent from the field and 36.5 percent from distance.

    His scoring ceiling might sit higher than any current Lakers'. But he's also essentially heading into free agency as a walking red flag.

    He's had two ACL tears in four NBA seasons, costing him nearly half his career to this point. It's unclear how it might shape his future. Any explosiveness lost could sabotage his offense, since more than 42 percent of his career attempts have come within three feet of the basket. He could also spiral from defensive liability to traffic cone, considering he tied for 465th in DRPM this season.

    Oh, there's also no guarantee these risks will be factored into his price. He's a conceivable target of his hometown Chicago Bulls and someone Milwaukee Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo wants to see stick around.

    "Jabari ain't going nowhere," Antetokounmpo said, per Matt Velazquez of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "He's going to be here and he's going to be ready for next season."

    The Lakers shouldn't bother forcing the Bucks to put their money where Antetokounmpo's mouth is. As skilled a scorer as Parker is, there are too many warning signs to ignore.

DeMarcus Cousins, C

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    Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

    Age: 27

    Free-Agency Stats: Unrestricted

    2017-18 Notable Numbers: 25.2 points, 12.9 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 22.6 PER

    2017-18 Salary: $18 million

    Statistically, DeMarcus Cousins appears poised to become the next great Lakers' big man.

    He's averaged at least 24 points, 11 rebounds and three assists in each of the last four seasons. No other player has done it once during that stretch, and only four—Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Elgin Baylor, Wilt Chamberlain and Bob Pettit—have ever tallied that line in more than four seasons.

    So, what's the catch with Cousins? There's a couple, actually.

    For starters, his short- and long-term futures look murky as he works his way back from a ruptured Achilles. That injury has the worst recovery rate in basketball, and Cousins is a unique case as a 6'11", 270-pounder who's always been extraordinarily mobile for his size.

    "The sample size of players as large as Cousins who have come back to full strength from an Achilles rupture is practically nonexistent," ESPN's Zach Lowe wrote.

    Cousins' track record includes a lot more dysfunction than winning. He's an inconsistent defender, and his five turnovers per game were the Association's most.

    Oh, he probably wants max dollars, too. And even if that doesn't guarantee he'll get them, Anthony Davis saying he wants Boogie around might.

    L.A.'s interest in Cousins is "unclear," according to Lowe. It probably shouldn't be there at all. Better to gamble on a possible 2019 jackpot then bet on post-Achilles Cousins delivering a max-contract return.

DeAndre Jordan, C

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    Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

    Age: 29

    Free-Agency Stats: Player Option

    2017-18 Notable Numbers: 15.2 rebounds, 12.0 points, 64.5 field-goal percentage, 20.2 PER

    2017-18 Salary: $22.6 million

    It would be hard to fault the Lakers for asking DeAndre Jordan how he'd feel about switching locker rooms inside the Staples Center.

    Imagine moving from the allergic-to-rebounding Brook Lopez to Jordan, a guy who's devoured the second-most boards since 2013-14. Imagine fretting about Randle's lack of length one minute, then having Jordan's 6'11" height, 7'6" wingspan and dunk-contest hops the next. Imagine having a preternatural passer like Ball and giving him a player so proficient on lobs he's led the league in field-goal shooting five different times.

    Need one more reason to think Jordan could be an option? LeBron "wanted [him] bad" in Cleveland, per The Athletic's Jason Lloyd.

    "With so many contributors still on rookie-scale deals, the Lakers can stomach giving Jordan a big-money deal if it means it'll help in their chase for James," Frank Urbina wrote for HoopsHype.

    That said, Jordan feels like an odd enticement for James. He might have been the best seemingly available player at the deadline, but this summer James' possible sidekicks could include Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, James Harden, Chris Paul, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. If Jordan's still on James' list, it's probably safe to assume he's no longer near the top.

    At his best, Jordan is a complementary piece. Right now, the Lakers don't have a win-now core to complement, and it's tough to tell if they will by the time he starts slipping out of his prime. He's also presumably thinking he'll find a significant salary on the open market if he's willing to walk away from a one-year, $22.6 million option.

    Unless James picks Jordan as a preferred teammate, the Lakers should look elsewhere for a major investment.

                    

    Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com. Salary information obtained via Basketball Insiders.