As soon as the Los Angeles Lakers added LeBron James to the team, the talk turned to which stars they could bring in to create a championship-caliber roster.
That plan for a second superstar didn't end up happening, though not for a lack of trying. The Lakers signed a hodgepodge of veterans, and with the confidence of knowing James is around for at least three years, went ahead with that and the young talent already in place.
So far, the results have been good-to-mixed, as the Lakers are 10-7 and seventh in the West as of Wednesday night. The younger players like Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and Lonzo Ball are flashing potential, but there are no sure signs of greatness in them. As a result, the Lakers are constantly being linked to potential 2019 free agents who can help put them over the top.
One possibility is Milwaukee Bucks guard Khris Middleton. According to SportingNews.com's Sean Deveney, "speculation has it that Middleton could command a max salary," and one of the teams keeping tabs on him is the Lakers:
"Those are star-quality numbers [19.3 points, 5.4 rebounds, 4.4 assists per game this season], and they're the reason Middleton has max-deal buzz. There will be opportunities to explore—both the Lakers and Clippers, sources say, will have interest in Middleton, and he'll have options with rebuilding teams such as New York, Dallas and Cleveland. Either way, Middleton will get something around a five-year, $190 million deal from Milwaukee, or a four-year, $140 million contract to sign elsewhere."
Middleton might not be at the star caliber of Kevin Durant or Kawhi Leonard, but he has developed into a great player who can make any team better.
Middleton is sixth in the NBA in three-pointers made per game (3.1) and 30th in three-point percentage (42.4 percent). Scoring from outside and creating floor space is something the Lakers lack among their starters.
His net rating (16.2 more points per 100 possessions with Middleton on the court) is seventh in the league, per NBA.com. That's one spot higher than Milwaukee superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Bucks are way, way better with Middleton on the court, and he's one of the main reasons why they are second in the East at 13-4.
The 27-year-old guard/forward also plays hard on the other end of the floor and can defend multiple positions well, which is a big need for the Lakers.
Of course, as Deveney wrote above, the Bucks can offer him much more money if he opts out this summer and becomes a free agent.
Bleacher Report's Dan Favale expects him to rake in the cash:
Milwaukee is a good team and has one of the league's best in Antetokounmpo, who is a full 10 years younger than James. Middleton might be inclined to stay if the Bucks make a championship run this year. Joining the Lakers would mean going through the tough gauntlet that is the Western Conference.
The Lakers will likely go for bigger names first, but Middleton could be in the mix even if he commands a max contract. Los Angeles freed up money for a max by waiving Luol Deng. Middleton's name will likely get linked to any team that can afford him if he hits free agency, but he's someone the Lakers should take a long look at.