LOS ANGELES — The Lakers will go star-hunting once again this offseason. Last July produced LeBron James, but injuries and a failed attempt to trade for Anthony Davis ahead of February's deadline doomed the Lakers back into the draft lottery.
L.A. will have the spending power to go after a top free agent, and Charlotte Hornets All-Star Kemba Walker is one name to consider.
The 6'1" scoring point guard likely won't carry the 31-39 Hornets to the playoffs despite averaging a career-high 24.9 points per game. Almost 29 years old, Walker may be looking to relocate once his contract expires this offseason, and he'd be much better suited as the second-best player with the Lakers, filling the Kyrie Irving/Dwyane Wade role alongside James.
The Charlotte Observer's Rick Bonnell recently wrote: "I no longer think it's likely Kemba Walker re-signs with the Charlotte Hornets. More importantly, I no longer can give you a strong argument why he should."
Bonnell argued that the only advantage the Hornets have is the ability to pay Walker more money than another team, but "doing so would make it that much harder to surround Walker with the talent that would make his next five seasons meaningful."
The Lakers lack a reliable scorer in the backcourt, with Lonzo Ball, Rajon Rondo, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Josh Hart each below 10.5 points per game. Deadline acquisition Reggie Bullock is also hitting just 29.9 percent of his attempts from deep with L.A.
While Brandon Ingram reached a career-high average of 18.3 points per game before being diagnosed with deep vein thrombosis in his right arm and missing the rest of the season, he's naturally a forward pressed into service as a guard.
Walker's 35.8 percent clip from behind the arc this year is adequate, and he shot 38.4 percent and 39.9 percent the past two seasons. Playing off James, he should be able to take advantage of open looks he only dreams of getting as Charlotte's lone scorer.
And like Irving and Wade before him, he'd be able to take his own defender off the dribble when James needs a playmaker.
To make room for Walker and his projected maximum salary (up to $32.7 million), the Lakers would need to renounce the rights to veterans like Mike Muscala, Lance Stephenson, Caldwell-Pope and Rondo. Depending on where their 2019 first-round pick lands in the lottery, the team might be able to keep the rights to Reggie Bullock (cap hold of $4.8 million).
The Lakers could sign Walker and then revive talks with the Pelicans for Davis, packaging multiple players for the All-Star forward. Regardless, Walker can be added without sacrificing the young core.
After using cap space, the Lakers would have roughly $4.8 million to spend via their room exception. Any additional signings would need to be at the veteran's minimum, although there's a chance the team would be able to re-sign Bullock.
If Walker was the big-time acquisition, the Lakers could start him in the backcourt with Ball, who at 6'6" would fit in well as a defensive complement to the smaller Walker.
Someone would need to be relegated to the bench, be it Kyle Kuzma, Ingram or Ball, with James and a center rounding out the first five. Los Angeles would still have Josh Hart, Mo Wagner, Isaac Bonga and its first-round pick. Perhaps the room exception is slotted for a starting center, be it JaVale McGee or a free agent.
Before James' groin injury Christmas Day, the team was in fourth place in the Western Conference. Upgrading from Rondo and Caldwell-Pope to Walker would help make the Lakers a stronger contender, provided James and the rest of the squad can stay relatively healthy.
Walker might respond positively from a hard push from James and the Lakers, but will he still be available if the team first tries to chase other stars like Kawhi Leonard, Irving, Durant, Thompson and, via trade, Davis?
He lists the New York Knicks, Indiana Pacers and Lakers as other potential suitors. If Los Angeles has eyes for others and views Walker as a fallback choice, he may not still be a free agent when the Lakers are ready to make a commitment.
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