Ranking Lakers' Priorities for 2022 NBA Free Agency

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistMay 12, 2022

Ranking Lakers' Priorities for 2022 NBA Free Agency

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    The Los Angeles Lakers will do the bulk of their 2022 NBA offseason work outside of free agency.

    That's just as well, since they—like most teams—don't have the cap space to spend on roster upgrades.

    You can quibble about the order, but the first and second items on this summer's to-do list are solving the Russell Westbrook dilemma and hiring a replacement for former coach Frank Vogel. Discussing a contract extension with LeBron James lurks close behind.

    Still, free agency offers a few options, whether that's retaining key players or sniffing out contributors elsewhere. Since the front office can't neglect free agency, we won't either, so here are the top three free-agency priorities for the Purple and Gold.

1. Re-Sign Malik Monk

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    Adam Pantozzi/Getty Images

    The Lakers didn't get a lot right last offseason, but adding Malik Monk for the veteran's minimum was a stroke of genius.

    The 6'3" scoring guard tapped fully into the tools that once made him the 11th overall pick of the 2017 draft, and the result was a career campaign almost across the stat sheet. He not only pumped in 13.8 points per night (17.6 per 36 minutes, via Basketball-Reference), he did so while shooting a blistering 47.3 percent from the field and 39.1 percent from range.

    The only problem is he might have been a little too good. He is looking at a sizable raise, and the question is whether L.A. has enough to keep him. The Lakers are limited to offering him the taxpayer mid-level exception (worth roughly $6 million), and he might find better offers elsewhere. Having said that, though, he said this won't purely be a financial decision.

    "It's really me being comfortable," Monk told reporters at his exit interview. "Feeling like (I am) at home, whether that's here or somewhere else. With a little money or more money, it's just really me feeling at home at the end of the day."

    This roster has a slew of shortages, but it's hard not to notice the lack of young, ascending talents. Monk could help fill that void if the Lakers can find enough money to convince him to stay.

2. Add Perimeter Defenders

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    When the Lakers won the 2019-20 title, they followed the lead of their third-ranked defense. Conversely, a key reason in this past season's struggles was the team's tumble to 21st in defensive efficiency.

    The LeBron James-Anthony Davis duo is built to dominate both ends, but it often does its best work defensively. When Davis is healthy and James is fully engaged, the Lakers can overwhelm opponents with size, strength and length on the interior.

    However, this group suffered far too many leaks on the perimeter, as the front office failed to find adequate replacements for Alex Caruso, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Kyle Kuzma. Some of L.A.'s best perimeter defense this past season came by way of Avery Bradley, a 6'3" shooting guard who was waived by the Golden State Warriors in October, and Stanley Johnson, who first landed in Hollywood on a 10-day deal in December.

    The Lakers need better solutions than this. Their defense won't find its footing until they are found.

3. Improve the Offensive Spacing

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    Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

    Historically, James has won biggest when surrounded by shooters.

    Apparently, the front office never noticed.

    Just three Lakers averaged better than two triples per game, and James was one of them. Collectively, the Lakers were just 18th in threes (12.0 per outing) and 22nd in three-point percentage (34.7).

    They need to give their stars more room to operate, and that's triply true if they wind up keeping the attacking Westbrook around. The trick, though, is finding shooters who bring something else to the table—and doing that on a budget. Three-point specialist Wayne Ellington had a solid season from distance (38.9 percent), but his shortcomings limited him to just 810 minutes in all.