The Los Angeles Lakers are about to embark upon one of the most important summers in their franchise’s illustrious history. With new Coach Luke Walton in the fold, and Brandon Ingram and Ivica Zubac on their way, the team will focus on improving their roster by perhaps the most expedient way possible: signing an impact free agent.
There are a number of available players who would improve the Lakers next season, and with a league-leading $66 million in cap space to work with, GM Mitch Kupchak promises to be aggressive.
That said, sometimes the best deal is the one that you don’t make. Even with the NBA’s massive salary cap spike that will rise again next summer, bad contracts will be handed out. The free agent pool is light on talent, and teams have way too much money to spend, which means that some franchises are going to succumb to the frenzy and overpay.
Here are some guys that most teams, and the Lakers especially, will want to think twice about before forking over the cash:
1. Dion Waiters
On one hand, Dion Waiters is exactly the kind of player that the Lakers should be targeting. He’s just 24 years old, which makes him a candidate to grow along with Los Angeles’ young core. Waiters hasn’t had a breakout season yet, so he won’t cost too much, and he was drafted 4th overall just a few years ago, which means that he should be an ideal high-upside reclamation project.
The problem is, for all the hype that initially surrounded him, Waiters just isn’t all that good. He peaked during his sophomore campaign three seasons ago when he put up 15.9 points on 43 percent shooting to go along with 3 assists and 2.8 rebounds. Since then, Waiters’ shooting percentage has hovered at or below 40 percent. He can create on the offensive end, but his lack of scoring efficiency really kills his value.
For the Lakers, the biggest deal-breaker has to be his three-point shooting. Waiters improved to 36 percent from deep last season, but that was largely thanks to playing in Oklahoma City where defenses were wisely choosing to leave him wide open instead of Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook. Add in the fact that Waiters seems to have a knack for making boneheaded plays, like one during the playoffs that caused Kevin Durant to use language Captain America wouldn’t approve of, and it just doesn’t make sense for the Lakers to burn some of their precious cap room on him.
Howard’s inclusion may be obvious here, but consider these facts for a moment: the Lakers have a hole at center, they ideally need a player who can protect the rim and rebound, and they would like to add veterans to their young team. Given those prerequisites, it sure sounds like a 30-year-old big man who is a former Defensive Player of the Year would be a dream come true.
Unfortunately, there is no way to separate those attributes from everything else that comes with Dwight Howard. His abrupt departure from Los Angeles in 2013 not withstanding, the Lakers are a terrible environment for Dwight. The veteran big man wants to go on a team that can win now, but also has a proven track record of being difficult to get along with. He demands touches in the post but never developed a true back-to-the-basket game, resulting in awkward possessions that have a high probability of ending in a turnover. Howard is essentially the same player he was when he came into the league, but with his athleticism slipping, he can’t cover for his deficiencies as well as he used to.
Furthermore, Howard isn’t the guy that you want leading a team of impressionable young Lakers. His body language on the court often betrays his thoughts, and he now has a justified reputation for being difficult to work with. On top of that, he still sees himself as a superstar, and will want to be paid as such.
In spite of his flaws, Howard still has the talent and strength to be a factor in the NBA, but considering everything that comes along with signing him, he’s not a guy for the Lakers to consider.
Every team needs a guy like Jamal Crawford, who has carefully evolved into an unstoppable scorer off the bench. Crawford’s handle is ridiculous, and his ability to break down defenders and hit tough shots is legendary. The way he operates is almost surgical, and yet, it looks like he is just making it all up on the fly.
Of course, all of Crawford’s exploits don’t come without a price. He is a high-volume shooter who has connected on 35 percent of his shots from three for his career, largely because he’s creating his own shot the majority of the time. While he can and will hit tough shots, and can be just about unstoppable when he gets going, the Lakers already have a player who fills that role in Lou Williams.
On top of that, at 36 years old there have to be serious questions regarding how much Crawford has left in the tank. He can be a lot of fun to watch, and his skill with the basketball should be respected, but the Lakers would do well to avoid Crawford this summer.
4. Rajon Rondo
It seems like Rajon Rondo has been rumored to end up in Los Angeles for years. The polarizing point guard was once a force in the league, and his friendship with Kobe Bryant led to a number of rumblings indicating that it wouldn’t be long before Rondo was wearing purple and gold. In fact, up until the Lakers drafted D’Angelo Russell in the 2015 NBA Draft, most assumed that Rondo would sign with Los Angeles that summer when free agency began.
Instead, Rondo ended up going to Sacramento, and all things considered, he had a bounce-back season. For the Kings, Rondo put up numbers reminiscent of his Boston days- 11.9 points, 6.0 rebounds, 2.0 steals, and a league-leading 11.7 assists. That’s right, Rajon Rondo averaged more assists than anyone else in the league last season. The odds of that happening after his disastrous performance with Dallas certainly seemed slim, at best.
In spite of his success, the one problem that has plagued his career makes Rondo a tough sell: he can’t shoot. He hit just 58 percent of his free throws last year, and his 36 percent shooting from three was a career-high. He also struggles defensively, which used to be his calling card but knee injuries robbed him of his ability to stay in front of his man. More damning is the fact that Rondo needs the ball in his hands to be effective, so he can probe defenses, play off of pick and rolls, and find angles for his high-level passes. On a Lakers team that already features Russell and Jordan Clarkson, that’s not going to work.
Even more damning is the fact that Rondo needs the ball in his hands to be effective, so he can probe defenses, play off of pick and rolls, and find angles for his high-level passes. On a Lakers team that already features Russell and Jordan Clarkson, that’s not going to work.
If Rondo were at the stage of his career where he would consider a backup/mentor role he could be a fit, but nothing has suggested that he is ready – or has the demeanor- to take on that task.
5. Lance Stephenson
Back in the summer of 2014, a 23-year-old Lance Stephenson seemed like a steal when the Charlotte Hornets signed him to a below market value deal. After all, Stephenson had shown versatility in Indiana, and while he was considered to be something of an oddball, his talent was undeniable.
Now, just two years later, things have certainly changed. Stephenson wasn’t productive in Charlotte and then struggled during a brief spell with the Clippers. He turned things around considerably with the Memphis Grizzlies in the second half of the season, and would fit a need on the wing for the Lakers. It’s tempting because at 25 he is still young enough to be part of the core, but there are some real red flags to consider.
On the court, Stephenson can be something of a character. He likes to get under his opponent’s skin, and as meme-able as that may make him, it isn’t the best thing for a young team that will need to maintain focus. He is infamous for off the court issues as well, and on a team that deals with plenty of drama already, Stephenson doesn’t exactly fill the Lakers’ need for dependable, veteran mentors. Stephenson checks a lot of boxes with his talent, but his questionable fit on a young team should be enough reason for the Lakers to pass.