The 2019 NBA offseason is here and the Los Angeles Lakers are making aggressive moves in an effort to return to championship contention heading into the 2019-20 NBA season.
After the Anthony Davis trade with the New Pelicans, the Lakers will now look to fill out their roster in free agency.
With just Davis, LeBron James, and Kyle Kuzma penciled in as starters and an inexperienced bench, the Lakers will need help at every position. As a result, here are the top five free agents for the Lakers at each position, starting at point guard:
Kyrie Irving: Playing alongside LeBron James isn’t without its challenges as Irving knows all too well. His previous partnership with James ended when he requested a trade from the Cleveland Cavaliers, who ultimately shipped him to the Boston Celtics two seasons ago.
Last October, Irving announced to a crowd of Celtics fans that he planned to stay but during the 2018-19 season, that decision changed and now it would be something of a shock to see him remain in Boston. While the Brooklyn Nets are considered to be the heavy favorites for Irving’s services, he could also consider revisiting his partnership with James as well as his friend Davis.
He would command a max salary starting just north of $32 million (it’s still not clear if the Lakers can get there) but at just 27-years-old, he and Davis should see their primes line up perfectly so they can keep rolling once James eventually rides off into the sunset.
Irving offers a combination of excellent outside shooting and finishing at the rim as well as the best handle in the league, but it’s fair to question whether he is the best fit given his defensive issues and the fact that he needs the ball in his hands to be at his best.
That said, the talent is undeniable and if Irving spurns Brooklyn, forming the most talented trio in the league with James and Davis has to be appealing.
Kemba Walker: The shooting woes that plagued Walker early in his career appear to be behind him and he’s coming off a 2018-2019 season that saw him score a personal-best 25.6 points per game. While he might not get as much attention around the league playing with the Charlotte Hornets, Walker is unquestionably one of the game’s best point guards.
However, he has said all the right things so far about remaining with the Hornets, who have the ability to offer him a super max contract of five-years, $221 million since he made the All-NBA Third Team. Just because they can offer that doesn’t mean they should and while Walker has mentioned taking a bit less, there will be no shortage of suitors should the Hornets attempt to lowball him.
The Hornets have a roster pinned down by oversized contracts and will likely have to find a way to shed salary in order to drop below the luxury tax should Walker elect to stay. For Walker, this means that most likely he will have the same roster around him and having missed the playoffs for the past three years, that can’t sit well. While there may be some cap relief coming in 2021 when Marvin Williams, Bismack Biyombo, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist come off the books, there still won’t be a ton of wiggle room thanks to a player option for Nicolas Batum that will pay him $27 million that summer.
For a 29-year-old Walker, all of these things should give him plenty of reason to at least consider playing elsewhere.
From the Lakers’ perspective, Walker would give them a ball handler who can create his own shot while hitting enough threes to keep defenses honest. Unlike in Charlotte, Walker would see much less defensive attention on a Lakers team that features Davis and James, making him more efficient even as his usage rate would surely drop.
The question is do the Lakers want to commit four years to a small-ish guard who relies on quickness to be effective and is inching closer to 30? It’s something to consider, but his talent is undeniable.
D’Angelo Russell: Will the prodigal son return to run the point guard position for the Lakers once again? While it would seem unlikely given their messy breakup when Los Angeles shipped Russell — who they selected with the No. 2 pick in the 2015 NBA Draft — to the Brooklyn Nets in order to shed the contract of Timofey Mozgov.
Back then, Russell had a reputation for being a tad immature and former president of basketball operations Magic Johnson publicly questioned his leadership abilities before handing the keys over to his successor, Lonzo Ball.
Last season, Russell caught fire with the Nets, becoming the dynamic pick-and-roll scoring threat the Lakers once dreamed he could be, earning him a spot on the 2019 NBA All-Star team. He will be a restricted free agent, but the thought is that if the Nets do indeed land Irving, they may rescind Russell’s qualifying offer to pursue other marquee talents and thus allowing Russell to leave outright.
With Johnson gone, recent rumors suggest that Russell may indeed consider the Lakers as a landing spot. He can do damage off the ball and is a creative passer which would in theory allow him to fit alongside James and Davis as long as he doesn’t mind losing some touches. At 6’5” with a 6’9” wingspan, Russell also has some defensive potential, but he has yet to fully realize it, partially due to average athleticism.
For the Lakers, one of the more attractive things about Russell has to be his age. At just 23 years old, he is the youngest player on this list and would give them a piece that aligns with the prime of Kyle Kuzma, potentially allowing the Lakers to find success both now and in the foreseeable future. His max salary of just over $27 million — roughly $5 million less than Walker or Irving — may also come in handy, and there is the potential that he may sign for even less than that.
Patrick Beverley: To put it mildly, Beverley is an irritant. He makes a living getting under the skin of his opponents by playing tough, hard-nosed defense and occasionally tosses in a few colorful comments for good measure.
Beverley is something of a rarity in the NBA as a 3-and-D point guard. He isn’t concerned with racking up assists, running the offense, or taking his man off the dribble the way a typical modern point guard would be. Instead, he takes pride in locking down his man and spacing the floor so that his teammates can thrive.
On paper, Beverley would appear to be a perfect fit for the Lakers as he will do the dirty work on defense and is perfectly happy spotting up behind the arc and waiting for his moment. He only averaged 7.6 points per game last season and more than half of his 6.1 field goal attempts were three-pointers, which he knocked down at a 40% clip.
However, there are reasons to proceed with caution. First, Beverley will be 31 in July and defense tends to slip quickly as players age. Should Beverley’s defense slide (and it already did a bit last season), most of his usefulness as a player would fade away with it.
Additionally, Beverley has made it clear that he wants to secure his family’s future with his next contract which means he’s going to the highest bidder. There isn’t anything wrong with that, and it could be argued that it shows self-awareness as Beverley understands that this is likely his last shot at a big contract. For a Lakers team boasting Davis and James, they may be able to make their cap space go a bit farther by focusing on players who are willing to take less in order to play for a winner.
Given his rare ability to defend well from the point guard position, it’s likely that several teams will be in the mix for Beverley. He would be a great addition for the Lakers but the price and perhaps, more importantly, the length of the contract should be major factors.
Darren Collison: Most would probably put Malcolm Brogdon in this spot — and for good reason — but as a restricted free agent, the Lakers may hesitate to tie up their cap space on a player the Milwaukee Bucks could match any offer on. Instead, should Irving, Walker, and Russell wind up elsewhere and Beverley proves too risky, they could turn to Indiana Pacers point guard (and former UCLA standout), Darren Collison.
With 10 years of experience under his belt, the veteran Collison would provide a steady, consistent presence on the floor for the Lakers. Don’t expect him to win games on his own as he won’t go on a scoring binge the way Russell, Walker, or Irving can or lock anyone down as Beverley can. However, Collison is a 39% three-point shooter and 85% free-throw shooter for his career and knows how to minimize mistakes, ranking first in the league in assist-to-turnover ratio among starting point guards last season.
Collison turns 32 years old this summer but shouldn’t cost nearly as much as the others on this list, which could come in handy if the Lakers decide to pursue a strategy of depth instead of trying to land a third All-Star player.