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, continuing at small forward:
Marcus Morris: It appears the Boston Celtics will be losing Al Horford and Kyrie Irving in free agency, so why not Morris too? For a Lakers team in need of defense and outside shooting, Morris should be an attractive options after hitting 38% of his three-pointers during the 2018-19 NBA season. At 6’9,” he has the size and strength to switch down to power forward when needed, which could be useful if the Lakers want to go small. Morris alsoo grabbed 6.1 rebounds per game and his work on the boards would come in handy.
With James playing ahead of him, Morris would have to accept a position off the bench, but an opportunity to play next to two All-Star players might be worth the sacrifice.
Additionally, it should be noted that Morris — like his twin brother Markieff Morris — is a client of Klutch Sports, which means there is a built-in connection to the Lakers through agent Rich Paul — who represents James, Davis, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. The Lakers shouldn’t break the bank to get Morris, but if a third All-Star player doesn’t come to Los Angeles and they decide to opt for a well-rounded team, Morris could be an excellent fit.
Khris Middleton: What a difference a few years can make. In the 2012 NBA Draft, Middleton fell all the way to the second round and now, he’s a near-lock for a max contract after another stellar year with the Milwaukee Bucks that included being selected to the 2019 NBA All-Star team. He’s become the model wing player in today’s NBA, capable of creating off the bounce (4.3 assists per game) and burying threes at a 38% clip while playing lockdown defense. That kind of versatility would serve the Lakers well.
Of course, Los Angeles would have to find the cap space to fork over a max deal to pry him away from the Bucks, but to land a player of his quality, it may be worth it. Milwaukee is certainly the frontrunner to keep Middleton to play alongside newly-crowned MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo but if they hesitate to meet his price, perhaps that would provide an opening for the Lakers to get into the conversation.
Jimmy Butler: The Philadelphia 76ers have some tough decisions to make this summer with both Butler and Tobias Harris hitting unrestricted free agency. While max offers could retain both, that would be a massive financial commitment — especially if they plan to pay enough to retain J.J. Redick as well.
Butler will have plenty of suitors on the market with the Houston Rockets rumored to be looking to make a run at him in the hope of forcing the 76ers into a sign-and-trade scenario.
For a Lakers team that could use shot-creators, Butler would be an ideal fit. He’s capable of being one of the best wing defenders in the league and can knock down tough shots over defenders in a pinch.
There are reasons to hesitate as Butler turns 30 years old in September and has high-mileage due to years of playing major minutes in Tom Thibodeau’s system with the Chicago Bulls. Signing him to a four-year max deal runs the risk of that contract not looking great near the end of it, and he’s had some chemistry issues in his previous stops.
That said, Butler’s skill set is undeniable and he would give the Lakers a legitimate scoring threat that could take over games when Davis or James are being rested.
Kevin Durant: Want to roll the dice? When he eventually hangs up the high tops, Durant will go down as one of the best players to ever step onto the NBA hardwood. He scores effortlessly, is a better passer than he gets credit for, and uses his spider-like arms to smother attackers both at the rim and on the perimeter.
The problem? He tore his Achilles in the 2019 NBA Finals and as Lakers fans know all too well, that’s an incredibly difficult injury to recover from. Most likely, the fact that Durant will probably miss all of next season kills the possibility of the Lakers going after him, not to mention the fact that his max salary will start at just north of $38 million — a figure the Lakers don’t appear capable of getting to.
In other words, 99% sure it’s not happening.
If we dream for a moment, imagine Durant taking the floor alongside James and Davis and it’s a match made in heaven. Even if Durant is only 85% of his former-self after recovering from injury, he’s still likely an All-NBA player. If there was any way to get it done and he was willing to come to the Lakers, it would be really hard to say no to Durant — even with the difficult rehabilitation that awaits him.
Kawhi Leonard: If the prospect of Durant taking the floor with James and Davis is exciting (even if you would have to wait until 2021 to see it), the idea of landing a healthy Leonard is a heart-stopper. An argument can be made that Leonard is the best player in the game thanks to his offensive efficiency combined with ridiculously high-level defense. A trio of James, Davis, and Leonard could be considered the most talented trio to EVER join forces. Let that sink in for a moment.
Of course, it’s going to take some convincing to get Leonard to leave the defending champion Toronto Raptors. After taking a risk by trading for Leonard last season, the Raptors have created about as compelling of a case as possible for him to stay in the North. Meanwhile, the Clippers have spent the year planning to pitch Leonard and are considered a real threat to steal him away, going so far as to send team personnel to a number of his games this season to make sure their presence was always felt.
While the Raptors and Clippers are considered the frontrunners, the Lakers have to be an intriguing option due to the talent that they can offer in addition to the opportunity to return to his Southern California roots.
There are a number of compelling free agents on the market, but landing Leonard would essentially acquit general manager Rob Pelinka of all of the criticism he has received recently and cement the Lakers as the favorites to win the 2020 NBA Finals.