The Los Angeles Lakers entered into last season’s free agency with a mountain of cash to spend and a list of targets to pursue. The big fish, like Kevin Durant, Al Horford, and Hassan Whiteside weren’t interested in signing on with a rebuilding team, so Los Angeles looked to the next tier of players to improve their roster.
One need, in particular, was a defense-first swingman, and they offered a four-year deal worth $72 million to Atlanta Hawks free agent Kent Bazemore, who had already spent time as a Laker in 2014. Back then, the Lakers traded Steve Blake to the Golden State Warriors for Bazemore and MarShon Brooks, hoping to audition the two for the remainder of the season before they hit free agency. Ultimately, they declined to give Bazemore a $1.1 million qualifying offer, which would have made him a restricted free agency and allowed the Lakers to retain his services. Bazemore told Mark Medina of the Orange County Register that the Lakers passing on him back then was a factor in his decision to decline their offer this past summer:
“One thing you want in this league is to be wanted. They didn’t pick it up for that little amount of money,” Bazemore said. “So that showed how much they believed in me and my abilities. That closed that chapter.”
The Lakers were able to quickly pivot after missing out on Bazemore and struck a deal with veteran Luol Deng. Still, the decision not to give Bazemore a qualifying offer is almost certainly one that the Lakers would like to get back. Since that time, he has become one of a dependable swingman in the league.
That said, given the Lakers’ determination to develop their young players, it could be argued that Deng is actually a better fit. His experience is tough to match, and with his ties to Duke, it’s hard to imagine a better mentor for rookie Brandon Ingram.
Bazemore chose to re-sign with the Hawks, where he is locked in as the team’s starting small forward. Not making Bazemore a restricted free agent may have been a mistake, but everything has worked out in the end for all parties involved.