The Los Angeles Lakers have only a few players under contract for next season. Thus, they have considerable flexibility in constructing an improved roster for the fall. With maximum cap space, the team is expected to pursue prominent free agents aggressively, with names like Kevin Durant, Hassan Whiteside, Al Horford, DeMar DeRozan, and Mike Conley at the top of the list.
The only players who are still under contract to the Lakers are Julius Randle, D’Angelo Russell, Larry Nancy, Jr., Anthony Brown, Lou Williams and Nick Young. It is expected that Jordan Clarkson, who is a restricted free agent, will eventually join this group, which would leave eight potential roster spots up for grabs next season.
What about the members of last year’s squad whose contracts have expired? Some have expressed an interest in returning, and for the front office to do its due diligence, certain players may be considered for another chance to wear the purple and gold. In view of Kobe Bryant’s retirement, here is a look at the seven remaining candidates from last year’s squad who are not under contract at this time.
1. Ryan Kelly
It is time for the Lakers to sever ties with Ryan Kelly. He was drafted by the Lakers with the 48th overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft and just finished his third season with the team. He had a decent first year but has gotten worse each year since.
For a seven-footer, he does not guard or rebound adequately (or at all). He was supposed to be a “stretch four” but hasn’t shown an ability to shoot from the outside at an acceptable NBA level. He made only 13.5 percent of his three-point attempts last season, which is beyond embarrassing. Kelly has had a fair opportunity to showcase what he can do, and it is not enough to merit consideration for another stint with the team.
2. Robert Sacre
The year before the Lakers drafted Kelly; they chose Sacre with the 60th pick in the 2012 NBA Draft. He has been with the team for four seasons, and while he has been an enthusiastic cheerleader for his teammates, he has shown little skill as a player. He has a large NBA body but possesses no quickness or speed. His mid-range shot has improved and can be useful at times, but he neither rebounds nor defends well enough to justify playing him regularly.
In the unlikely event, the team needs to fill the final spot on the roster and has no other options, Sacre could be retained, but it is much more likely that he will be gone.
3. Roy Hibbert
The Lakers needed an upgrade at the center position last summer and thought they had found it when they acquired former All-Star Roy Hibbert in a trade with the Indiana Pacers.
He had fallen into disfavor with his former team, and the hope was, with a fresh start, he would regain some of his mojo. Unfortunately, it did not happen, as Hibbert was perhaps the biggest disappointment on the team. It is hard to find a body as large as his that does so little in terms of defending and rebounding. He was a model citizen in the locker room, but it is time for Hibbert to move on and find a new home.
Huertas joined the Lakers last summer as a 32-year-old rookie after a successful basketball career abroad. He played very little all season until Byron Scott finally realized he was the only player on the roster who didn’t have a shoot-first mentality.
Suddenly the ball started moving, and the team looked a little better offensively. Ideally, the team would have a more vibrant, long-term option at the backup point guard position, but Huertas may have done enough to earn another year on the roster, especially since the front office is fixated on improving the front court and there has been no talk about adding a guard.
5. Brandon Bass
Bass is the kind of player that every team needs. He will never be a star but does the little things, works hard, always hustles, keeps his mouth shut, and is surprisingly effective at times on both ends of the court.
Re-signing Bass is not a priority, and may not fit the team’s possible configuration since he is a natural power forward who was playing out of position last year. But if he is interested in returning (which is unclear), he may be given some consideration.
World Peace has transformed his image over the past few years from league villain to beloved NBA ambassador. Unfortunately, he will be 37 next season, and it is time to write the next chapter of his life. He was out of the NBA for over a year before somehow finding a spot on the Lakers last season.
Some would like to see him retire and join Luke Walton’s staff as an assistant coach, but either way, his roster spot should be given to a younger player with some potential upside.
7. Tarik Black
Black is something of a fan favorite, who, for reasons unknown, fell into disfavor with Byron Scott after a promising rookie season the year before.
Black played so little in 2015-16 that it is impossible to glean anything from his limited time on the court. It is unknown how Black reacted to his mistreatment by Scott or what he is planning for his future, but there are fans who believe he could be a solid backup center behind Whiteside or Horford.
Like many of the Laker bigs, he needs to show he can hit a mid-range jumper consistently. Whether he will get another chance with the purple and gold remains to be seen, but it is possible.
With seven likely holdovers (including Jordan Clarkson), that leaves a maximum of eight additional spots to round out the roster. Two will be filled by the Lakers’ first and second round selections in the NBA Draft later this month, which leaves six remaining slots. If the team adds a free agent or two as expected, that could limit the openings further.
The front office would prefer a fresh start with as many new faces as possible, so it is unlikely that more than one or possibly two of the current Lakers free agents will be re-signed. The decision will probably come down to Bass, Black and/or Huertas, assuming they all want to return, to fill one or maybe two spots.