The Los Angeles Lakers are heading into one of the most important summers in recent memory. Not only must they make the correct decision with the number two pick in the NBA Draft, but they also need to do better in free agency than they have in the past three seasons.
Unfortunately, the free agent market is going to be challenging. Over two-thirds of the league will have enough cap space to offer a max contract thanks to a spike in the cap due driven by the new TV deal. Combine that with a relatively shallow pool of impact free agents this summer, and the Lakers’ chances certainly look daunting.
With that being the case, it’s entirely possible that the team will need to focus on finding value contracts, as they did last summer when they signed both Lou Williams and Brandon Bass at below-market-value (as much as some don’t agree with Williams’ fit in L.A, his contract is excellent).
I poured over the list of available free agents to identify value targets, and grouped them into three categories: guards, wings, and bigs, then narrowed it down to the top five options in each. These won’t be the headline-grabbing names like Kevin Durant or Hassan Whiteside that Lakers’ fans are hoping for, but all are dependable fall backs that won’t break the bank.
If optimism is your thing, these are guys who could be added after the big fish are already on the hook.
I stayed away from restricted free agents because historically the Lakers’ modus operandi has been to not tie up their money just to watch the incumbent team eventually match. Also, the Lakers current roster matters. For example, with bigs, I’m looking for a starting-caliber center, but at the guard spots, a quality backup will do just fine thanks to D’Angelo Russell and (almost certainly) Jordan Clarkson being in town.
Got it? Time to go bargain-bin shopping. Let’s start with the guards, in no particular order:
With a player option that would pay him just $1.5 million with the Brooklyn Nets next season, Larkin is almost certain to opt for free agency in search of more long-term security. After the Nets lost Jarrett Jack due to injury last year, Larkin spent some time as a starter, although he temporarily lost that spot to another journeyman, Donald Sloan.
While Larkin’s numbers won’t blow anyone away, they are decent enough, with averages of 11.6 points, seven assists, and two steals per 36 minutes. He produces at a consistent level regardless of whether he comes off the bench or starts and has improved in each of his three NBA seasons. He has bounced to a new organization each year (from Dallas to New York to Brooklyn), but that makes his consistent growth all the more impressive.
That’s precisely the kind of steady play that the Lakers could use backing up Russell at point guard. The best part? Larkin is just 23 years old, putting him right in line to continue growing along with the Lakers’ young core.
The one that got away. Sessions played 23 games for the Lakers in the 2011-2012 season after arriving via trade with Cleveland. At the end of the 2012 season, he infamously bolted and signed with the Charlotte Bobcats when the Lakers brought in Steve Nash as their starting point guard.
Now, with nine years under his belt, Sessions would be a solid choice as a backup point guard for the Lakers, assuming both parties can let bygones be bygones. He has spent the past year and a half backing up John Wall in Washington, and having just turned 30 he still has something left in the tank. Sessions’ three-point shooting leaves something to be desired, hitting just 31 percent for his career, but his speed and ability to run the pick and roll would be an asset for the Lakers.
While Sessions would have to be a short-term signing, having a steady veteran behind Russell would be a luxury for coach Luke Walton.
As the 9th pick in the 2008 NBA Draft, Augustin never quite lived up to his potential, but he has become a quality reserve in the league. Blessed with speed and the ability to score the basketball, Augustin was somewhat buried behind Cameron Payne in Oklahoma City last season before a trade to Denver gave him new life. Augustin has also had stops in Charlotte, Indiana, Chicago, Toronto, and Detroit in his well-traveled career.
A career 37 percent shooter from deep, Augustin can space the floor just well enough to keep Walton’s offense humming. He also can get into the lane and dish, which would also be a welcome fit in Los Angeles.
The downside? Generously listed at 6’0”, Augustin is undersized and can be taken advantage of on the defensive end of the floor. However, the Lakers could do far worse than the 28-year-old Augustin when looking for a backup guard.
Another Brooklyn Nets player who was asked to take on a bigger role than he is suited for, Ellington has the benefit of holding a soft spot in the hearts of Lakers fans. He spent the 2014-2015 season in Los Angeles, at the beginning of which his father was tragically murdered. Ellington leaned on his teammates for support and showed incredible poise throughout the season, eventually becoming a dangerous weapon off the Lakers bench.
While Ellington’s three-point percentage dropped in his lone season with the Nets, that’s likely a symptom of the team being so talent-depleted. The tricky part for the Lakers is that Ellington isn’t a point guard, and Lou Williams, who is a better player, is locked into the backup shooting guard spot.
Should the Lakers move Williams, then Ellington’s work ethic and presence in the locker room would certainly be welcomed. He isn’t great at creating for others, but Ellington can still shoot the ball from outside, and that’s something that will always have a home in Walton’s offense.
The incumbent Huertas spent his rookie season last year with the Lakers, but at 33 and with a wealth of overseas experience to call upon, he is hardly the typical rookie. His ability to run an offense is valuable, and his skill in the pick-and-roll can make him a nice compliment to Russell.
He is an absolute wizard when it comes to distributing the ball, throwing dimes with pinpoint accuracy all over the floor. There are moments when you would swear you are watching Steve Nash; that’s how crafty Huertas is with the basketball. As soon as he steps on the floor players start to cut a little harder, knowing Huertas will find them.
He only shot 26 percent from three in his lone season in Los Angeles, and his defense is atrocious, but the passing flair that Huertas brings makes it hard to take your eyes off the game out of fear that you will miss something incredible. For a Lakers team that suddenly finds themselves Kobe-less, that matters.
Huertas also might be the only player to hide behind a coach in an NBA game in order to sneak up on an opponent, so he’s got that going for him as well.
Next time, we will take a look at the top-5 under-the-radar wings for the Lakers to chase after.