There is plenty to talk about with the Los Angeles Lakers. Things are really starting to look up, as the team added the top head coaching candidate on the market, and the NBA Draft Lottery is drawing near. If the Lakers keep the pick, what should they do with it? How should they spend their money in free agency this summer? Three of our writers answer some of the big questions surrounding the Lakers.
Question: If you have to offer max contracts for one pair in free agency, would you rather max: Hassan Whiteside and DeMar DeRozan, or Festus Ezeli and Harrison Barnes?
That is a difficult choice when you are talking about the pair of players, but there is only one out of those four that I would be alright with offering a max contract, and that is Whiteside. So, give me the duo of him and DeRozan. The Lakers desperately need an upgrade at center, and the ideal fit would be a guy that can space the floor with at least an effective midrange jumper and one that is an adequate rim protector. Unfortunately, centers that can offer both are extremely rare, so you probably have to pick one or the other.
Whiteside is an outstanding rim protector. There are times where he can change every shot in the paint, and the Lakers sorely need that. His athletic ability can also provide Julius Randle a lot of help on the glass and some easy assist opportunities for perimeter players when they attack the basket. Granted, Whiteside suffered an injury tonight and depending on the severity of it, that could change my thinking behind how much I would offer him this summer.
Out of those four players, Ezeli is probably my single pick as a Lakers target, despite his restricted free agency status. However, part of the reason I would like the Lakers to target him is because I think he could be had at less than max money.
Taking into account the max money for both players in this scenario, I would have to go with DeRozan and Whiteside as my pick. Whiteside is a great rim protector when he is focused and his ability as the screener in pick and rolls is greatly needed on the Lakers’ roster. He is a near perfect fit with the Lakers core. I worry a bit about his attitude, especially around a young core, and I’m still not completely convinced that he’s a great defender outside of the raw blocking numbers, but he may be worth the risk because of the potential. DeRozan is an iffy target with flaws and an imperfect fit around the Lakers’ core, but I think he would be a solid addition and would not hate giving him the max if he were interested.
Ezeli comes with massive injury concerns so I would be worried about giving him big money over four years even with the big cap rise. Barnes, sadly, has dropped off considerably and I’m just not sure he’s anywhere near as good as a player deserving of the max.
Whiteside is probably my favorite target of the four players mentioned, so I’d lean towards signing him and DeRozan. Whiteside — while his character sort of scares me — would fill a major need for the Lakers, and that’s as an athletic rim-protector that would be an adequate role man for the Lakers’ guards. Both Whiteside and Ezeli fit a need in this regard, but I’d rather have Whiteside simply because Ezeli has had difficulty staying healthy throughout his NBA career.
And even though I think Harrison Barnes is a better fit with the Lakers because of his ability to space the floor and guard multiple positions, I still think Whiteside and DeRozan would prove to be the better pair. Lost in DeRozan’s playoff struggles is the fact that he had a career year, averaging 23.5/4.5/4 with good efficiency. Not to mention that the Lakers would be getting him at his prime (age 27-31). Plus, Harrison Barnes hasn’t quite developed as many had hoped. Sure, his value as a role player shouldn’t be questioned, but when you’re spending a max contract on a player, you want him to be more than just a great role player, and I’m not sure Barnes will ever be that. DeRozan, meanwhile, has already proven that he can be more than that.
Essentially, I slightly prefer Whiteside over Ezeli and DeRozan over Barnes, therefore deciding between the two pairs isn’t really tough for me. Give me Whiteside and DeRozan.
Question: If the Lakers end up retaining their first-round pick by staying in the top-three, would you rather keep it or trade it?
This seems to be the hottest topic surrounding the Lakers now that they have figured out the head coaching situation. Obviously, there are multiple variables with this, including what pick number it would be if they retain it, along with what type of value you can swing in a trade. Assuming the return on a trade is satisfactory, that is the option I would choose without hesitation. It would be great to have another young, promising player on a team-friendly contract, but if you can land quality, established talent with it, it’s hard to pass that up.
In free agency, the Lakers could still have a really hard time selling their product to players searching for a new team, simply because the talent on their roster is not really established yet. Adding a proven commodity alongside them may help out in that area, not to mention the win column.
This really, really depends on the Lakers’ draft position for me. If the Lakers fall at one or two and are able to draft Brandon Ingram, I think they should keep the pick. Ingram is a good fit in this core and I would rather have a cost-controlled young guy, if he is able to fit in as well as I believe Ingram could.
If the Lakers fall at number three or are picking second with Ingram off the board, I would like to see a trade. With little information or expertise, I don’t see the draft as deep enough to pick another young guy at #3 and hope he pans out. Additionally, picking Simmons almost guarantees that Randle would have to be dealt separately because the two power forwards almost surely cannot coexist moving forward. That would be a linear move and the pick probably holds higher trade value. If the Lakers can get a borderline all-star type of player that fits into the core, they should jump at the bit to get him.
I would keep it as long as either Ingram or Simmons are available when the Lakers are on the clock. To me, having a young player that could potentially be a superstar on a team-friendly contract for several years is hard to pass up. The Lakers could have a core of Simmons/Ingram, D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, and Jordan Clarkson ALONG with two or three max free agents. If that core develops into something special and then you add it to two or three proven difference-making free agents, the Lakers would be looking at an insanely stacked roster. And it’d be a roster that could contend for a decade, not just for a few years.
And look, with the Warriors and Spurs (and even the Cavs) being as good as they currently are, I don’t think the Lakers would be wise to try to rush this rebuild. Instead, in my opinion, it’d be best to create a strong and sustainable foundation — one that can hit its peak right as the current teams at the top of the NBA start to lose a bit of steam. Sort of what the young Oklahoma City Thunder were to the 2008-2010 Lakers, where everyone knew the Lakers, while dominant at the time, were going to eventually fade and the Thunder were going to become a top team in the conference.
Question: If the Lakers get the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft, who would you select?
This is one of those draft classes that I would rather have the No. 2 pick, just to make things easy. I am split 50-50 on Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram, because both offer vastly different skill sets. Both are extremely intriguing prospects, but they each have legitimate question marks. For the Lakers, I would take Ingram simply because of his fit with the young core. His ability to shoot the ball and his length gives him so much potential on the defensive end, which is exactly what Los Angeles needs on the wing. Simmons and Randle are really similar players, so that could present some issues, but I would also trust Walton to figure it out. Also of note, NBA teams can’t just sit in the paint for Simmons on defense quite like college teams are allowed to. Lakers would be lucky to have either, but Ingram is a much better fit.
Again, I’m fairly uninformed on this topic, so take my answer with a grain or heap of salt. I would draft Ingram, without a doubt. From what I have seen from the Duke star, he is a perfect fit in this Lakers core. Drafting Ingram means that the Lakers potentially have four starting positions filled with four young, talented players who are mostly under team control at relatively cheap costs for up to seven years due to the league’s restricted free agency rules. I worry about the fit with Simmons’ shooting next to Randle, but hey, he’s a pretty good player so I wouldn’t complain about that, either. Just give me the pick.
This is the million-dollar question.
Ingram fits the need as a shooter and defender at the 3, but I believe that Simmons has a better chance to be a superstar. I was solidly leaning towards Ingram over Simmons, but now that Luke Walton is in the fold, I am curious as to how he could use Simmons. Would he be able to utilize both Randle and Simmons effectively if they’re on the court at the same time? I do know that Simmons’ passing ability both in the halfcourt and in transition would be crazy in a Golden State-like offensive system. Then again, his inability to knock down shots from the perimeter is obviously a hindrance.
Meanwhile, Ingram would be a plug-and-play prospect. He’s everything the Lakers currently need and would fit seamlessly with Randle, Clarkson, and Russell as he can space the floor for them, score in transition, and guard multiple positions. As intriguing and exciting of a prospect Simmons is, he would bring far more question marks (though more upside as well, in my opinion) than Ingram, therefore Ingram would be my pick. He’s talented, an ideal prospect in the modern NBA, and fits a need. What more could you ask for?
Seriously though, I’ll be happy with either one.
Question: If the Lakers end up with the No. 3 pick and both Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram are off the board, who should they take?
Dragan Bender, and for me, it’s not even close. Bender, like Ingram, needs to add strength to his rail-thin frame, but his skill set as a seven-footer is tantalizing. He moves incredibly well with his size, has an excellent jump shot and range. If he learns the ability to be a consistent rim protector, he becomes the perfect center to play alongside the group that is already in place on the Lakers roster.
Putting my draft knowledge on the spot, today, I see. I’ll go with Bender as well for a couple of reasons. First, THAT NAME! Second, Bender has the potential to become a unique player at the center position. If he bulks up enough, the Lakers could have a player capable of protecting the rim on one end of the floor and raining down threes like Dragan fire on the other end of the floor. That would be a perfect fit next to Randle, especially. And my final reason: THAT NAME.
Honestly, I haven’t watched much of Dragan Bender, but I do know that he’s a big man with perimeter skills and athleticism, making him a nice fit in today’s NBA.
He’d probably be my pick, but my second choice would be Jaylen Brown. Brown, like Ingram, would be a great fit with the Lakers’ current roster. He can play the 3, defend, score, and is a gifted athlete. And if he can improve his jumper, which looks feasible because his shooting form is smooth, he’s everything you’re looking for in a small forward for the NBA game.
Question: Which player on the Lakers roster will benefit the most from new head coach Luke Walton?
While I believe they all will benefit tremendously from Walton being at the helm, I think D’Angelo Russell can truly shine now. With Walton’s free-flowing, up-tempo offense, Russell will be in a system that is ideal for his skill set. His passing is predicated on people moving without the ball, and with Byron Scott’s heavy isolation sets, that rarely ever happened last season. If the Lakers push tempo and get a lot of ball movement and man movement, Russell will really thrive.
I think Randle will benefit the most from Coach Luke Walton. We all know Julius has severe flaws and limitations in his game, but the flashes that he shows every once in a while are indicative of the type of player he can become. Looking at the Warriors’ offense and hearing what Walton has to say about what he wants to run in LA makes me think we will see some marked improvement from Randle next year. Walton seems to want to run offense through Randle at points, somewhat similar to how Draymond Green plays in Golden State. The Lakers’ power forward showed near the end of this season that he has the ability to be a great passer. Now he can learn the nuances of an effective system and be placed in a position to use those skills. I’m expecting pretty big things from Don Julio.
It’s definitely Randle for me. Under Byron Scott, Randle was mostly relegated to scoring in isolation plays. While Randle isn’t a terrible isolation player, generally that’s not a good source of offense, especially for a young player whose offensive game is still pretty limited at the moment.
But Walton can get Randle the ball in other ways, and hopefully utilize the skills that Randle has that make him unique, such as his passing and ball-handling ability. We saw flashes of those skills this past season, but Scott’s system certainly didn’t use them as much as they should have been. And, unfortunately, Randle also became a bit of a black hole under Scott, looking to score every time he had the ball rather than making the extra pass or finding a teammate, and I think Walton can change that. A new system predicated on ball movement and a faster pace may allow Randle to put his skills to better use, rather than one that led him to be a ball-stopper.
Question: Who is your sleeper in this summer’s free agent class?
Unfortunately, a lot of players in this category are restricted free agents, so their respective teams control their destiny. But one player I would keep an eye on his Evan Fournier (DO NOT GOOGLE JUST HIS LAST NAME. INCLUDE HIS FIRST NAME.) He is still only 23 years old, and was a 40 percent three-point shooter this year, averaging 15.4 points. If he continues to make strides, he could become a really good player on the wing, especially in Walton’s system. The Lakers would just have to hope that Orlando does not match an offer sheet, which is unlikely.
I don’t know if he is a sleeper anymore (though it looked like he fell asleep as his team got blown out in game two, last week) but Kent Bazemore is a name to look out for. Bazemore is a solid defender and has turned into a pretty good shooter as well. He could fill the gap at small forward. Some have concerns about his size and that’s valid, but for a Lakers team just looking to take a small step forward, I wouldn’t worry too much about that. Hopefully, Kent does not have hard feelings about the Lakers letting him go and comes back to be our Bae-zmore. (Sorry, not sorry.)
Side note: his agent told me there’s always a chance!
Bazemore would have been my choice, but since Honi already mentioned him, I’ll choose Marvin Williams. Since Williams has become a stretch four, I’m not sure he’d fit with the Lakers (since Randle occupies that position), but he has become a valuable and underrated player. He hit over 40 percent of his 3s this season, rebounds at a solid rate, and can defend both 4s and 3s.
I honestly think he’s a better player than, say, someone like Harrison Barnes, but fit matters and with the Lakers, Williams would have to move back to the 3. Would his recent success translate at the 3 as it did at the 4 this season? I’m not sure, and it’s not so smart to sign a guy coming off his best season with a plan of moving him to a different position. But, still, if I was a team looking for a stretch four this season, I’d make a strong push to sign Williams.
Question: In a game of 5 on 5 between Lakers Outsiders and Silver Screen and Roll, who wins?
Gary: This is tricky, because a large chunk of our staff works for them, too. I guess it is dependent on if Ryan would be on our team or theirs. Ah, who am I kidding? Honi and I would take over the game and drop buckets all over those guys.
Honi: Raining Dragan fire. All day.
Ryan: It depends. Which staff has been in more fights?