Free agency begins in about one month and the Lakers figure to be big players. Projected to have over $60 million in cap space, LA will be able to spend heavily to add established talent to its young core.
The Lakers will be adding one of the Ben Simmons-Brandon Ingram duo on draft day, allowing them to add talent to either of the forward positions. That still leaves them with a glaring hole at the center position.
Last season, the five spot was manned by Roy Hibbert. The former Pacer was underwhelming in his lone season in LA and looked nothing like the all-star he was several years ago in Indiana. Beyond him, LA mostly used Brandon Bass as a small-ball five with minor contributions from Robert Sacre and Tarik Black.
Clearly, adding a center in free agency who can protect the rim and be a pick and roll partner for D’Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson should be a priority for Lakers management.
One target, and perhaps the player they should put the most effort in signing, is Hassan Whiteside. The Miami Heat center has emerged in just the past two seasons as an elite shot blocker and a great roll man in the pick and roll. He comes with a reputation of poor attitude but there is no doubt that he would fill a giant need for the Lakers.
And he may be attainable.
While it has been a foregone conclusion all year that Whiteside would get a max deal due to his play and the salary cap rise, it appears that Miami may not be so quick to give that up.
The following from Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald:
But we’ve repeatedly heard the Heat’s preference is persuading him to sign under the max (projected to be $21.6 million next season) by selling him on the lack of state income tax, his comfort level here, the roster flexibility created by him taking a bit less; and that Miami can offer 7.5 percent annual raises off the first year salary (compared with 4.5 percent elsewhere). That means a four-year deal starting at $20.7 million with Miami would equal a four-year deal starting at $21.6 million elsewhere.
The Heat are financially in a tough position. They have $50 million tied up in active contracts going into next summer and Dwyane Wade is a free agent. While they can go over the salary cap (projected to be $92M) to sign Wade, they would need to keep his $30M cap hold on the books. They do not have Whiteside’s Bird Rights so they cannot go over the cap to sign their young center. This is all to say that Pat Riley will have to get creative in order to sign both Wade and Whiteside and even then that would mean the team cannot be major players in free agency.
That all said, the Miami Herald reports that Whiteside would like to stay in Miami:
My understanding, reiterated in recent days, is if all things are equal financially, Whiteside wants to re-sign with Miami. He likes living here and likes the organization.
The Heat were the first team to give Whiteside a legitimate opportunity in the league. It makes sense that he would want to stay in Miami for more reasons than one. However, the key here is that he wants the financial incentive and Miami may not be willing to give it to him.
Anything can still change, but Hassan Whiteside may be a wholly attainable free agent and one that could turn the Lakers’ fortunes around.