Today, NBA free agency will start. At 3 p.m. PT (and possibly a little before that as tampering definitely doesn’t happen every year), free agency signings will be announced by the likes of Adrian Wojnarowski, Shams Charania, and the rest of the most connected reporters covering the Association. And this year, probably more so than any other year of LeBron James’ time with the team, the Lakers have a lot of work to do.
If you count the recently drafted Max Christie and Russell Westbrook, the Lakers have nine players set to be on their roster for the 2021-22 season. That leaves six spots on their roster that will need to be filled via free agency. They don’t have any cap space, so one spot will be filled via the $6.4 million taxpayer mid-level exception with the other five being filled via veteran minimum contracts.
The position that the Lakers most desperately need to fill is the wing position, with my colleague Chris Walton documenting some targets for the team in that area yesterday.
I won’t cover guards today as the Lakers already have plenty of those on the roster. Instead, I’ll cover big men. Last year, the Lakers had Anthony Davis, Dwight Howard, and DeAndre Jordan filling that department. With Davis being injured for most of the season, let’s just say the team did not receive much value-added in that area.
Below, I’ve copied Walt and have divided potential big man targets into three tiers: “Fine Dining”, “In a Pinch”, and “Basement Level”. The first set of bigs below will be in the “Fine Dining” tier, and will be guys that I expect to demand the taxpayer mid-level exception from the Lakers (or more from other teams).
On Wednesday, it was reported that the Orlando Magic likely would not be extending a qualifying offer to Mo Bamba to make him a restricted free agent, allowing Bamba to enter free agency as an unrestricted FA.
Bamba would be an amazing stretch five to have on the team. He’d alleviate spacing issues in lineups involving both Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook as he made 38.1% of his 4.0 3-point attempts per game. That would have been a top mark on the Lakers’ team last season, and adding to that value is the fact that only 9% of his 3-point attempts were open according to B-Ball Index.
The spacing alone is enough to validate the team throwing the TMLE at him to see if he would offer it, but on top of that he’s also young, a good rebounder, and with his insane wingspan he is a great rim defender (97th percentile in terms of B-Ball Index’s Defensive LEBRON metric).
In a Pinch
Yes, unfortunately, there’s only one realistic option at the big man position that I would classify as “fine dining”. I would have also included the Clippers’ Isaiah Hartenstein who won’t be getting the TMLE from his team as they seemingly give it to John Wall, however, Marc Stein has reported that the Magic have emerged as a leading suitor to replace Bamba with Hartenstein.
With that being said, let’s move on to big men I’d absolutely take at the veteran minimum, starting with a familiar face in Damian Jones who played on a 10-day contract with the team during the 2020-21 season.
He improved with the Sacramento Kings last season, averaging 8.1 points per game on a 65.8% field-goal percentage. He got that high FG% from being a great roll-man on pick-and-rolls, something he was in the 97th percentile of in terms of overall impact (according to B-Ball Index). However, it’s his defense that really gives him value in the 80th percentile of D-LEBRON as he is a great rim defender. Sadly, he won’t be doing much for the Lakers in terms of perimeter shooting if he were to sign there. He’s basically a non-factor from deep.
This name isn’t going to get anyone excited, but I do think that Dieng could be a decent floor spacer for the team at the five position. He’s especially good at pick-and-pops, shooting 42.9% on 3-point attempts above-the-break last season for the Atlanta Hawks. Overall, he’s a 36.7% career 3-point shooter across his nine seasons, including 42.6% on 1.5 3-point attempts per game last season.
He’s able to cause some havoc in passing lanes on defense, however, he’s not much else of a value-add on that end of the floor. He’s also getting up there in age for a big man at 32-years-old, with that being even more of a concern given the fact that he’s never been much of an athlete.
DeMarcus Cousins/Thomas Bryant
I’m grouping these two together as they present similar strengths and weaknesses.
In terms of strengths, both Cousins and Bryant are theoretical floor spacers, although their recent track records from 3-point land arent the best. For “Boogie”, he shot 30.3% on 2.5 3-point attempts per game in his 2021-22 season following his 34.8% clip in the 2020-21 season. However, that just may be the inconsistency that he brings after shooting 27.4% in his 2018-19 season with the Warriors.
Bryant only played 27 games this past season after tearing his ACL in the middle of the 2020-21 season. He shot 28.6% on 3-pointers in the 2021-22 campaign after shooting 37.4% across all of his three seasons with the Wizards leading up to that.
In terms of weaknesses, Cousins shares injury concerns with Bryant. Cousins obviously did not play a single game with the Lakers in his 2019-20 season with the team due to a torn ACL happening right before training camp. Five years ago, he ruptured his left Achilles tendon. Those are major concerns for a large, heavy center now in his thirties.
Bryant’s torn ACL shouldn’t be looked upon so poorly given his young age, but still, he would be a reclamation project for the Lakers, and I’m not sure if they have the patience or time to help Bryant get back to his old self.
DeWayne Dedmon/Hassan Whiteside
I actually think these two players could be serviceable for other teams. Both definitely were last year, with Dedmon on the Heat and Whiteside on the Jazz.
Both are classic NBA centers. They’ll give you great offensive rebounding, rim protection as well as shot-making there, as well as being decent roll men in pick-and-rolls. However, they also have zero perimeter shooting and an inability to defend on the perimeter. These two factors — extremely important in today’s game — caused both players to receive diminished playing time once their respective teams made the playoffs.
Jones shares a similar profile, but Jones also has youth and motor that these two somewhat slow centers don’t have.
Blake Griffin/LaMarcus Aldridge/Dwight Howard/DeAndre Jordan
Just… no. Nah. Absolutely not.
I added this “Hell” tier because these four are all absolute “no’s” from me. We all know about DeAndre Jordan. I love Dwight, but come on, he could barely play two games in a row without having to sit out the next one or, if he did play, he’d put out a slow and very disappointing performance.
As for the other two players who were Nets last season, I’m saying “Hell no” for the exact same reasons. They’re too old! This Lakers team needs youth and motor from all of their signings, but especially from this position. All four of these names — literally in Dwight and DeAndre’s cases — would be a step backward to the same mistakes the front office made with the 2021-22 roster. I’d rather just bring up Jay Huff or some other bigs from the G-League if these names were the only alternative.
I know us Lakers fans and the general NBA world has put a large emphasis on wing players, but big men are still very important. And the big market during this free agency period may yield more value than the wing market will for the Lakers. If they can get one or two of the guys from the top two tiers of this list, then I think we will at least be seeing far better defense from this year’s Lakers compared to what we got with those dinosaurs Dwight and DeAndre.