The Los Angeles Lakers are notorious for the ability to draw the best and brightest to their city, but with a mass exodus of free agents leaving the team after what was one of the worst seasons in team history, the storied franchise will look to start anew for the end of the Kobe era. The team is looking to retool for a chance at another championship with Kobe leading them back to the Promised Land.
The Lakers are just a few key free agent acquisitions and a strategic lottery pick away from their return to the top of the West. The good news is that one of the bright spots from last season, Kent Bazemore, is a restricted free agent that the Lakers should definitely sign to a $1.1 million qualifying offer. In 23 contests he averaged 13.1 ppg, 3.3 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.3 steals in 28 minutes per game. He definitely was a surprise for the Lakers late in the season, and although he had surgery to repair a torn tendon in his right foot, should be ready to go for training camp.
Nick Young (17.9 ppg) and Pau Gasol (17.4 ppg, 9.7 rebounds) are two of the Lakers’ unrestricted free agents that they need to bring back. Young is the perfect sixth man with the ability to get hot at any moment as seen this past season when he averaged 24.4 ppg over the last month while shooting over 50%. They will need his instant offense off the bench if they want to return to the postseason.
Even though Gasol is turning 33 and missed 20 games last season, they need his experience in the post and his steady, dependable play in the middle. I would be surprised to see the team look elsewhere or do a sign and trade deal because there aren’t many quality options that can consistently give them a double – double for playing just 36 minutes per game. The team has six other unrestricted free agents from last season’s team but no one of real importance to bring back.
There are three notable free agents that the team can focus on that will have an immediate impact: Marcin Gortat (13.2 ppg, 9.5 reb, 1.5 blk), Trevor Ariza (14.4 ppg, 6.2 reb) and Kyle Lowry (17.9 ppg, 7.4 apg, 4.7 reb). Gortat has had an amazing season with the Wizards and would be hard to wrangle away from the team, but offers the Lakers the true center they’ve been looking for since the dominant days of Andrew Bynum. He provides them solid defense in the middle, critical rebounding on the board and can run the floor.
Another Wizards player on the market, Ariza offers a great small forward who has been tasked with guarding some of the tougher guards and forwards in the Eastern Conference this season. He is a vast improvement over Wesley Johnson (9.1 ppg, 4.4 reb) and understands how to complement Kobe on offense.
Kyle Lowry, on the other hand, is clearly the marquee free agent of the 2014 class. He absolutely dominated in most games against the best point guards in the NBA. If the Lakers manage to grab him that would greatly change the outlook of the team’s June draft. If LA can’t land Lowry I believe the Lakers will look to bolster the point guard opening on the team by drafting either Dante Exum, the 6-foot-6 behemoth combo guard, or Marcus Smart, who is coming off an underwhelming sophomore season at Oklahoma State. Both players are significant upgrades over Kendall Marshall and would help sort out a team that clearly looked lost on the court for much of the season.
The missing piece is finding a dominant PF/C in the upcoming draft to help build around for the future and give them depth at a clear weakness on both ends of the court. The most likely options for the Lakers would be Julius Randle (Kentucky), Noah Vonleh (Indiana) or Aaron Gordon (Arizona).
Randle would be a dream pick as he clearly dominated the college basketball landscape all season and was extremely impressive during the Wildcats’ March Madness run into the National Championship Game. Vonleh is a defensive presence that has a very raw offensive game but has an extremely high upside should he manage to put it all together in the NBA. Gordon was one of the top freshman players for Arizona but he doesn’t have a clearly defined position yet but would step into play the 3 or as an undersized 4 at the next level.
Being second fiddle in the city where the Lakers have won 11 titles will never sit well with the fans. With a healthy and hungry Kobe, GM Mitch Kupchak has the opportunity to once again return to relevancy with an exodus and major retooling.