Will free agents pay attention to rise of Lakers' young guns?

The Lakers wonder if Kevin Durant has been watching.

They hope Hassan Whiteside has taken notice. DeMar DeRozan too.

Few teams will have the salary cap space of the Lakers when free agency begins June 30, and you have to wonder who has seen their late little imprint on the 2015-16 season.

Beat Golden State? Check.

Have your top three young players each score 20 points in a follow-up victory over Orlando? Yes.

It's not a lot, especially when the overall record still shows 14-51, but it's something.

"I think most players that are free agents probably look at our roster and look at our young guys and see if those guys developed over the year and see what their type of potential is before they make a decision," Lakers Coach Byron Scott said Wednesday.

Scott didn't name names, and couldn't because of NBA guidelines. He didn't need to fill in the blanks.

The Lakers will have about $55 million to spend on free agents this summer, thanks to the expiring contracts of Kobe Bryant ($25 million this season) and Roy Hibbert ($15.5 million), not to mention the massive jump in the salary cap with all the extra money coming in from the NBA's new TV deal.

They'll have to save something for restricted free-agent guard Jordan Clarkson, their best player this season, but their spending pot will be a lot.

Durant is the class of the unrestricted free agents, though it's only a small chance he'll choose the Lakers, who, let's face it, do not have a championship roster despite their recent surge.

Whiteside might be the game's best rebounder/shot-blocker this side of DeAndre Jordan. Pat Riley will be reluctant to let him leave Miami and the Heat can offer more than any other team.

DeRozan is a big reason for Toronto's success this season, and he's from Los Angeles. The Raptors have the second-best record in the Eastern Conference, possibly making it that much harder for him to leave a successful team.

The Lakers missed out on their last seven pitches to big-name free agents, a lengthy list that would include two of their own: Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, plus LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, LaMarcus Aldridge, Greg Monroe and the Clippers' Jordan.

At this point, the Lakers can offer only youth, especially if they keep their top-three protected draft pick and end up with Louisiana State's Ben Simmons or Duke's Brandon Ingram. The lottery will take place in May and the draft in June, a week before free agency starts.

The improvement of the Lakers' youth is the start of something, perhaps, in attracting free agents.

"I feel like everybody watches everybody in the NBA, so hopefully they are watching and they see some good stuff," Clarkson said. "At the same time, we're trying to grow as our own with us young guys."

Maybe Clarkson will pick up the phone and start recruiting for the future.

"I don't really talk to nobody around the league, so I probably ain't the best recruiter," he said, laughing.

Bryant still 50-50

There's a 50% chance Bryant will play Thursday against Cleveland, Scott said, citing a nagging shoulder injury.

In reality, Bryant has skipped 40% of the games at Staples Center since announcing his retirement intentions while playing 96% of the games outside Los Angeles.

Despite being at Staples Center, Thursday's contest probably appeals to Bryant because it's his final game against James and also a TNT exclusive.

Bryant sat out Tuesday's nondescript home game against Orlando but played two days earlier against front-running Golden State in a nationally televised game.



When: Thursday, 7:30 p.m. PST.

Where: Staples Center.

On the air: TV: TNT; Radio: 710, 1330.

Records: Lakers 14-51; Cavaliers 45-18.

Record vs. Cavaliers: 0-1.

Update: For all their troubles — injuries, alleged lack of chemistry — the Cavaliers are still in first place in the Eastern Conference, though it's not a huge lead over the surprising Toronto Raptors. The Lakers lost in Cleveland last month, 120-111, in a game that was less competitive than the score indicated. Kyrie Irving scored 35 points, LeBron James added 29 and Kobe Bryant scored 17 on erratic five-of-16 shooting.


Twitter: @Mike_Bresnahan

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
A version of this article appeared in print on March 10, 2016, in the Sports section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline "Will kids' progress interest free agents? - LAKERS REPORT" — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe