LaMarcus Aldridge agreed to contract terms with the San Antonio Spurs on Saturday, representing another off-season in which the Lakers failed to corral the players they wanted.
It’s become familiar now, the Lakers pitching to high-end players, waiting nervously for several days and then watching as the players commit to another team.
They made a trade for former All-Star center Roy Hibbert on Saturday, but losing out on Aldridge was particularly devastating. He disliked their two-hour presentation almost from the start, wondering when the talk of branding opportunities in Los Angeles would transition into serious basketball talk.
The Lakers requested, and received, a second meeting with him two days after the initial sit-down, but there would be no recovery despite a basketball-centered approach that was “much better,” according to a person familiar with the situation.
The Lakers were said to be in a “two-horse race” for Aldridge’s services before free agency began but couldn’t bring home a big free-agent prize for a third consecutive summer.
They didn’t miss out only on Aldridge. They also met with DeAndre Jordan, who chose Dallas, and Greg Monroe, who curiously picked Milwaukee over the Lakers.
The Lakers netted Hibbert for a future second-round draft pick, giving them a post player with legitimate NBA experience, though he was coming off a poor season.
Hibbert, 28, is a good shot-blocker but an erratic scorer and a below-average rebounder for being 7 feet 2. His days in Indiana were numbered when team President Larry Bird all but guaranteed he would play a lesser role next season.
The Pacers were looking for takers almost from the moment Hibbert exercised a $15.5-million player option for next season last week.
“If he comes back, we’re probably going to play another style,” Bird told reporters in April. “And I can’t guarantee him anything. He’s going to have to earn it.”
Pacers Coach Frank Vogel didn’t mince words when asked whether Hibbert would be benched if he came back next season.
“Yeah, potentially,” he said, adding that Indiana would rather play at a faster pace without the plodding center.
Hibbert has enjoyed some solid seasons, making the Eastern Conference All-Star team in 2014 and 2012. He had one of the more unique lines in recent years, compiling 10 points, 11 rebounds and 11 blocked shots for a triple-double against New Orleans in 2012.
He is not an accurate shooter from the field outside and made only 44.6% of his attempts last season, very low for a center, while averaging 10.6 points, 7.1 rebounds and 1.6 blocks.
Hibbert will be in the last season of his contract and eligible for free agency in a year. He joins a threadbare Lakers frontcourt that had Robert Sacre and Tarik Black as the only post players with NBA experience.
The addition of Hibbert, who has a trade kicker that increases his actual cap number to $17.8 million, leaves the Lakers with less than $5 million to spend on a dwindling free-agent market.
It’s hard to detract the focus from an unsettling pattern, the 16-time NBA champions unable to sign anybody of worth to upgrade their team in recent off-seasons.
Dwight Howard bolted after one year with the Lakers, tangling with Kobe Bryant at his free-agent meeting with them, and headed to Houston for less money in 2013.
Carmelo Anthony enjoyed the Lakers’ branding-themed pitch last year, unlike Aldridge, but couldn’t say no to returning to his former team, the New York Knicks, in his home state.
At almost the same time, Pau Gasol left the Lakers for less money with Chicago, ending a successful run that crested with two championships but also involved his name in countless trade scenarios.
The only big-name player the Lakers signed in recent years was Bryant, who gladly accepted a two-year, $48.5-million contract extension in December 2013 before returning from an Achilles’ injury. For all his greatness over 19 NBA seasons, Bryant is little more than an injury-prone part-time player these days. He turns 37 next month and has one more year on his contract for a cap-crippling $25 million.
Aldridge turns 30 in two weeks and would have represented the return of a post presence to the Lakers. He averaged a career-high 23.4 points last season and added 10.2 rebounds a game, showing no sign of slowing down after making the All-Star team a fourth consecutive season.
San Antonio sold him on becoming the cornerstone of the franchise, along with recently re-signed Kawhi Leonard, the NBA Finals most valuable player in 2014.
The Lakers were left with what-ifs and what-nexts.
Times correspondent Eric Pincus contributed to this report.