Lakers look to acquire a big man as they set the table for next year
This was supposed to be the warmup summer, the one during which the training wheels get slapped on and everybody practices for the Real Summer of Kevin (Durant, not Love).
The Lakers, though, have already turned lemons into something sweet, moving up in the draft despite the gnashing jaws of Steve Nash-shaped despair and grabbing dynamic point guard D’Angelo Russell second overall.
All their financial eggs now go into the big-man basket. They want to talk to LaMarcus Aldridge, he wants to listen, and if all goes well for both sides, the four-time All-Star signs a four-year, $80-million deal to be the Lakers’ power forward.
Free agency begins Tuesday and Aldridge turns 30 two weeks later, a minor asterisk for a player who averaged a career-high 23.4 points last season and also 10.2 rebounds.
Portland made it past the first round once in Aldridge’s nine years there, and though the Lakers were coming off their worst season ever (21-61, ugh), you can bet they’d pitch him on a rapid revival.
Aldridge already owns a home in Orange County, his initials are tailor-made for the Lakers, and it just so happens that his good plays were rewarded at Portland home games by an audio snippet of Randy Newman’s “I Love L.A.”
The Lakers have enough money for only one big-name free agent, gathering about $23 million in spending power after declining the $9-million option on free-agent center-forward Jordan Hill in a couple of days. Aldridge would make almost $19 million next season after pulling down $16.3 million last season.
The Lakers’ only big men going into free agency are Tarik Black and Robert Sacre after they presumably make the latter’s sub-$1-million contract guaranteed by Tuesday’s deadline.
They boxed themselves into a big-man corner by passing on Duke center Jahlil Okafor to draft Russell, putting the Ohio State point guard next to promising Jordan Clarkson while setting up the Lakers’ backcourt “for the next 10 years,” according to a near-giddy team source.
Perhaps a quick shot of reality is needed.
The Lakers have had problems getting free agents to take their money in recent years. Dwight Howard spurned them for less money in Houston, Carmelo Anthony said thanks but no thanks, and Pau Gasol took less to go to Chicago.
The only big name they signed lately was Kobe Bryant, who accepted a two-year, $48.5-million extension in 2013 before returning from a torn Achilles’.
The Lakers need a Plan B if Aldridge says no. Two teams from his home state, San Antonio and Dallas, will reportedly court him too.
It would take some persuasion to get Clippers center DeAndre Jordan to take less money and leave L.A.'s more talented team. The Lakers love his rebounding and shot-blocking, like many teams, and Dallas will also recruit him heavily.
It’s harder to figure what to make of Love, who had an off year in Cleveland and said in February there was not a scenario where he’d play for the Lakers. He might meet with them next week even if it’s only a ploy to ensure a maximum offer from the Cavaliers, reportedly the favorites to retain him.
Marc Gasol has no interest in the Lakers because of the uneasy last few years his brother spent with them, according to numerous people familiar with the situation. Versatile big man Greg Monroe, oft-injured Brook Lopez and his workman-like brother, Robin, are other alternatives at center.
If the Lakers strike out, they could try re-signing Hill for less and chase swingman Jimmy Butler, who could ease into the hole vacated soon by Bryant. The problem is Chicago’s expected action of matching any offer sheet the restricted free agent signs.
Whatever happens, it’s simple table-setting for a year from now. The Lakers will have double the fun when Bryant’s contract is off the books ($25 million next season) and the salary cap jumps from $67 million to about $90 million with the NBA’s gigantic new TV deal.
Even if the Lakers sign a max free agent now, they’ll have more than enough to join the Durant free-for-all and add another big-name free agent too.
Their only players currently on the 2016-17 cap are Russell, fellow first-rounder Larry Nance Jr., Nick Young (remember him?) and Julius Randle, assuming they pick up his third-year option. It adds up to only $15 million, though money must be earmarked for Clarkson, who becomes a restricted free agent after only two seasons because he was a second-round draft pick.
This summer has already been entertaining. The real show comes in a year.
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