Lakers are first in line for a sit-down with free agent LaMarcus Aldridge
The Lakers introduced themselves to LaMarcus Aldridge the moment free agency began Tuesday night, hoping to sign that still-elusive free-agent big man after being rebuffed the previous two summers.
Kobe Bryant and James Worthy joined an army of executives who met with Aldridge: Jeanie Buss, Jim Buss, Mitch Kupchak and Coach Byron Scott represented the franchise, along with pitchmen from AEG and TWC SportsNet and team vice presidents Tim Harris (business) and John Black (publicity).
The meeting lasted about two hours. The team had planned about an hour of business-type pitches that spoke to the branding potential of Aldridge as a member of the Lakers. Then the franchise’s basketball side was expected to take over — Kupchak, Scott and assistant general manager Glenn Carraro — to talk on-court strategy if Aldridge joined them.
The Lakers have about $23 million to spend toward next season, and Aldridge would take up about $18.8 million if he agreed to a four-year, $80-million maximum deal.
The Lakers are somewhat hamstrung now but will be swimming in money next summer, freed from Bryant’s $25 million salary for 2015-16 and presumably in the chase for Kevin Durant while eagerly taking advantage of the NBA’s projected cap jump from $67 million to $90 million thanks to an influx of new TV money.
Aldridge, who turns 30 in two weeks, represents what the Lakers desperately need these days, an All-Star power forward who can score and rebound for a suddenly backcourt-heavy team.
The Lakers have a quietly positive feeling about signing the four-time All-Star, who played nine seasons with Portland. The Lakers and San Antonio are part of a “two-horse race” for Aldridge, according to a person familiar with his thinking. The extra $28 million he could get in a fifth contract year from Portland is not expected to factor into his decision.
Wednesday is shaping up as a busy day for the Lakers’ pitch team. They are landing in time for a noon meeting with Greg Monroe in Washington DC after taking a red-eye flight from LAX. Then they return to Los Angeles for a night-time meeting with Clippers center DeAndre Jordan.
The Lakers will also meet with Cleveland forward Kevin Love either Thursday or Friday.
Monroe, 25, is a versatile big man, perhaps a bit undersized to play center full-time but a solid rebounder and reliable scorer as well. He averaged 15.9 points and 10.2 rebounds last season for Detroit, though he will meet with a handful of teams including New York.
Jordan, 26, might be the best rebounder-shot blocker in the game, though he is said to be split 50-50 on going to Dallas or returning to the Clippers.
Love, 26, had an off year in Cleveland and said in February there was not a scenario where he’d play for the Lakers, who had long admired his outside touch and rebounding proficiency. The Lakers managed to secure a meeting with him but the Cavaliers are thought to be overwhelming favorites to retain him.
The last two summers were tough sledding for one of the NBA’s proudest franchises: Dwight Howard took less money and left for Houston, Carmelo Anthony listened intently but returned to New York, and Pau Gasol opted for a fresh start in Chicago, also for less money.
Kupchak promised the Lakers would continue to be aggressive and secured the first meeting with Aldridge, who planned to also meet with San Antonio and Dallas, among other teams.
Follow Mike Bresnahan on Twitter @Mike_Bresnahan
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