The Lakers’ main free-agent target, LaMarcus Aldridge, agreed to contract terms with the San Antonio Spurs, in 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 they commit to another team.
Losing out on Aldridge was particularly devastating because 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, according to a person familiar with the meeting.
The Lakers botched it so badly Tuesday that they requested, and received, a second meeting with him two days later. It was centered entirely on basketball and was “much better,” according to a person familiar with Aldridge’s thinking, but there would not be recovery from the initial failure.
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 have only two big men with NBA experience on their roster -- Robert Sacre, used sparingly in his first three years, and Tarik Black, a rookie claimed off waivers last season.
The Lakers have the salary-cap space to absorb Indiana center Roy Hibbert or Golden State power forward David Lee in a trade. Both are former All-Stars coming off bad seasons.
The Lakers could also resurrect trade talks with Sacramento, through the Kings are said to want Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle and recent draftee D’Angelo Russell in exchange for All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins. It would be a heavy price, one the Lakers were reluctant to pay last month when trade talks began.
The Lakers didn’t only miss out on Aldridge. They also met with DeAndre Jordan, who chose Dallas, and Greg Monroe, who curiously picked Milwaukee over them.
There are only reserves left among free-agent big men at this point, including Kosta Kofous, who played for Memphis last season, and Bismack Biyombo, who played for Charlotte.
It’s become an unsettling pattern for the Lakers, 16-time NBA champions but completely 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 a handful of days later for less money.
Carmelo Anthony enjoyed the Lakers’ branding-themed pitch last year, unlike Aldridge. It included a sharp four-minute synopsis of his basketball career created by movie producer Joel Silver, but Anthony 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 to go to Chicago, ending a successful run that crested with two championships but also involved his name in countless trade scenarios, including the ill-fated Chris Paul deal that would have sent Gasol to Houston.
In fact, 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 now nothing more than an injury-prone part-time player. He turns 37 next month and has one more year on his contact for a cap-crippling $25 million.
Aldridge turns 30 in almost 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.
He enjoyed Houston’s analytics-laden pitch, complete with countless on-court projections and analyses, but really connected with the Spurs.
San Antonio sold him on becoming the cornerstone of the franchise, along with recently signed Kawhi Leonard, the NBA Finals MVP in 2014. Yahoo Sports first reported news of his decision to join the Spurs early Saturday.
Phoenix also made an impression by agreeing to terms with center Tyson Chandler, Aldridge’s friend, and bringing him to their free-agent sit-down with Aldridge, who appreciated the outside-the-box thinking.
The Lakers were left with only what-ifs and what-nexts.
They still have $22 million to spend this off-season. How they’ll use it is anyone’s guess, but someone will eventually take their money. It just won’t be any of the players they wanted.