The Los Angeles Lakers may have missed out on an opportunity to end their championship drought when the NBA’s 2019-20 season was suspended amidst the coronavirus outbreak.
The Purple and Gold were on top of the Western Conference team standings and seemed to be in playoff mode when they beat the Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Clippers on consecutive games one week before the stoppage of action. But if the season is indeed over, then it was a year that went wasted for the Lakers.
LeBron James will be a year older next season. Anthony Davis turned down a contract extension with the Lakers and will become an unrestricted free agent during the summer. The move though is seen as procedural because all Davis wants is a bigger payday starting next season.
Davis’ move though will have a financial impact on the Lakers. He was supposed to make $28.7M next season but under a new deal, he stands to make $34.8M next season. LeBron James will make $39M next season so these two salaries already take a chunk of the $125M salary cap for 2020-21.
Let’s not go to the details. The point here is that the Lakers have pretty much decided that the core of their current team will be the one that will lead them again next season. That’s because the likes of Danny Green, Avery Bradley, Javale McGee, Quinn Cook, Alex Caruso, and Kyle Kuzma have two-year deals well up to 2020-21. Kentavious Caldwell Pope and Rajon Rondo have player options for next season as well.
The Lakers won’t have enough cap space to sign a max free agent this summer and their options are limited. Because of that, let’s take a look at a list of quality players they should be targeting because of their limitations:
1. Carmelo Anthony
Why not? Melo was rumored to be going to the Lakers before he signed with the Blazers. I’m not sure if there were actual negotiations between him and the Lakers but he and LeBron James are banana boat brothers so this would make sense.
Anthony’s non-guaranteed deal with Portland was at $2.15M so I don’t think salary would be an issue here. Anthony is at the twilight of his career and would want a crack at an NBA title before he retires. We saw how the Blazers struggled this year and I’m not sure if that team is going to stay together next season.
Melo was impressive in his stint with Portland. He may no longer be the 20-point scorer that he was in his prime but at 15.3 points per game this season, he will be a consistent third scorer behind Anthony Davis and LeBron James. The Lakers have plenty of scorers and shooters but they were inconsistent at time. Melo would give them stability on offense.
2. Paul Millsap
Millsap will be a free agent next season and at 35 years of age, I don’t think the Nuggets will offer him a max contract because he is already in his twilight years. That said, Millsap could be on the way out in Denver and he might decide to play for a title contender to give himself at least a chance at winning an NBA title. Los Angeles would be the perfect destination.
The Lakers already have a solid frontline of Davis, McGee, Howard, and LeBron James and Millsap would further make that unit formidable. In limited action, Millsap averaged 12.0 points and 5.9 rebounds for Denver. The Lakers don’t need big stars now. They need players who can contribute consistently. Millsap fits the bill.
The guy has a good three-point shot as he shot 44.0% from three-ball this season. That also fills a need in Los Angeles as their shooters were inconsistent this year. With his ability to space the floor, Millsap would be a terrific third force behind James and Davis.
3. Jordan Clarkson
Jordan Clarkson was originally drafted by the Lakers and he had some good years here before he was traded to the Cavaliers. In Cleveland, he played with LeBron James and he was also effective there. He is currently playing for the Jazz where he is a key contributor off the bench. Clarkson will be a free agent after this season and he might want to re-join LeBron and at $13.7M this season, he isn’t too much for the Lakers.
Clarkson averaged 15.1 points for the Jazz this season and was instant offense off the bench. However, playing behind Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley won’t help him with his minutes. In Los Angeles, the Lakers have no one signed after the end of the 2020-21 season so if he can come in and make an impact next season, he could be a part of their long term plans.
His shooting and scoring will be an asset to the current team. Remember that the Lakers signed Dion Waiters to get help with their backcourt scoring. Los Angeles has plenty of good scoring guards in their team but none were consistent enough to help AD and LeBron with the scoring chores. Clarkson definitely will help fill that need.
4. DeMarcus Cousins
DeMarcus Cousins was on the Lakers roster this season but he was waived so that the team could sign Dion Waiters. Cousins has been hit with serious injuries in the last two seasons but if he can get healthy while the league is in hiatus, he will be a sought after free agent after the current season.
Cousins was one of the Top 3 centers in the NBA before he got hurt, during his contract year. After he was unable to land a max contract, he signed with the Golden State Warriors hoping to win an NBA title while waiting to prove himself over again. That didn’t happen and he joined the Lakers last summer. Bad luck struck again when he was hurt while training.
Assuming he gets healthy, Boogie might want to chase the ring again next season. Since the Warriors are no longer the best team in the West, he might choose to return to L.A.
He was here almost the entire season and is already familiar with the system and the players. Cousins will have less adjustment if he returns to the Lakers. He will also have his best shot at winning the title here with LeBron and AD.
5. Tristan Thompson
Tristan Thompson had a very good relationship with LeBron James. Well except for those days when TT was hooked with Khloe Kardashian because Bron thought she was a distraction. Going back to basketball, Thompson had a tumultuous season in Cleveland and will be an unrestricted free agent this summer.
TT already has a title ring with Cleveland but if he wants to be reunited with LeBron, he will have another shot at winning another ring. He is another big man for the Lakers but like McGee, he has valuable championship experience. Thompson can shoot the three if needed and he is a very smart player who works hard to get the rebounds.
He averaged 12.0 points and 10.1 rebounds per game this season. He will give Los Angeles more depth up front and his valuable experience is going to be much needed in the postseason. Thompson would be a good find for the Lakers. LeBron will be there to vouch for him.