How Will the Lakers Fill Out Their Roster Now That They Have Russell Westbrook?

In the wake of Thursday’s blockbuster trade that sent Russell Westbrook to the Los Angeles Lakers, the attention shifts to how the Lakers are going to fill out the rest of their roster given that they only have five players under contract. Those players are: LeBron, AD, Russ, Marc Gasol and Alfonso McKinnie, and between them and the $5 million of dead money they have to pay Luol Deng, the Lakers are at $130 million in salary already, meaning they’re going to have a hard time filling out the roster with anything other than veteran minimum contracts.

They also acquired Gonzaga’s Joel Ayayi and Oklahoma’s Austin Reaves as undrafted free agents. Ayayi is more well-known given that he was on Gonzaga, and is a nice addition because he shot 39% from three this past season. Reaves is the one I didn’t know much about, but after watching his highlights, I’m impressed. He only shot 30% from three last season but he has serious range, and swag for days. I think Laker fans will really like him if he ends up making the team. He’ll be like Alex Caruso but with a deeper offensive bag.

So you have those two rookies, but they’re not guaranteed to make the final roster. More likely they’ll end up playing in the G-League, but who knows. Maybe they make the active roster. It’s obviously a very low likelihood that an undrafted player gets good enough to become a rotation guy, but the Lakers have shown a penchant for identifying deep value, for example Caruso (undrafted), and Talen Horton-Tucker (2nd rounder).

Before we move on to which new players the Lakers could bring in, let’s look at their own free agents because A. there are a lot of them, and B. they have Bird Rights on a lot of them (the significance of having Bird Rights on a player is that you can go over the cap to re-sign them):

  • Dennis Schroder: I think the Lakers are unlikely to bring Schroder back after the acquisition of Westbrook. Schroder wants to be a starter and earn starting money, but obviously he’s not starting over Russ. The Lakers will look to sign-and-trade him if possible, but that can only happen if he doesn’t just sign outright to a team that has cap space. The Lakers want him to go to a team that needs to do a sign-and-trade in order to acquire him. Since it’s rumored that the Bulls and Lonzo Ball are probably going to reach a deal, that leaves the Knicks as another team with lots of cap space in the market for a point guard; if the Knicks sign someone other than Schroder, there are still other options for him, but that will be good for the Lakers since it will make a sign-and-trade more likely.
  • Alex Caruso: The Bald Eagle is an unrestricted free agent and had apparently drawn interest from a few teams, like Cleveland and Indiana, but both of those teams made moves to acquire guards within the past week, so it seems unlikely they’ll still go after Caruso. The Lakers may have to overpay for him, but he’s a fan favorite who is actually now the longest-tenured Laker following the departure of Kyle Kuzma. He should be back because he’s a good defender and the Lakers really like him, but if someone offers him more money, the Lakers will be in a tough spot to try and match.
  • Talen Horton-Tucker: He’s young and he’s got loads of potential. The Lakers are very high on him, and feel proud of the fact that they found him and developed him. The issue is that other teams will want him. Like Caruso, if the Lakers want THT back, they’ll probably have to overpay. Unlike Caruso, THT is a restricted free agent and so the Lakers have a better chance at retaining him.
  • Wesley Matthews: The Lakers used their bi-annual exception to sign Matthews last offseason, and since you can only use that once every two years, they can’t give him that contract again. They’ll probably offer him the veteran minimum, and they should hope he accepts that because he’s a quality 3-and-D guy with veteran experience.
  • Andre Drummond: I don’t think Drummond will re-sign with the Lakers. I think he’s going to be gone. The spacing would be terrible with him and Russ on the floor at the same time. He became borderline unplayable in the playoffs.
  • Jared Dudley: The guys at Lakers Nation believe the most likely scenario for Dudley is that the Lakers ask him to become an assistant coach rather than sign him to a player contract. However, Lakers reporter Brad Turner said that Dudley was a part of the meeting at LeBron’s house three weeks ago where LeBron, AD and Russ basically resolved to team up and discussed how they’d play with one another. This leads me to believe Dudley is one of LeBron’s guys and that Dudley will be back.
  • Ben McLemore: He’s a good shooter who joined the team midway through last season, and was only making $569k on his deal for 2021. Because this upcoming season will be his 9th, and you need 10 seasons to be able to earn the full $2.6 million from the veteran minimum, he will earn a bit less, but he will still probably gladly accept the vet minimum from the Lakers if/when it’s offered to him because it’ll be a massive increase over his current salary. He’s a good shooter
  • Markieff Morris: Pretty simple with him. He’s playing on the vet minimum currently, the Lakers, if they want him back, will probably offer it to him again. He would probably prefer to stay in LA since his twin brother, Marcus, plays in LA as well. I think it’s a matter of whether the Lakers want him back, and they very well might given that he’s a big body who can shoot from outside.

So those are the guys that were on the Lakers last season but have become free agents. I’m not going to pretend I know what will happen with them.

Now let’s move on to the free agents that the Lakers could bring in from other teams. Obviously not all of them will join the Lakers, but these are the primary targets in terms of guys where there’s mutual interest, and guys who will probably be willing to take the veteran minimum, which is basically all the Lakers can offer at this point. Everyone on this list is a vet minimum guy unless otherwise noted:

  • Carmelo Anthony: After 18 seasons in the NBA, it looks like LeBron and Carmelo will finally be teammates. Brad Turner reports that Melo is “just waiting for the call” from the Lakers, and I think he’ll get that call. He played on the vet minimum last season for Portland, but now at 37 years old, he wants to get that elusive ring. At this stage of his career, his defense is unreliable, but he did shoot 41% from three last season for 13.4ppg in just 24 minutes off the bench. He’ll slide in nicely as a spot-up shooter.
  • Wayne Ellington: He’s one of the Lakers’ primary targets, for sure. He shot 42% from three last season and had a brief stint with the Purple & Gold back in 2015. The Lakers will definitely offer him the veteran minimum, and he will probably accept it because he played on the vet minimum for Detroit last season. Ellington should be a great pickup. This is a player Laker fans should be excited about.
  • Dwight Howard: This is another deal that seems likely to happen. Reports are that Dwight is “ready to come back“, and the Lakers would probably love to have him back on the vet minimum. He won a ring with them in 2020, and was very good in his role as a backup center. Expect Dwight to come back for his third stint with the LA Lakers.
  • Patty Mills: The Spurs’ sharpshooter will receive a lot of interest around the league. He’s a career 39% three point shooter. The Lakers will have to go above the vet minimum to get him, probably. I’d expect them to offer him the taxpayer mid-level exception, which is about $6 million. He would be a tremendous addition, but he will have no shortage of suitors. Will the allure of chasing another ring be enough for him to give the Lakers a discount? Tough to say, but he made $13 million last season. I don’t think it’ll happen. You might be wondering if the Lakers could give him the non-taxpayer MLE, which is about $10 million, but that is not possible for the Lakers right now because such a deal would trigger the hard-cap and make it financially impossible to fill out their roster.
  • Trevor Ariza: He just turned 36, but he’s a big body who has a history with the Lakers franchise, having been a part of the 2009 Championship team. I could see him wanting to come back to LA to chase a ring once again. He’s a former client of Rob Pelinka back when Pelinka was an agent, so the relationship is there. Ariza is a solid veteran player who should be able to provide depth for the Lakers once again.
  • JJ Redick: We all know who he is. He’s one of the best three point shooters in NBA history (15th all-time in career threes made). However, the 37-year-old sharpshooter may not want to move back to LA. There was that story during the season about how he was upset with the Pelicans for trading him to Dallas when they had apparently promised to send him to New York, where his family lives. I think he wants to play for an East Coast team and be around his family. However, you never know.
  • Jeff Green: He played well for Brooklyn last season, including a 27 point outburst in Game 4 of the second round series against Milwaukee. He’s versatile and can play as a small ball center; he’s experienced, he shot 41% from three last season, and he’s played with LeBron in the past. I think it makes a lot of sense to go after him.
  • JaVale McGee: This is another guy like Dwight Howard who was on the team for the 2020 Championship run in the bubble. Obviously there’s a history there with the Lakers and McGee, but word is that he’s interested in re-signing with the Nuggets after being traded to Cleveland mid-season. The Lakers could only offer him the vet minimum, but he was making about $4 million last season, so he might be able to get more money elsewhere. A return seems unlikely.
  • Andre Iguodala: He’s an interesting one. A long-time LeBron rival, the Heat just announced they’re declining their team option on his contract, allowing the 37-year-old to become a free agent. He’s not the lockdown defender he once was, and he only averaged 4.4ppg, 21 minutes and 33% three point shooting for Miami last season. But he’s a great veteran presence who will find his way onto a contender. The thing is, I’m seeing that the Warriors are interested in bringing him back, and it’s possible a return to the Bay is more appealing to him than LA. But Iggy was once represented by Rob Pelinka, and this matters. There’s already a strong relationship there between those two. I would say it’s either Ariza or Iggy–if the Lakers get one, they probably won’t get the other.
  • Goran Dragic: The veteran point guard is probably done in Miami, as people expect him to get traded to Toronto and then bought out. Miami is apparently in hot pursuit of Kyle Lowry and it appears that deal is all but guaranteed. Dragic would be a nice backup point guard to Russell Westbrook, but only if he’d be willing to take the vet minimum. The Lakers could also offer him the taxpayer MLE, so that’s an option.

One other name getting buzz: Otto Porter Jr., who is now an unrestricted free agent. He’s reportedly emerged as a “target” for the Lakers, but unlike the other guys on this list, who are all well into their 30s and destined for vet minimum contracts, Porter made about $28.5 million last season. He’s only 28, and he’s probably not a vet minimum guy. So maybe he’d be a candidate for the taxpayer MLE. It’s hard to see him getting $28.5 mil a year again, but it’s also hard to see him going all the way down to $6 million a year. To me, it feels like Porter will be out of reach for the Lakers.

Charlotte’s Malik Monk just became an unrestricted free agent. He’s a career 34% three point shooter, but this past season he really improved from behind the arc, shooting 40%. I have no idea what kind of contract he’s going to command or what the market will be for him, but I think he’ll also be out of reach for the Lakers.

Duncan Robinson is also a pipe dream. Obviously the Lakers would love to have his three point shooting, but he’s a restricted free agent so Miami can match offers on him. Plus, he will have a ton of potential suitors and probably command around $24 million per year. Not gonna happen.

***

Free agency begins today at 5pm central/6pm eastern, so expect a lot of deals to be announced once this thing opens up. We’ve got about 5 hours left until it starts. Buckle up.

Austin Frank

Sports blogger

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