NBA free agency: 3 centers the Lakers should target this summer


After a disastrous season in which a championship hope fell to a 33-49 record, the Lakers will enter NBA free agency with plenty of renovations to do.

With a whopping six players from last year’s roster set to hit the open market Thursday, the start of free agency, the team will need to get to work, and fast, to patch the holes. However, they are you’re going to have to do it on a strict budget.

Outside of the minimum deals, the Lakers will enter Friday’s bidding frenzy with only the $6.4 million contributor’s mid-level exception in spending power to find upgrades and increase depth at multiple positions.


One of those areas of need is in the attacking zone, specifically for a traditional size 5. Although both LeBron James and Anthony Davis logged more of their possessions in the center than ever before, the team will still do well to add some big bodies on the sideline. ready to absorb some of the wear and tear that comes with an 82-game regular season.

Although his financial resources are limited, the following three options could meet the Lakers’ requirements.

Mo Bamba: The Floor-Spacer and Riser

Although the flashes have been enticing, things have yet to fully “click” for Mo Bamba in Orlando.

Between poor roster construction around him, injuries and frequent fluctuations in playing time, often due to his own play, the former sixth overall pick found himself swimming against the tide for the first four years of his career. surprisingly advanced. Last season, however, ended up being his strongest to date, as things finally seemed to start to fall into place.

Bamba’s success was an almost direct result of finally being able to resolve two of the biggest question marks in his game during his first three seasons: one, whether the it could stay healthy, and two, if it would be able to effectively space the floor.

After missing nearly half the previous year and averaging just 15.9 minutes when he saw the court, the 24-year-old played in a career-high 71 games for the Magic last season, and his average minutes soared to more 25 per game. .

The more consistent reps may have had in mind helping Bamba find his shooting touch as well. Bamba didn’t just let him fly from deep often: 44% of his shot profile He came from the center of the city, but he was tremendously efficient when he did it.

Bamba drilled 38% of his 3-point attempts overall and 40% of his chances over halftime per Glass Cleaning last season. His 39.3% shooting rate on catch-and-shoot 3s was second only to Karl-Anthony Towns among centers with at least 200 attempts.

Beyond the welcome floor space Bamba would provide the Lakers at center point, it would also help shore up their interior defense. With his still preternatural 7’10” wingspan, Bamba has ranked at least the 91st percentile in his position in blocking percentage in every year he has played thus far.

The unicorn-adjacent big currently remains a restricted free agent, and even if he makes it to open water, he may ultimately prove out of the Lakers’ price range this summer. But if the team has a chance to lure him, Bamba ticks enough boxes to warrant the full lineup the Lakers can give him.

Isaiah Hartenstein: The Workhorse

Isaiah Hartenstein is the Toyota Prius of free agent centers.

It’s reliable, secure, and damn useful in the right (economic) environment. He’s not the sexiest name on the market, but if his season with the Clippers is any indication of his future performance, he probably deserves to be among them.

Hartenstein is burly when he needs to be and light as a feather when appropriate. He has good hands, a light touch around the rim and an impressive feel for the game. During the season, Zach Lowe even referred to him as “one of the best big passers in the game.”

Whether he’s operating as a dribbling transfer initiator, dishing out short-run four-on-three leads, throwing darts at corner shooters, or hitting his big teammates by sliding to the dunk spot, Hartenstein has shown the ability to do it. all. His 18.9% assist percentage ranked in the 92nd percentile among centers last season.

The 24-year-old also impacts the defense in a way that isn’t based on atypical athleticism or highlight plays. A jack of all trades, Hartenstein makes significant contributions when he’s on the floor without being a true master of any singular skill like Bamba is when it comes to 3-point shooting and blocking.

The Clippers were excellent +9.1 points per 100 possessions better with Hartenstein on the floor last season. During those minutes, the team’s defense allowed an eFG% of just 48.8% (the league average was 53.2%) and 57.8% shooting (the mark of 58.1% of Clippers led the league in defense this year) according to Crystal Clean.

Among players who made at least 300 attempts inside six feet of the rim this season, Hartenstein allowed the fifth-most stingy mark, ranking behind the likes of Rudy Gobert and Jarrett Allen. Hartenstein’s ability to deter shots at the rim would be incredibly useful for a Lakers team that ranked 26th in final opponent numbers inside four feet.

Hartenstein felt like a lock to return to the Clippers after his breakout season, but with the team reportedly bringing in John Wall with his own taxpayers’ midlevel money, the center may be looking for a new home this summer. He won’t be short of suitors, and the Lakers would be smart if they were among them.

Thomas Bryant: The Reunion/Reclamation Project

If the Lakers have any real chance of signing Bamba or Hartenstein, it will likely cost them their one nonminimum exception to do so.

There’s also a very strong argument to be made that your money shouldn’t be spent on a center at all, and instead be better allocated to an area of ​​more dire need, like getting help on the wing.

So the most realistic route for the Lakers in terms of acquiring center depth on a budget would be to take a midfielder in a less proven player. Enter old friend, Thomas Bryant.

Bryant, who came to the Lakers in a 2017 draft night trade, showed glimmers of promise within the team’s G-League system before eventually heading to Washington. It was with the Wizards that Bryant turned potential into tangible results.

In his first few seasons with his new team, Bryant blossomed into one of the most exciting and hyper-efficient young centers in the league.

He gobbled up paint spots at will (ranked in the 90th percentile or better among the greats in FG% at the rim in three of his last four seasons) and proved himself a legitimate space threat, converting 38% of his cumulative 3-pointers in his first three years in DC

Unfortunately, Bryant tore his ACL last year, which derailed his momentum. He was able to return to the floor this season, but played in just 24 games and also struggled to rekindle his shooting strike, shooting just 27% of his 3-point attempts.

Although the injury was serious, Bryant is likely to remain one of, if not the most intriguing, low-buy candidates this summer. At just 24 years old, Bryant represents a prime value play for teams looking for their next diamond in the rough, especially if his long-range shooting sees a positive regression toward his 35% career average. He is exactly the type of low-cost player with a wide range of results that the Lakers desperately need to continue to exploit.

Honorable mentions: JaVale McGee, Damian Jones, Robin Lopez and Dewayne Dedmon

The Lakers desperately lacked a consistent lobing and athletics threat at No. 5 this year; each of the former Lakers above could adequately address that issue.

Alternatively, Lopez and Dedmon are helpful ticket eaters who could take on some of the traditional attrition responsibilities that Davis has tried to avoid in the past. Both are veterans on what will likely be a much younger team than last year certainly adds value (as does spending a season with Lopez’s Twitter account).

Without resources, the Lakers’ best way to regroup in free agency is to be creative, but also to market skills that were absent from last season’s roster.

Perimeter shooting, interior defense, and most of all, players who constantly push themselves are key attributes that can pay big dividends at a fraction of the cost.

There are very few multi-box options the team can afford, but if they’re strategic enough, hopefully the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

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