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Lakers’ Plan B If They Do Not Sign Kawhi Leonard In 2019 NBA Free Agency

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The Los Angeles Lakers currently have their hands tied as they patiently await Kawhi Leonard‘s free agency decision, which will change the landscape of the NBA.

The Lakers — along with the Los Angeles Clippers and Toronto Raptors — are one of the three teams reportedly in the running for the two-time Finals MVP. However, as they wait on Leonard’s decision, the free agent market is rapidly drying up now and the Lakers cannot afford to spend any of their $32.1 million cap space.

If the Lakers do manage to sign Leonard, then nothing else matters as they will fill out the roster with nothing but a $4.7 room exception and minimum deals. That is their best case scenario, but what happens if the Lakers strike out?

The Lakers would need to quickly pivot and focus on flushing out the rest of the team with competent players who are ready to contribute. The NBA mandates that each team can have a minimum of 13 players on a roster and they have five: LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Kyle Kuzma, Troy Daniels, and Jared Dudley.

That leaves the Lakers with $32.1 million in cap space, the $4.7 million room exception, and at least eight roster spots to fill. The good news being that by the time Leonard decides, the Lakers will likely be one of the only teams with a large amount of remaining cap space. However, they will have to decide between the proverbial leftovers that no other team chose to sign during free agency.

With the pool of free agents continuing to dwindle, here is a look at some of the team’s options if they ultimately strike out on signing the 28-year-old:

Goran Dragic

Dragic might not be a free agent, but that does not at all mean he is not on the market. Due to their recent acquisition of Jimmy Butler via sign-and-trade from the Philadelphia 76ers, the Miami Heat are currently hard capped, which means they cannot exceed the salary cap of $132.6 million under any circumstances. This also means they cannot sign players to minimum deals or use their mid-level exception.

However, no team wants to be hard-capped heading into the season due to the luxury tax and the Heat are also reportedly trying to pair Butler with Bradley Beal, but they would need to clear up some space. This is where the Lakers come in.

The Heat were ready to trade Dragic to the Dallas Mavericks until they pulled out at the last minute, so they are clearly ready to move on from him. Offloading his $19.2 million deal would give the Heat some much-needed breathing room and the Lakers could easily absorb it while still having about $12 million to spend.

Dragic is on an expiring contract and he is also miles better than any other point guard available in free agency right now. He was an All-Star just two years ago and boasts a career 36.3% from the three-point line — not to mention the fact that he has never averaged more than 2.9 turnovers in his entire 11-year career.

With the Heat so desperate to clear up their books, a potential offer of Talen Horton-Tucker, a second round pick, and some cash might be enough for Dragic.

Guards

Danny Green: Green has been linked to the Lakers and he would provide them with a 3-and-D presence that is much needed on their current roster. He shot 45.5% from the three-point line and has reportedly already been in contact with the Lakers this offseason. He has been very vocal about his free agency process via Twitter and Harrison Sanford — his podcast co-host and close friend — listed his reasons for joining the Lakers which included his connection to James and Kuzma. Green would likely cost the Lakers around $10-$12 million but he would be worth it.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope: There is a very good chance that Caldwell-Pope returns to the Lakers even if they land Leonard. He is Klutch Sports agent Rich Paul’s client and does not seem to have much interest from any other teams. Although he has some off-the-court issues and his basketball IQ is not too high, he could be a valuable piece on a roster lacking spacing, especially at a discount. Due to his connection with Klutch Sports, Pope would likely sign for the room exception.

Rajon Rondo: Rondo is one of the last feasible point guards left in the pool of free agents and he is likely waiting to see where Leonard signs. While his defense has wavered, his three-point shot has improved as he shot 35.9% while also dishing out 8.0 assists. He also worked well with Anthony Davis back with the New Orleans Pelicans and that chemistry is something that the Lakers could cherish. With most teams out of cap space, the Lakers should offer him a veteran’s minimum deal.

Alex Caruso: The Lakers extended a qualifying offer to Caruso at the start of free agency, so he is currently a restricted free agent. While he is not the most flashy player, Caruso was quietly one of the team’s best defenders. He finished top-five in both Defensive Rating (102.4) and Defensive Win Shares (0.100) on the roster and also increased his three-point percentage from 30.2 to 48.0. He is a capable passer, does not turn the ball over much, and might even sign a minimum deal.

Quinn Cook: After the Golden State Warriors renounced Cook, he is an unrestricted free agent now and the Lakers should consider him. Cook has playoff experience and has shown that he can contribute in a big way on multiple occasions. He is still only 25-years-old and is a 41.8% three-point shooter in his young career.

Iman Shumpert: Shumpert has an obvious connection to James with the Cleveland Cavaliers and would likely be a very cheap get for the Lakers. Although Shumpert is not the player he once used to be, he is still an above-average defender with the ability to knock down a three-pointer at 34.8%. He was top-five in Defensive Rating on the Houston Rockets and should take a veteran’s minimum deal.

Honorable Mentions: Jeremy Lin, Delon Wright (restricted), JR Smith (if bought out), Justin Holiday, Trey Burke, David Nwaba, Lance Stephenson, Jamal Crawford.

Forwards

Marcus Morris: Morris is still one of the better players left on the board when it comes to free agents. He competes incredibly hard and would bring a bulldog attitude that the Lakers do not have much of right now. He is an incredible isolation scorer, a better rebounder, and more consistent three-point shooter as shown by his 37.5%. He is also with Klutch Sports which might give the Lakers the upper-hand in signing them, but he would likely expect at least $10-$15 million.

Kelly Oubre Jr: Oubre is currently a restricted free agent and the Phoenix Suns have yet to renounce his rights. He would be a great piece to add to the Lakers as he would bring some youth at just 23-years-old along with extreme confidence and the ability to score the basketball. He competes extremely hard on both ends of the floor and while his three-point shot needs work, he would be a perfect addition. The bad news is that the Suns will likely match any offer that is not outrageous.

JaMychal Green: Green is one of the more interesting options on the market as of right now. He is a 6″9″ power forward that makes up for his lack of defensive stats by shooting 40.3% from the three-point line and grabbing a couple of rebounds as well. It does not seem like he has much interest and the Lakers could use a stretch-four to bring off of the bench, especially one that would sign for the minimum.

Jabari Parker: Parker was linked to the Lakers during the 2018-19 NBA trade deadline. He was the No. 2 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft and still managed to flash that talent on rare occasions. He is still only 23-years-old and has shown the ability to put up points in a heartbeat but due to his health issues, he has been tossed around the league. He would add some scoring to the team’s non-existent bench, but it is unlikely he would sign for a veteran’s minimum deal. If that is the case, the Lakers should not be willing to offer him anything more than $4.7 million.

Honorable Mentions: Andre Iguodala (contingent upon buy-out), Vince Carter, Thabo Sefolosha, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Stanley Johnson, Carmelo Anthony.

Centers

DeMarcus Cousins: The market for Cousins has reportedly dried up and the Lakers would be able to offer him more playing time than most other teams. Cousins’ fall from grace has been a hard one, but he is still capable of putting up numbers if healthy. He averaged 16.3 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 3.6 assists in just 25.7 minutes for the Warriors. However, his three-point shot took a big drop off as he shot his worst percentage (27.4) since the 2014-2015 season. It is highly unlikely that he would be willing to take a veteran’s minimum deal, but the Lakers could offer their room exception to him. If he refuses that, he is not worth the hassle.

JaVale McGee: The Lakers could always choose to bring McGee back as he was likely their most successful offseason signing. He is a good shot blocker and has shown he is willing to embrace a backup role if needed. McGee is obviously not a threat from three but he would likely take a veteran’s minimum deal to re-sign.

Honorable Mentions: Ivica Zubac (restricted), Kenneth Faried, Joakim Noah.

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