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3 former All-Stars the Lakers should consider for final roster spots

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It’s Day 4 of 2021 NBA Free Agency, one day before deals can officially be signed, and the Los Angeles Lakers have three roster spots to fill, if they want (they can leave up to two open for buyouts, and will have two two-way spots — Joel Ayayi and Austin Reaves — that don’t count against the cap.)

As expected, considering their number of expiring contracts (nine, plus Alfonzo McKinnie, who was waived), the Lakers have been as active as any team in basketball this week. They’ve utterly retooled the group around LeBron James and Anthony Davis — particularly on the perimeter.

That began with the acquisition of Russell Westbrook during the 2021 NBA Draft, which expanded into a five-team trade that netted the Lakers’ two future second-round picks.

Since Monday, Rob Pelinka has added a slew of seasoned ex-Lakers, including Dwight Howard and Trevor Ariza, young and capable three-point shooters, and 1o-time All-Star Carmelo Anthony. The Lakers also let Alex Caruso walk (head-scratching) and locked in Talen Horton-Tucker (smart), among other moves.

Conveniently, most of their additions will earn the veteran minimum. Kendrick Nunn will receive the taxpayer mid-level exception.

To complete their 2021-22 roster, the capped-out Lakers will have to continue relying on minimum deals, though they can technically spend a bit more to re-sign Wesley Matthews, Jared Dudley, and Dennis Schroder (deeply unlikely, but who knows at this point).

Dudley is a borderline shoo-in to make the squad. He confidently gave himself a “1,000 percent” chance at returning at exit interviews was intimately involved in the recruitment of Westbrook. He’s formed a close friendship with LeBron and AD. Let’s assume he takes a Udonis Haslem-type role and gets the 15th spot.

From there, let’s speculate on who might make sense in purple-and-gold, including three former All-Stars.

Bonus off the top: Wesley Matthews

Los Angeles should hang onto Matthews, who earned $3.6 million in 2020-21 via the bi-annual exception.

Matthews’ shot was cold for most of last season but he was arguably their best role player down the stretch. In May, he made game-winning plays on consecutive nights.

Matthews brings familiarity in the locker room and sturdy wing defender. Frank Vogel can work wonders on defense and the Lakers’ frontcourt will clean up messes, but their perimeter defense has undoubtedly taken a step back with the losses of Caruso and (presumably) Schroder, unless THT makes a major leap on that end (Kent Bazemore helps).

Ariza, at 36, is more of a second-unit power forward. Malik Monk, Kendrick Nunn, nor Wayne Ellington were not signed for their defense.

Matthews fills a need, and he stayed professional and ready whenever bumped from the rotation. The Lakers can even pay him a bit more than the minimum to keep him around.

If Matthews doesn’t return, the Lakers can look to these notable vets:

1) Paul Millsap

The 36-year old may be able to fetch more than the veteran minimum. But if Millsap is willing to take a pay cut, he could be a solid addition to the Lakers’ frontcourt.

The four-time All-star can hit the long jumpers that Montrezl Harrell doesn’t. In fact, he had the most accurate season from two-point range of his career in 2020-21, per ESPN. He’s still an expert positional defender, and he’s playoff-tested.

He’s unlikely to return to the Denver Nuggets after the signing of Jeff Green, which put Denver near the luxury tax. Frankly, he’s a type of player the Lakers don’t have on their roster, at the moment.

2) LaMarcus Aldridge

Aldridge, who retired in April due to an irregular heartbeat, is considering a return to pro basketball after seeking medical consultation. The Lakers could use one more big following the departures of Harrell, Markieff Morris, and Andre Drummond, particularly one that can space the floor.

Aldridge isn’t a rim protector like Howard and he doesn’t dish like Marc Gasol, but as a third-stringer, he’s more than worth a flyer (if he’s cleared).

3) Kevin Love

This wouldn’t happen right away. Love, 32, has two years and $60 million remaining on his contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers. If the five-time All-Star were to change teams, it would likely be via a midseason buyout, a la Blake Griffin with the Detroit Pistons, who also had two years left on his deal.

Love would have to surrender about $12-15 million to get a buyout for Cleveland and hasn’t shown interest in doing so to this point, according to The Athletic’s Jason Lloyd. Of course, things change.

It’s hard to aptly gauge the state of Love’s game, as he hasn’t played a meaningful minute in years and has battled injuries. His unsuccessful attempt to join the 2020 Olympic team was unflattering. However, in the three seasons prior to 2020-21, he averaged 17.5 points and 9.7 rebounds on 38.8% three-point shooting. We saw what happened to Griffin once thrust into a competitive environment.

Hypothetically, one has to assume Love would pick up his per-minute production with the Lakers. A Westbrook – Shooter X (Bazemore/Monk/Ellington) – James – Love – Davis lineup is promising.

Love might say all the right things about playing in Cleveland, but I assume the Santa Monica native and former UCLA star would prefer to compete for a title in Los Angeles.

After some subtweeting early in their Cavs partnership, the vibes seem to be all good between James and Love (winning championships will do that).

Memorably, Love and Westbrook made a Final Four run together in 2008. Love also won a gold medal with LeBron, Westbrook, and Davis in London at the 2012 Summer Games. Point being: Love already knows how to play with LeBron and Westbrook — two of the toughest guys to acclimate around.

It’s not my money nor my life, but would Love — who has made almost $300 million in on-court earnings — pass up millions to play for a contender in his hometown? Can’t rule it out.

Prediction: The Lakers bring back Dudley, let Matthews go, sign-and-trade Schroder for a trade exception, and keep two spots open for midseason buyouts and/or trade flexibility.