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Grading every Lakers decision on Day 2 of NBA free agency

Lakers free agency grades, Carmelo Anthony

It’s official: the Los Angeles Lakers will look very different in 2021-22. Following an uncreative Monday — which included signing four former Lakers age 32 or older and letting Alex Caruso walk for luxury tax reasons — Rob Pelinka rebounded like Prime Dwight Howard.

The Lakers infused the roster with much-needed youth, more perimeter firepower, and 10-time All-Star Carmelo Anthony. They said Farewell to Andre Drummond.

All in all, the second day of 2021 free agency was more inspired than Day 1 for the L.A. front office.

As we did yesterday, let’s run through the Lakers’ various decisions (and non-decisions) and hand out initial grades.

Lakers Free Agency Grades

Lakers agree to a three-year, $32 million deal with Talen Horton-Tucker

Not only did the Lakers retain the 20-year old guard, but they did so at a reasonable price that keeps him away from restricted free agency. (The third year will be a player option.)

In his first true full season at the NBA level, Horton-Tucker averaged 9.0 points on 45.8% shooting in 20.1 minutes per game. He has ways to go with his three-point shooting and defense, but his ability to slash into the lane with his 7’1 wingspan and 234-pound frame added a valuable dynamic to the offense.

His play-making in the lane dramatically improved, seemingly with each game. He averaged 1.9 more assists per game after March 15, and even posted four double-digit assist nights.

The former second-round pick has an undeniably impressive learning curve, which bodes well going forward.

Horton-Tucker has real chance to be the Lakers’ starting two-guard when next season tips off. He remains their most tradable asset, too, especially on this contract.

The best move of the day. Grade: A

Lakers agree to a one-year deal with Malik Monk

The steal of the day, perhaps league-wide. Anecdotally, no signing over the past two days has fired up Lakers Twitter more than Monk on the minimum.

The former lottery pick is coming off a breakthrough season with the Charlotte Hornets — 11.7 PPG, .434/.401/.819 splits, 5.0 three-point attempts per game — yet the Hornets declined his qualifying offer, allowing the 23-year old to enter unrestricted free agency. Smartly, the Lakers pounced.

The Lakers lost a microwave in Ben McLemore on Monday, and Monk, 6’3, helps fill the instant-offense void and then some.

Then again, he disappointed in three of his four seasons in Charlotte, which is a much lower-stakes stage than he’ll be on now. Regardless: an enviable, high-ceiling flyer. Grade: B+

Lakers agree to a two-year, $10 million deal with Kendrick Nunn

The surprise of the day.

Less than two hours after it was revealed that the Miami Heat declined to tender a qualifying offer to Nunn, the 26-year old combo guard was scooped up by the Lakers. Nunn reportedly turned down money to wear purple-and-gold.

Los Angeles had its $5.9 million tax-payer mid-level exception to spend, and they appeared to use most of it on Nunn. Not a bad Plan B (or whatever letter) after Patty Mills opted to sign with the Brooklyn Nets. The second year is a player option, per Brad Turner of the Los Angeles Times.

Nunn (and Monk), is not exactly Caruso on defense — continuing an offseason theme of sacrificing defense for offense on the perimeter. Clearly, the Lakers have a lot of faith in Frank Vogel’s acumen and their frontcourt.

Nunn comes with baggage, and the Heat — a championship-focused organization, like the Lakers — did opt to let him go. But, Nunn did average 15.0 PPG over his first two NBA seasons on a competitive team and hit 38.1% of his triples in 2020-21.

Nunn is also an 88.1% shooter from the line. Overall, the Lakers are a much better free-throw shooting collective than they were on Sunday. Grade: B

Lakers agree to a one-year deal with Carmelo Anthony

Remarkably, 18 years after they were selected at top of the 2003 NBA Draft, long-time buddies Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James are finally teaming up outside of Team USA, All-Star weekend, or any number of closed-door scrimmages.

Both future Hall of Famers have spoken of their desire to play together, and the Lakers probably represent Melo’s last, best chance at playing in an NBA Finals.

Plus, at 37, Anthony can still play. He averaged 13.4 points in 24.5 minutes off the bench for the Portland Trail Blazers in 2020-21 and made a career-best 40.9% of his threes. His ability to switch between the 3 and 4 will help compensate for the loss of Kyle Kuzma.

Melo can be an offensive focal point for the second unit when called upon, and you know he’ll be ready in crunch-time. He doesn’t add anything defensively or in the play-making department, and he’ll have to earn minutes in a crowded frontcourt.

Yet, a great story and a solid pick-up. Grade: B

Markieff Morris agrees to a one-year deal with the Miami Heat

The loss of Keef will low-key sting, and is a bit surprising, frankly. Morris went through a shooting slump during the second half of last season, but he provided a toughness the Lakers haven’t necessarily replaced yet. He’s a decent small-ball five option and respected locker room vet.

In the Lakers’ wild play-in game win over the Golden State Warriors, Morris and Jared Dudley were credited with igniting the team with passionate halftime speeches.

Keef hoped to retire with the Lakers and stay close to his brother, but joining a stacked squad in South Beach isn’t the worst option (he’ll fit right in with the #culture, too).

The Lakers will miss Morris’ presence but have to love the net return for a 2019 buyout pickup. A championship-caliber role player. Grade: Depends on who fills the spot

Andre Drummond agrees to a one-year deal with the Philadelphia 76ers

Had the Lakers spent tax money saved by not bringing back Caruso to offer Drummond more than the minimum, Los Angeles may have rioted. At least, virtually.

Drummond was never a fit in Los Angeles, and his recent behavior couldn’t have endeared him to the front office (Pelinka used to rep him, so there is love there). The Lakers essentially swapped Dwight for Drummond, which is a considerable upgrade, specifically for this roster. Grade: A-

Lakers waive Alfonzo McKinnie

McKinnie had a non-guaranteed $1.9 million contract for 2021-22. The Lakers opted to open a third roster spot rather than bring back the 28-year old, who appeared in 39 games for L.A. and hit 16-of-39 from downtown. This may or may not indicate that Pelinka has one more trick up his sleeve. Grade: Depends on who fills the spot

The Lakers now have 12 of 15 spots filled, and one will likely go to Dudley. They can bring back Wesley Matthews, net a player for Dennis Schroder, or add two other minimums. They still need a backup point guard (Nunn?), and could theoretically bring back Dennis, if he was willing to play that role on a bargain.

Lakers sign Joel Ayayi and Austin Reaves to two-way deals

Shortly before the Summer League Lakers made their debut at the California Classic, the Lakers formally inked undrafted free agents Joel Ayayi and Austin Reaves to two-way contracts.

Reaves was impressive on Tuesday in Sacramento, especially with his handle, including on the final play of the 80-78 Lakers loss. The former Oklahoma standout missed a three at the buzzer, but stopped on a dime and deployed a nifty behind-the-back step-back to create the look. Reaves had 11 points (4-7 FG), six boards, two assists (should’ve been more), and three blocks.

Ayayi, a do-everything forward from Gonzaga, had eight points, three rebounds, and a steal.

“Spacing, cutting, energy, being able to guard…a lot of effort, a lot of energy,” Ayayi said post-game about what he brings to the table. “I’ll give you that every day.”

Afterward, Reaves spoke on his lifelong fandom and admiration for the Lakers and Kobe Bryant.

Both Reaves and Ayayi declined to be drafted in order to secure two-way deals with the Lakers and will hope to follow in the footsteps of Alex Caruso. So far, so good. Grade: B+