5 best candidates for Lakers’ final roster spots
Now that DeAndre Jordan has signed with the Los Angeles Lakers and Marc Gasol has been traded to the Memphis Grizzlies, the Lakers have two open roster spots following a blockbuster summer of turnover.
The Lakers will keep one spot open for a buyout candidate. Not only does that provide flexibility, but the money owed to a late-season signing is prorated, meaning the luxury tax hit is much friendlier (they did save $9 million in the Gasol deal). The question is whether the Lakers leave two spots free for midseason pickups — as they did last season, which backfired with the disastrous Andre Drummond move — or ink one more free agent before the 2021-22 season tips off.
Following the addition of Rajon Rondo, it’s hard to envision the Lakers bringing in another point guard, barring injury. Darren Collison can’t be ruled out considering his L.A. ties, previous dalliance with Jeanie Buss, and the fact that he was recently working out at the Lakers’ facilities, but I don’t see the fit.
Instead, look for Lakers vice president of basketball operations Rob Pelinka to target a wing with athleticism and defensive versatility. With Gasol gone, a stretch big would be welcome, depending how much center Anthony Davis intends to play.
Whether moves happen sooner or later, the Lakers’ 2021-22 roster is not quite complete. Let’s run through five remaining free agents who might make sense for Los Angeles.
5 remaining free agents for Lakers
Ennis, whose inconsistency has caused him to bounce around the league, would make sense as a 14th or 15th man. He shot 43.3% from downtown last season and 35.7% (league average) over the past five — though his advanced metrics do not paint him as a true 3-and-D.
However, he’s the type of large-ish (6’6, 6’11 wingspan) athlete the Lakers don’t currently have on the bench. Ennis would align with the Lakers’ efforts to become more devastating in transition and play more above the rim.
James Ennis looks amped up for this one — he takes the pass, bolts to the basket and launches for the hammer dunk. pic.twitter.com/0FJqEkMTrM
— ClutchFans (@clutchfans) December 8, 2018
In 24 minutes per game for the Orlando Magic in 2020-21, the 31-year-old averaged 12.6 points and 6.1 rebounds per 36 minutes.
Matthews was ice cold for most of 2020-21, but he remained professional and ready to go, whether in the rotation or not. He picked up his game late in the season and emerged as one of the Lakers’ most reliable two-way role players. During a key stretch in May, he produced game-winning plays in back-to-back games as Los Angeles fought for playoff positioning.
He recently unfollowed the Lakers on Instagram and the chatter around him has been inauspiciously subdued. The Lakers are mostly starting fresh around LeBron James and Anthony Davis, but having a little more continuity couldn’t hurt. He provides wing depth, especially on defense.
“There’s no question in my mind in my heart that I want to run it back,” the 34-year-old said at exit interviews. “There’s no doubt that I want to run it back.”
Sampson has also been linked to the Lakers. Sampson is an Akron native, and LeBron James is a stated supporter.
Sampson hasn’t quite shown himself to be a rotation piece in the NBA, but at the end of the bench, the Lakers could do a lot worse.
At 6’8, Sampson spent the last two seasons a backup small-ball 5 for the Indiana Pacers. He could play a similar role in Los Angeles — a hybrid frontcourt piece with the ability to defend multiple positions.
Hollis-Jefferson, 26, began his career with a solid four-year run with the Brooklyn Nets, including a 2017-18 season in which he averaged 13.9 points and 6.8 rebounds per game.
Since then, RHJ played 60 games with the Toronto Raptors in 2019-20 (7.0 points, 4.7 rebounds per game off the bench), then made the Portland Trail Blazers’ playoff roster last season after two productive 10-day contracts.
Adding length has been a theme of this Lakers’ offseason. Hollis-Jefferson is 6’6 with a 7’2 (!) wingspan. He can guard 2 through 4, if not more positions, making him — at the very least — potentially valuable down-bench insurance.
I discussed this previously, so I’ll keep it brief: Cleveland is passing the torch to its younger bigs — Jarrett Allen, Evan Mobley, and now Lauri Markkanen — and has little use for the five-time All-Star. Love’s trade market is nonexistent, meaning the two sides would have to negotiate a complex buyout despite two years and roughly $60 million left on his contract, a la Blake Griffin and the Detroit Pistons.
At the moment, Love reportedly has no intention of accepting a buyout from the Cleveland Cavaliers. That can change as the season wears on. If it does, the Lakers are the obvious landing spot, considering Love’s prior experience with LeBron (Cleveland), Westbrook (UCLA), and his Los Angeles roots.
Love would aptly fill the void left by Gasol as a stretch big with expert passing ability.