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5 best buyout candidates for the Lakers

The Los Angeles Lakers chose to stand pat at Thursday’s trade deadline.

That wouldn’t have been surprising up to a week ago, as a fully-healthy Lakers roster led by LeBron James and Anthony Davis is certainly talented enough to repeat as champs.

That holds true, but James’ sprained ankle altered the mindset of the Lakers. In the days leading up to the deadline, nearly every player on the roster was seemingly on the table, including Dennis Schröder, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Montrezl Harrell and Talen Horton-Tucker.

In the end, Rob Pelinka opted to forgo a chance to add Kyle Lowry and kept the roster intact. Now, the goal will be to win enough games over the next few weeks until the stars return – something the junior varsity Lakers have yet to show they can do.

Including the first-half finale, the Lakers are winless without their leader. They made an admirable fourth-quarter run against the Philadelphia 76ers on Thursday, but it hasn’t exactly been Showtime since the superstars were sidelined.

Any way you slice It, the Lakers need some reinforcements, at least temporarily.

Last season, the Lakers added Markieff Morris via buyout, who remains a valuable contributor.

With the 2021 trade deadline in the past, who should the Lakers look to add via buyout this time around? Here are five options.

Lakers buyout targets:

1) Andre Drummond

As expected, Drummond was officially bought out by the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday. Cleveland was unable to trade his $28 million salary, clearing the way for the 27-year old center to sign with a playoff team.

The Lakers have been a reported front-runner to land Drummond for a few weeks now, and you can understand the appeal. Even before Anthony Davis’s calf strain and Marc Gasol’s COVID-19 diagnosis, the Lakers were seeking frontcourt insurance and another two-way five to occupy Rudy Gobert and Nikola Jokic. Drummond is still one of the game’s best rebounders (17.5 PPG, 13.5 RPG this season), and he should be motivated by the opportunity to start for a contender ahead of free agency.

The Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks can offer more money, but the Lakers can offer the most significant role. The Dallas Mavericks, Boston Celtics, Charlotte Hornets or Los Angeles Clippers could be in play, too.

Personally, I think Drummond is a much better fit for the Lakers than LaMarcus Aldridge or Hassan Whiteside. Memphis Grizzlies center Gorgui Dieng could be a sleeper candidate, too.

This one could drop at any moment for the Lakers.

 2) Avery Bradley

Once Bradley was included in the deal that sent him and Kelly Olynyk to the Houston Rockets in exchange for Victor Oladipo, the Bradley buyout buzz started humming. Accordingly, a reunion with the Lakers seems almost too logical.

Bradley would improve L.A.’s three-point shooting (41.1% in 2020-21), perimeter defense, and ease some ball-handling load, too. He’s well-respected in the locker room from his time with last year’s group (pre-hiatus) and his familiarity with the system would make a late-season assimilation that much smoother.

 3) Otto Porter Jr.

This would excite the masses about the Lakers. Porter Jr. was already considered a buyout candidate with the Chicago Bulls, but that looks increasingly likely now that he’s been acquired by the fire-selling Orlando Magic.

Porter Jr. is 27, and, when healthy, represents an ideal 3-and-D man for the Lakers.

The former no. 3 overall pick has had a lost season in Chicago, but, like Drummond, may be energized by the move to a contender in the final few months of his current contract. He’s draining 40% of his threes this year, and the Lakers could use another lengthy (6’8, 7’1 wingspan) defender, especially with James off the floor.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Wesley Matthews have underperformed for the Lakers, and Porter Jr. is notably bigger than both.

4-5) Austin Rivers or Ben McLemore 

I touched on Rivers’ and McLemore’s appeal to the Lakers before the deadline, so I won’t go full-Sorkin and recycle my own words.

In brief, Rivers offers a combination of playoff experience, adequate shooting, ball-handling/dribble-driving, and wing defense that renders him an ideal fit with the Lakers. The 28-year old was dealt to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the George Hill swap, but may not be a part of their long-term plans.

Lakers fans might know that McLemore has participated in one season in which he had a consistent rotation spot on a playoff team: the 2019-20 Rockets. For that team, he shot 40% from three, averaged a career-best 10.1 points in 22.8 minutes per game, and played the best defense of his career.

McLemore’s production has dipped amid the ugly tankathon, but he’s a solid bet to play up to his surroundings if thrust into a locker room led by LeBron James for the defending champion Lakers – again, ahead of free agency.

Other names to watch for the Lakers: Rodney Hood, Cory Joseph, Maurice Harkless, Jabari Parker, Jeff Teague, Damian Jones (run it back!).

Happy buyout season!