To build a winning foundation, sometimes you must go outside the organization to do so. For the Los Angeles Lakers, this has been their motto for decades.
While drafting has been a source of a solid nucleus, the Lakers have used free agency to get the star power they needed. The Lakers have had their fair share of great players to sign, but picking the top five is not that easy.
While many will have either a Shaquille O’Neal, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Gary Payton, or Karl Malone on their list, I wanted to go deeper. All were great players, but what has LeBron James done since joining the Lakers? The same goes for Davis, Payton, and Malone. How many of them have walked away with a ring or two? The Lakers are an organization that prides themselves on championships. In order to be on this list, a player must have contributed to such success.
Here are the five best free agent signings in Los Angeles Lakers’ history
5. Rick Fox (1997)
In 1995, Rick Fox was just coming into his own with the Boston Celtics. He finally upped his average to double-digits, but then decided to leave Boston to play with the rival Lakers. Little did Fox know that the team he just signed with was on their way to greatness.
For Fox, he wasn’t asked to do much. Over the course of his run with the Lakers, Fox averaged just 8.7 points, but it was his ability to create off the dribble, play defense, and hustle that earned him a spot on that Lakers’ dynasty with Shaq and Kobe.
Fox was solid across the board and just another great pick up by the Lakers’ front office. When mentioning some of the great players during that run, Fox’s name often goes unmentioned. He was not as flashy as Kobe or as dominate and O’Neal, but he was a good spot-up shooter who helped relieve pressure off of the Lakers’ two megastars. His signing was one that helped spark the run.
4. Kurt Rambis (1981)
In 1981, the Lakers found a gem in Kurt Rambis. A team that was set to make their mark by running was in desperate need of a bully.
Rambis, let go by the New York Knicks a few months after drafting him, found his home in L.A. amongst the stars. While he wasn’t much of a scorer or rebounder, Rambis was a hustler. He fought for everything he had and wasn’t afraid to get in anyone’s face or scrape his body up diving for loose balls. Exactly what the Showtime era needed.
During his career in Los Angeles, Rambis averaged 4.9 points and 5.5 rebounds, but it was the toughness he gave the Lakers that made them who they were. Playing side-by-side with Magic and Kareem gave Rambis the space he needed to do what he did best. No expectations, just get up and down the floor, fight for position, and protect his teammates. During that time, Rambis would win three titles with the Lakers.
3. Jamaal Wilkes (1977)
There are just some players who can do amazing things on the court, but will get overshadowed by more popular teammates. Such was the case with Jamaal Wilkes.
In 1977, Wilkes and the Lakers agreed on a free agency deal and all Wilkes did was help the Showtime Lakers become a household name while winning three NBA Championships and making two All-Star appearances. But still, some still don’t know or understand how good or important he was.
Wilkes averaged 18.4 points while shooting 51.6 percent from the field during his eight years in Purple & Gold. What’s more astonishing is that he was able to do that while playing alongside some of the NBA’s best players in Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Bryon Scott, and James Worthy.
2. Derek Fisher (2007)
Placing Derek Fisher on this list may not seem as powerful as adding LeBron James or Shaquille O’Neal, but think what Fisher meant not only to the Lakers organization but Kobe Bryant. Both players came in as rookies in 1996 only for Bryant to become a superstar. Fisher was there for the three-peat, but once he left, so did the winning for Kobe. However, in 2007, the Lakers and Fisher reunited.
During his return year, the Lakers would advance to the NBA Finals and lose to the Boston Celtics. The following two seasons, the Lakers would go on to win back-to-back championships. Not saying that Fisher was the key, but ask Bryant how important Derek Fisher was to his success. No Fisher, Kobe went ringless, with Fisher, Kobe has five rings. He’s not an All-Star, but he knew the offense, played great defense, and was as clutch as they come.
1. Shaquille O’Neal (1996)
In 1996, the NBA saw a power shift but just wasn’t quite sure of when it would actually take place. Shaquille O’Neal left the Orlando Magic and came out West, which transformed the NBA forever. What Shaq did is what we’re seeing today from stars.
While in his prime, he wanted more. Shaq was already viewed as the most powerful big man in the game at the time and what he was missing was the right pieces to go around him. Well, enter Phil Jackson and Kobe Bryant.
During his run with the Lakers, Shaq would go on to average 27 points and 11.8 rebounds, win three titles, and take his spot amongst the game’s greats. There is no better free agency signing in Lakers’ history.
Although he departed from the organization under a cloud, Shaq gave his all to the team and the city.