After signing the biggest free agent in franchise history since Shaquille O’Neal in 1996, the Los Angeles Lakers are putting the pieces together to surround LeBron James with players that will give them the best chance of winning a championship.
Just a few days since James’ announcement, the Lakers already have a couple of players agreeing to a deal: Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, Javale McGee and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
Any time that a team acquires a once-a-generation talent like James, the pressure to win a championship rises. But as good as James is, he needs the right players around him to succeed. As evidenced by the Cleveland Cavaliers run to the Finals last season, it doesn’t take much for James to carry a team but the players have to score when counted on and make plays on their own, too.
Any of the players on this list would be a great addition to the Lakers with James leading the charge. Here are the top five players who should join LeBron James in L.A.:
5. Kyle Korver
Korver is an elite 3-point marksman and a former teammate of LeBron James in Cleveland. The former All-Star owns the fourth most 3-point shots made in league annals. Placed in the right system, Korver can make defenses pay for focusing too much on the four-time MVP.
He didn’t perform well during two trips in the Finals the past two years most likely because of Cavs coach Tyronn Lue’s lack of plays set up to free him. When utilized properly in an offense, Korver can be a deadly weapon capable of blowing a game wide open with his timely shots from beyond the arc.
4. Wayne Ellington
Another shooter that the Lakers could target is Ellington. The 30-year old shooting guard had a career-high scoring average in 2017-18 with 11.2 points per game and tied Damian Lillard for the sixth-most 3-point makes in the league. He can free James from double teams and be the top scorer off the Lakers bench.
He makes his free throws (85.9 percent) and his 3-pointers (39.2 percent) though his field goal percentage (40.7) needs work. Having James on the team will solve that. Ellington is the type of player who will thrive with a superstar teammate. Additionally, he was relied upon by the Miami Heat to deliver in the clutch last season and he will be quite valuable to have on the floor when James takes over down the stretch of a close game.
3. Channing Frye
Frye is the Lakers’ unrestricted free agent but he would be an asset on the bench now that they are expected to be a winning team. Not only does Frye know how to play with LeBron James from their time in Cleveland, he has the perfect game to help free up the middle with his outside shooting.
He plays valuable minutes and will be most useful in the playoffs when defenses usually clog up the middle to challenge teams to make their threes. Frye is a decent defender inside the paint, getting a good number of rebounds with his 6-foot-11 frame and long arms.
The Lakers could get him for the veteran’s minimum especially if Frye wants to get another shot at winning a second championship ring.
2. Damian Lillard
James had a similar point guard to Lillard with Kyrie Irving in the Cleveland Cavaliers. The former Cavs forward knows how to play with a superstar the caliber of the Portland Trail Blazers franchise player. Lillard is a premier clutch shooter capable of winning games by his lonesome. He carried the Blazers last season to the fourth seed in the uber-competitive Western Conference through a series of wins late in the 2017-18 season that had him mentioned as a late MVP candidate.
Despite flaming out in the playoffs against the New Orleans Pelicans where he inexplicably failed to find his groove, Lillard remains one of the best point guards in the league and should be a great teammate to LeBron James.
His shot-making is something that James coveted during his last championship run. Had the Cavs been able to swing a deal for a player like Lillard before the trade deadline last February, Cleveland would have won at least two games in the Finals rather than being swept by the Golden State Warriors.
The problem with getting a player like Lillard is the cost of trading for him. The Lakers would have to give up at least two of their core players plus convincing the Blazers to take Luol Deng’s massive contract. They will also have to sweeten the deal with a couple of draft picks. Nevertheless, trading for a player like Lillard will certainly be worth it.
1. Kawhi Leonard
If there is one player who should play alongside James now, it’s Leonard. The San Antonio Spurs forward is the perfect complement to the Akron native. Having the two on the floor together should elicit fear in the hearts of opponents as the two are capable of taking over ball games through both their offense and defense. Leonard is an excellent shooter from three and he is a lockdown defender the likes of which James has never had at any point in his career.
The two-time Defensive Player of the Year can negate the Golden State Warriors Kevin Durant who has been James’ tormentor the past two years in the Finals. With Leonard around, LeBron James can focus more on setting up his teammates and scoring the basketball without worrying about the other team’s best player.
The asking price from the Spurs may be a bit much but that is only because Leonard was an MVP nominee as recently as the 2016-17 season. He has declared his desire to play with the Lakers and he can do so if the Spurs and Lakers can agree on a trade or the latter can wait until he becomes a free agent next summer. L.A. will have to tread carefully so as not to give up too many of their young players in exchange for a player that they can acquire ultimately next year.
But if the Lakers have a shot at trading for him right now, Leonard should be their top priority.
Honorable mentions: Jimmy Butler, Karl-Anthony Towns. Chicago Sun-Times’ Joe Cowley reported that the Minnesota Timberwolves’ Butler and Towns may have issues playing together. If either of them become available for a trade, the Lakers should consider calling the Timberwolves to acquire one of them. Both players should be excellent options to join James this summer and could be good alternatives to Lillard or Leonard.