I know everyone is focused on the NBA Draft right now, but free agency isn’t far after that and if the Los Angeles Lakers plan on getting back to playoff contention anytime soon, they need to make an impact there. A lot of names have been mentioned in conjunction with the Lakers, but let’s just be realistic for a moment.
Marc Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge, and DeAndre Jordan are highly unlikely to leave a Western Conference contender for a Lakers team that’s rebuilding and all indications are that any offer sheets signed by Jimmy Butler, Kawhi Leonard, and Khris Middleton will be matched by their respective teams.
If Kevin Love is available, the Lakers should throw everything they have at him. Despite a down year, he’s still an All-NBA player and is only 26. But if he is to be taken at his word and stays in Cleveland, where do the Lakers go?
If they’re smart, it will be to Orlando to get Tobias Harris.
First and foremost, Harris is one of the few restricted free agents that seems attainable, via Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders:
…but I have for a while suspected Orlando would let Tobias walk if the price tag in free agency gets up over $13 million a year and I think its a safe bet it will.”
Just as importantly, signing Harris, even to a max contract, would only go for around $15 million next year. This would leave the Lakers around $7-8 million (after rookie contracts) to add another role player and/or re-sign a couple of their own players like Ed Davis.
On the court, Harris is the perfect combination of established talent (17.1 points, 6.3 rebounds last year) and youth (turns only 23 on July 15). He can help the Lakers now, and be a major part of their post-Kobe future.
He also fits a positional need. The Lakers have lacked a small forward over the last couple of years, being manned mostly by the maddeningly inconsistent Wesley Johnson. Harris would represent a massive upgrade, and brings something extremely vital in today’s NBA, positional versatility.
At about 6’9 and 235 pounds Harris is big enough to slide to power forward, which would allow the Lakers to go small effectively, as opposed to moving an overmatched wing to the four spot and sacrificing defense and rebounding.
Offensively, he has plenty of tools to work with. He is an effective catch-and-shoot player, hitting 38 percent of his threes in that situation. He also shot 45 percent from the corner three, so he must be respected from distance. However, he is probably most effective down low as nearly half of his points came in the paint, and he shot 56 percent in that area.
It is also worth noting that the Magic employed one of the worst shooting backcourts in the NBA in Elfrid Payton and Victor Oladipo, as well as space-eating big man Nikola Vucevic. Kobe and Clarkson will both demand more attention off the ball and the Lakers could have a couple of big men capable of operating from the elbow at times so Harris could see a more open painted area in Los Angeles.
Needless to say Harris, Kobe, and Clarkson could all compliment each other and are all versatile enough to operate on the perimeter as well as down low in the case of Harris and Bryant.
Defensively, Harris is never going to be confused with players like Draymond Green or Kawhi Leonard. He won’t be a lockdown guy, but he has the size, speed, and length to bother shots both on the perimeter and on the block. The important thing for Harris will be to fit in to a team defensive scheme. Byron Scott will not accept anything less than maximum effort on that end and Harris is someone who will give that.
Free agency is tricky. The Lakers aren’t the hot spot they have been in previous times. Getting a star would be ideal, but stars these days tend to want to go to established, playoff-bound teams. Harris gives the Lakers the best of both worlds, a potential 20-point scorer immediately and a player who can grow with Randle, Clarkson, and the No. 2 pick. This would then give the Lakers the exciting young core that would be attractive to big-name free agents.
The Lakers have the chance to get on the upswing again and they can’t blow it. If that top target is gone, the Lakers can get everything they need in Harris and they should put their efforts towards bringing him to Los Angeles.