This year’s free-agent crop it loaded with intriguing options and potential fits alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis. With Davis declining his $4 million trade kicker, and the Lakers dumping more salary in the AD deal, Los Angeles now has enough cap room to add a third max player, adding yet another layer of intrigue to what’s expected to be a crazy NBA summer.
The best max player on the market is Kawhi Leonard, the league’s reigning Finals MVP and the man who dethroned the Warriors and carried the Raptors to their first title earlier this month. While Leonard would give the Lakers a mind-boggling Big Three of LeBron, AD and Kawhi, the backup options aren’t so bad either. Kyrie Irving, LeBron’s former running mate in Cleveland, is also reportedly a Lakers target. As is D’Angelo Russell, the former Laker who is now open to returning after Magic Johnson’s departure.
But the big names and big dreams don’t end there. To figure out which available star would be the best fit in purple and gold, The Crossover paneled its NBA experts and asked which third star the Lakers should target this summer.
Rob Mahoney: There are some players effective enough to blot out questions of fit, so talented as to render the premise irrelevant. Kawhi is that sort of player. If you can sign him to a long-term contract, you do—and then you reconceptualize a fit around all that he brings to the table. Leonard is about as good as the best shooters the Lakers could sign: a 41% three-point shooter off the catch, per NBA.com, an outstanding mid-range shooter under duress, and one of the most unyielding shot creators in the league. Whatever perimeter defenders the Lakers might find in free agency, Leonard can do their jobs better and then some. None are more proven in the playoffs, better on the boards for their position, or more stressful for opponents. The argument for the Lakers to split up their cap space among two or three players to better balance their team is fairly persuasive. It just doesn’t really apply where Kawhi is concerned. The Lakers have a three-man team, at present, and Kawhi does pretty much everything. Therein lies the fit.
Andrew Sharp: Let’s be clear: If the Lakers can get Kawhi Leonard they should get Kawhi Leonard, and Kyrie Irving probably falls in the same category. But if those two dream scenarios fall through, I like the idea of gambling on Russell. There are limited options elsewhere—Klay’s probably not leaving, Kemba’s probably going to Boston—and Russell will be cheaper and younger than most everyone else. He shot almost 37% from three–point range on eight attempts per game last season, he could theoretically fit well on the ball or off-ball, and the Lakers need a point guard who isn’t Alex Caruso or Rajon Rondo.