The Los Angeles Lakers are coming off arguably their most bittersweet season. The team endured a harrowing 17-65 run, by far the worst in franchise history, but also gave All-Star shooting guard Kobe Bryant a proper farewell tour while continuing to usher in a young batch of new Lakers and introducing promising new head coach Luke Walton.
Walton played up how he intends to change the atmosphere around a franchise that hasn’t tasted the postseason in three seasons, specifically by working players already on the roster, as well as through free agency and Thursday night’s draft, where the Lakers own the No. 2 overall selection.
“We’re going to play an up-tempo game,” Walton said at a press conference on Tuesday. “We’re going to bring in another top draft pick this year and hopefully get a solid player at [the No. 32 pick] and we have money to spend and I know the Buss family and I know the Laker organization and they do what it takes to win. To me, that’s all you really need to know and I [don’t] see why you wouldn’t want to come here and play.”
LA has only $23.1 million on the books next season, and the salary cap is rising to $94 million, making the Lakers a major potential destination for a number of high-profile players who could quickly rejuvenate the once-proud franchise.
Free agency won’t commence until July 1, so while he gets to know his players, Walton and general manager Mitch Kupchak have turned their short-term attention to the draft.
And no less than a day after his arrival, according to ESPN, Walton and the Lakers front office have reportedly decided to take 6-foot-10 Duke swingman Brandon Ingram, who’s considered the best all-around prospect of 2016’s class after LSU forward Ben Simmons.
Philadelphia is expected to select Simmons at No. 1, and the recent report stresses the Lakers will follow suit and pick Ingram unless a blockbuster trade takes place.
Long-range shooting, and scoring in general, are must-haves for the Lakers and Ingram has the potential to fit both needs. The team ranked last in both categories last season, but LA believes Ingram can be an All-Star one day and like his ability to defend multiple positions with his 7-foot-3 wingspan.
Before making their decision one day prior to the draft, the Lakers were reportedly considering Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield, Providence’s Kris Dunn, and even brought in Cal small forward Jaylen Brown and Kentucky big man Skal Labissiere for workouts. All are talented players expected to be picked in the lottery or first round, but Ingram’s upside is evidently too much for LA to pass on.
On the free agency front, and similar to the draft, the Lakers and their massive amount of cap space have been linked to such superstars as Kevin Durant, LeBron James and former USC standout and current Toronto Raptor DeMar DeRozan.
The Lakers have also been tied to free-agent forward Al Horford. The Atlanta Hawks big man is coming off one of his least productive seasons in recent years, but the 30-year-old remains one of the top free agents this offseason.
Free Agency Rumble: Orlando, Detroit and the Lakers are all among the teams that intend to make a run at Atlanta big man Al Horford.
— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) June 22, 2016
There are some hurdles for LA to clear in order to land Horford, despite their cap room. Under the league’s collective bargaining agreement with the players association, Atlanta will be able to offer Horford a richer five-year extension while LA can sign him for only four years.
Horford has played eight years in the league, which puts him just below the highest possible tier for a maximum contract. He could average just over $25 million a year on a long-term contract or he could sign a two-year deal with an opt-out after the first season in order to capitalize on the expectation of the cap rising yet again.
Horford averaged 15.2 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game with Atlanta last season and he has made the playoffs every year.