NBA free agency: Lakers and Clippers options include big names, small pay

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San Antonio Spurs forward DeMar DeRozan (10) shoots over Phoenix Suns forward Torrey Craig (12) during the second half of an NBA basketball game in San Antonio, Sunday, May 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Spurs forward DeMar DeRozan attempts a shot over Suns forward Torrey Craig during a game last season. The two could be possible targets for the Clippers and Lakers during free agency. (Eric Gay / Associated Press)

NBA free agency begins Monday, when teams can negotiate with players and agree to deals, which can be signed starting Friday. Both the Clippers and the Lakers face challenges to fill their rosters.

The Clippers have 11 players under contract, although Kawhi Leonard and Serge Ibaka hold player options they need to exercise or decline before Monday, and have no cap space. The Lakers have five players under contract after agreeing to acquire Russell Westbrook from Washington, and they have little financial flexibility as well. Each team will have to be creative in building supporting casts.

The Times' NBA reporters — Andrew Greif, Broderick Turner and Dan Woike — held a roundtable to discuss what is next for the L.A. franchises.

AG: The Clippers have been creative in using owner Steve Ballmer's unparalleled wealth — at least in NBA-ownership circles — to upgrade the team in recent years. They've attracted talent by paying big for a large coaching staff and front office, and upgraded their practice facility. But when it comes to the roster, they have to play by the same salary-cap rules as every other team, and that limits what they can do this summer. They're more than $10 million into the tax and have only a few financial tools at their disposal to offer this summer. One is the taxpayer mid-level exception, worth $5.7 million. Then there are minimum-salary slots.

BT: The Lakers have a lot of holes to fill too. They have just LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Russell Westbrook, Marc Gasol and Alfonzo McKinnie signed to contracts. At the very least, the Lakers need to sign eight more players, and most likely they will be veterans. The Lakers have the taxpayer mid-level exception of $5.9 million to spend and the veteran minimum exception.

DW: Get ready to hear the Lakers tied to a lot of veterans who want to chase a title, players who can add some desperately needed spacing while also coming on a budget. Unless the Lakers can turn Dennis Schroder into a few role players — they could sign and trade him for players currently under contract but not for free agents — it'll have to be players willing to take the minimum.

AG: It's no surprise, then, why Clippers president Lawrence Frank said Thursday that a top priority is re-signing the team's own free agents, naming guard Reggie Jackson and forward Nicolas Batum, and those who could become free agents, which of course includes Kawhi Leonard and Serge Ibaka with player options.

I asked Frank how the team viewed its timetable as contenders in the wake of Leonard's knee injury, which could keep him out most of, if not all of next season. He said the Clippers still expect to be very competitive in the West. They're not punting on next year — nor should they, practically, given that their roster core is only getting older. But how to contend with such a scoring void given Leonard's injury? One name described as a target of the team's interest in free agency is DeMar DeRozan, who is an unrestricted free agent.

BT: DeRozan had his sights set on joining the Lakers as a free agent and coming home to play for his favorite team while growing up in Compton. But Russ put the brakes on that. DeRozan made $27 million last season and probably doesn't want to take that big of a pay cut. So, for the Clippers to sign DeRozan, they probably would have to do a sign-and-trade. But watch out for Dallas possibly being a home for DeRozan.

AG: Would DeRozan realistically consider a pay cut that steep this late in his career? Constructing a sign-and-trade is another avenue but also difficult. I'd be curious to see whether the Clippers would consider placing themselves under a hard cap that would be triggered by a sign-and-trade.

BT: The Lakers need shooting. One name that is coming up is Patty Mills. He can shoot the lights out and would be great off the bench. Wayne Ellington is another shooter who has interest in rejoining the Lakers. Trevor Ariza and Andre Iguodala are veteran wings who are candidates. Carmelo Anthony is interested, just waiting on a call from the Lakers when free agency opens Monday. Guess who might be back for a third time? Yup, Dwight Howard is ready to return and play center. Jeff Green and Goran Dragic also are names to look out for.

DW: BT mentions some interesting names that I've heard as well. I think Jeff Green would be an ideal fit as a floor-spacer. Same goes for Wayne Ellington. I'd keep an eye on JJ Redick. Torrey Craig had a really nice postseason and showed his versatility as a defender. Patty Mills would be a perfect instant-offense kind of player and someone whose defensive shortcomings could be overcome with someone like Anthony Davis behind him. Garrett Temple is the kind of player who inevitably ends up as a target for contenders looking for high-character, low-drama help.

Even though Marc Gasol is under contract, I'm curious where he fits in with the team's plans. The situation with Andre Drummond last season was less than ideal, and while Gasol's reinsertion into the starting lineup late in the playoffs might be some vindication for the proud vet, the Lakers have to wonder if he wants to be back after it seemed like the team didn't want him. If Gasol is out, the Lakers will need to find a starting center. And innovation could lose out to familiarity. In addition to Howard, I think JaVale McGee could be another option too.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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