As they aim for the top of the Western Conference, the Memphis Grizzlies can recruit some members of the reigning conference champion Los Angeles Lakers.
The Los Angeles Lakers’ roster that is battling for a 2020 NBA championship probably won’t be the same roster attempting to win it all in 2021.
There’s a good chance L.A. goes into next season with a much different look, since up to 10 members of the team could become free agents this offseason.
Dwight Howard, Markieff Morris, Dion Waiters, J.R. Smith, Jared Dudley and Kostas Antetokounmpo will be unrestricted free agents. Rajon Rondo, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Avery Bradley and JaVale McGee have player-options on their contracts and could also hit the open market.
Contrary to what you saw in “The Last Dance,” championship teams usually want to keep their core intact. The reality, however, is that winning a title tends to increase an individual player’s value — which makes it more likely that teams will split up after their crowning moment as players look out for their own futures.
A dispersal of Lakers into the free agent pool can be a good thing for the Memphis Grizzlies.
Just like every team that misses the playoffs, the Grizzlies (34-39 this season) have areas of need, and some current members of the Lakers could fill those roles.
Three-point shooting, defense, depth on the wing, and a backup center should be on Memphis’ offseason shopping list.
The Lakers just happen to have made their run toward a title largely due to accurate 3-point shooting, defense, depth on the wing, and size up front. Plus, you know, they have LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
The Grizzlies’ projected payroll for next season ranks 20th in the league according to HoopsHype.com, so they should have some money to spend.
If all of L.A.’s possible free agents become available, Memphis should first look at Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
KCP was the Lakers’ most consistent 3-point shooter, hitting 38.5 percent beyond the arc in the regular season and postseason. The 27-year-old shooting guard filled in admirably when Avery Bradley opted out of the post-COVID hiatus bubble, showing improved defense and decision-making to help the Lakers run through the Western Conference bracket.
Bradley, a combo guard, played for the Grizzlies last season. It was only a 14-game cameo in between stints with the LA Clippers and Lakers, but when Bradley was with Memphis he recorded his career-high of 33 points in one game. The 29-year-old’s perimeter defense is excellent and he shot 36.4 percent on 3-pointers this season.
Waiters is another former Grizzly, technically, although he’s never played a game for the organization. The 28-year-old shooting guard was traded to Memphis from Miami in February and waived a few days later. He signed with the Lakers in March. (As a result, Waiters could get a championship ring no matter which team wins the NBA Finals.)
Waiters is a talented scorer but he’s inconsistent on the court and unpredictable off the court.
Morris is a stretch-4 power forward, which isn’t really a position of need for Memphis, but he can shoot from the outside. He was a late-season pickup for L.A. who is shooting 44.8 percent beyond the arc in the playoffs. That will be attractive to a Grizzlies team that finished 25th in the league in 3-pointers made and 23rd in 3-point percentage.
Antetokounmpo is full of potential, but the 6’10” forward will undoubtedly be targeted by a list of title contenders hoping to sign him and improve their chances of luring his older brother Giannis to their side next year.
Grizzlies’ mid-season trade acquisition Gorgui Dieng is penciled in as the backup center. But he is the team’s highest-paid player, with a $17.2 million salary on a contract that expires in 2021. Trading Dieng could free up some cap room, but it would leave Memphis thin in the middle.
If they pursue a cheaper center to back up Jonas Valanciunas, the Grizzlies might want to look at JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard. But will the L.A. duo be interested?
Despite his reputation for head-scratching decisions, McGee is an athletic 7-footer who can block shots, rebound and run the floor. He’s older than he looks at 32, and in his journeyman career he’s been experienced championship-level success with the Lakers and Golden State Warriors. Does he want to be part of a rebuild and youth movement in Memphis?
Howard, like Waiters, was also once part of the Grizzlies for a minute. He was traded to Memphis in the offseason from the Washington Wizards. Before training camp, Howard was waived and signed with the Lakers. Widely considered washed-up at the time, the future Hall of Famer has had a rejuvenation in L.A. He’s a role player, but he’s great at his role of protecting the rim, rebounding, and working the pick-and-roll.
Howard has done enough image repair that he can afford to be picky about his next destination and play for a title contender in the homestretch of his career.
The three potential Lakers’ free agents that make the most sense for the Grizzlies are Caldwell-Pope, Bradley and Morris. One or more of that trio of role players can be X-factors in the Grizzlies’ gradual ascent in the West.