Los Angeles does have young talent. D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, and this year’s No. 2 pick Brandon Ingram could all mature together into a playoff contender. But the team’s biggest need is acquiring a star center, and with $70.8 million available in cap space, it needs to make up in money what they lack in the ability to win games.
Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside is the logical starting point when NBA free agency begins on Friday. The seven-foot center averaged 14.2 points and showed versatility in his offensive game, scoring in the post, off the offensive glass, by cutting to the basket, and on the pick and roll. It was the latter where he was at his best, scoring 1.34 points per possession. Among the 28 centers with at least 100 possessions on the pick and roll, only DeAndre Jordan was more efficient (1.4 points per possession) than Whiteside.
Defensively, Whiteside grabbed 11.8 rebounds per game and led the league in blocked shots (269) by a wide margin. Jordan, who ranked second, had 92 fewer blocks despite playing almost 500 more minutes during the season.
Based on what teams must pay replacement-level players (approximately $1.3 million per player), the amount a team spends above and beyond those minimum contracts for a 12-man roster ($76.7 million), and the number of wins it takes to go from replacement-level to league average (25), each win above replacement a player can contribute to a team is worth $3.1 to $3.8 million, depending on the final salary cap. That would value Whiteside’s performance between roughly $20.1 and $24.7 million for the 2015-16 season, a figure in line with a maximum contract where the first-season salary is in the $22 million range.
If Whiteside falls through, Atlanta’s Al Horford should be next on the Lakers’ wish list.
Despite averaging less points per 100 possessions (23.5) than Whiteside (25.1), Horford showed an ability to shoot from behind the arc, taking 3.1 three-point shots per game while making 34.4 percent of them.
Horford is also adept at scoring in transition, often getting to the rim down the middle of the court.
If neither of those free agent centers pan out, the Lakers may have to look at Bismack Biyombo, a 6-foot-9, 245-pound center that was the seventh overall pick in the 2011 NBA draft. But he wouldn’t provide nearly the level of play that Whiteside or Horford could offer.
Biyombo, the backup to Jonas Valanciunas on the Toronto Raptors, was one of the least-passed-to players in the NBA last season — and for good reason. He averaged just 5.5 points per game and shot 54.2 percent from the field.
But most of Biyombo’s value comes on the defensive side of the court. He grabbed 5.8 rebounds and blocked 1.6 shots per game, holding opponents to 45.2 percent shooting at the rim.
Still, that is not nearly enough to offset the glaring weaknesses on offense, putting the Lakers in a position where it is either Whiteside, Horford, or bust.
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