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Category: Free agency

J.R. Smith talks with Lakers; free agent could fill multiple roles

J.R. Smith talks with Lakers; free agent could fill multiple roles

Coach Mike Brown spoke with free agent J.R. Smith, a forward-guard who could solve two problems at once for the Lakers.

Smith could help them at small forward and also provide backup support for Kobe Bryant at shooting guard.

Smith, 26, has played in China since the NBA season began. He signed with a Chinese pro team during the NBA lockout and was obligated to honor the contract until this month.

There are some problems for the Lakers as far as Smith. They can offer him only a comparatively small salary of less than $1 million, a prorated portion of the veterans' minimum, because they are over the salary cap and spent their entire mini-midlevel exception on Josh McRoberts. Smith made $6.8 million last season with Denver.

There are several other teams pursuing Smith. He listed them on his Twitter page: New York, Chicago, Indiana, Orlando and the Clippers.

Just the same, Smith seemed somewhat eager about the Lakers, writing on Twitter that he "Just had a great talk with Coach Brown!"

Smith averaged 12.3 points and 23.9 minutes last season for Denver. He shot a solid 39% from three-point range.

Brown has tried three players at small forward this season: Metta World Peace, Matt Barnes and Devin Ebanks. The Lakers also don't have a true backup for Bryant, using point guards Steve Blake or Andrew Goudelock to spell him at times.

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-- Mike Bresnahan

Photo: J.R. Smith, then with the Denver Nuggets, battles for a loose ball with Lakers Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant in 2010. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times

Josh McRoberts signing helps, but Lakers must do more

Josh McRoberts goes up against Pau Gasol
The Lakers took the first step in adding depth to their frontcourt.

But it's only a small step.

The Lakers signed free-agent power forward Josh McRoberts for two years and about $6.2 million, constituting all the team's mini mid-level exception money. Considering Lamar Odom's trade to Dallas and Andrew Bynum's five-game suspension to open the season, McRoberts presence could actually land him a roster spot. His averages of 7.4 points and 5.3 rebounds in 22.2 minutes for the Indiana Pacers last season also suggests he could throw down similar numbers for the Lakers.

This signing, however, far from constitutes the "big moves" Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak envisions. This simply adds more pieces to the Lakers' reserve unit, an area that still remains flimsy with Odom's absence and Derrick Caracter requiring surgery for torn cartilage in his left knee.

He may shoot left-handed and have the ability to play at both power forward and center, but McRoberts won't even come close to replicating what Odom provided. He lacks offensive moves, other than creating points off fast-breaks, rebounds and hustle plays. He's not considered a strong defender, though he's not considered a bad one either. McRoberts is simply a solid bench player that provides some cushion, but by no means is he a legitimate heavy-rotation player.

That's OK. The Lakers at least have another trade chip and another legitimate forward. But their job isn't done. The Times' Mike Bresnahanreports that the Lakers are continuing discussions with Orlando about Dwight Howard and New Orleans about Chris Paul, though it appears nothing is imminent. What remains on the front-burner, however, is the need for Kupchak to land a "big deal" or two as soon as possible. The Lakers' title hopes hinge on it. 

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— Mark Medina

E-mail the Lakers blog at mgmedin@gmail.com

Photo: Lakers forward Pau Gasol and Indiana Pacers forward Josh McRoberts go after a rebound during a game in March 2010. McRoberts signed with the Lakers on Tuesday. Credit: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times / March 2, 2011)

Lakers' free agent options remain limited

Nick YoungThis should be a time the Lakers eye the top free-agent talent, work the phones and devote whatever resources necessary to secure the deal.

This isn't one of these times. The Lakers have a $91-million payroll. The free-agent class doesn't exactly hold the same prestige as last year's group, highlighted by LeBron James' "The Decision." And the top-heavy talent among the available free agents, including Marc Gasol, Tyson Chandler and Nene, are too expensive and don't exactly fit the Lakers' roster needs.

Here's the other unfortunate reality involving the Lakers: the free agents that can address their needs at a reasonable price tag won't be available either. Below are a few of them.

J.J. Barea, Dallas Mavericks guard: After running laps around the Lakers in the 2011 playoffs, he'd finally add speed to the Lakers' slow lineup. The only problem: there's no way Mavericks owner Mark Cuban doesn't re-sign Barea after playing a large part in the Mavericks' championship run.

Aaron Brooks, Phoenix Suns guard: The seven-game series of the 2009 Western Conference semifinals against the Houston Rockets aggravated Lakers fans, partly because no one could guard the speedy Brooks. No need to wonder whether his statistical drop-off with Phoenix should prompt concerns. No need to even get excited over this deal. Brooks remains locked into an overseas deal in China until March.

Grant Hill, Phoenix Suns forward: OK, so at age 38, Hill doesn't exactly make the Lakers younger. But he still remains productive and could help the Lakers' defense, particularly if they part ways with Metta World Peace via the amnesty clause. The Arizona Republic's Paul Coro has reported, though, that it's likely Hill will re-sign with the Suns.

Nick Young, Washington Wizards forward. He doesn't offer much on defense, but can Young shoot and score. The Lakers know first-hand, and the former USC/Cleveland High product would remain comfortable in his hometown. But The Washington Post's Michael Lee reports the Wizards view re-signing Young, a restricted free agent, a top priority.

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Top four free agents Lakers should pursue

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-- Mark Medina

E-mail the Lakers blog at mgmedin@gmail.com

Photo: Washington Wizards forward Nick Young would inject some youth into the Lakers' lineup. But the Wizards are intent on keeping him. Credit: Nick Wass / Associated Press

Lakers chat: Who can Lakers pursue via free agency?

Baron Davis

Finally, we don't have to discuss lockout proceedings. Join in to discuss more important topics, such as when the Lakers can acquire Dwight Howard or Chris Paul.

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Top four free agents Lakers should pursue

Jerry Buss/Jim Buss

Finally, we can talk about money and contract lengths without feeling further agitated about the NBA's labor dispute.

With both sides agreeing to the overall framework of a new collective bargaining agreement, we can now apply those economic terms to free agency, slated to coincide with training camp beginning Dec. 9. The CBA affects how teams will approach free agency, but there's something more tantalizing about discussing this issue than over the previous fight between millionaires and billionaires. I put together an extensive list this off-season of free agent profiles. But below are the four free agents who both fill the Lakers' needs and appear to be feasible in acquisitions.

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Free-agent profile: Troy Murphy

Boston Celtics power forward Troy Murphy

Type of free agent: unrestricted

Positives: Murphy has averaged double figures in seven seasons and five double-double efforts in points and rebounds in his 10-year career. The Lakers surely have that presence already with a tall lineup in Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom, but Murphy would be a decent insurance policy. His rebounding abilities would complement Bynum's and relieve Gasol of the duty, which he has appeared more than happy to delegate to Bynum. He's also a reliable option in spacing the floor and finding the open man.

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Lakers 2012 free agent options: Chris Paul may be the answer

Chris PaulNormally, this would mark the time to reflect on all the offseason signings that took place within the last month and how they would affect the NBA landscape.

But this obviously isn't one of those normal times. The NBA lockout hasn't just sapped the energy from an eventful 2010-11 season, as well as the optimism about next season’s schedule. It's also taken away the teams' ability to do anything at all this offseason, as organizations can't contact any players or their representatives or make any moves toward reshaping their rosters. Had there not been a work stoppage, it's unlikely the Lakers' roster would've been drastically different.

There would've been more clarity about whether Shannon Brown's decision to opt out of his $2.37-million contract would leave him without a roster spot. Devin Ebanks and Derrick Caracter would officially know their status, with the Lakers deciding whether to exercise $788,872 in team options on them. And rookies Darius Morris and Andrew Goudelock would've been able to provide at least a summer-league glimpse into whether they can help the Lakers' declining backcourt. But with a $91-million payroll and long-term contracts still remaining on their core roster, the Lakers' options remain limited.

That's why next year's free agency pool appears to be more consequential for the Lakers, with Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard, New Orleans point guard Chris Paul and New Jersey Nets point guard Deron Williams becoming available, assuming they don't sign extensions with their respective teams before then. The Lakers would surely be interested in all three, but which holds the most importance? Below the jump is a look at each.

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How can the Lakers upgrade at point guard?

6a00d8341c506253ef014e89569edb970d-320wiThe consensus on how to make the Lakers better next season involves addressing the point guard spot.

Former Coach Phil Jackson suggested it in his final exit interview when he said the Lakers need to add "more speed" to their veteran-laden roster. Former Laker Robert Horry clamored for it when he acknowledged at the ESPYs that Derek Fisher's "age has caught up to him." And team General Manager Mitch Kupchak has tabbed the position as the off-season's No. 1 priority.

But as we all found out growing up, just because you put something on a holiday or birthday wish list didn't always mean our parents listened. Likewise, just because we want to buy a beach house, drive a sleek convertible or take an extended vacation around the world doesn't mean it's going to happen.

On the Lakers' end, they face plenty of constraints. No one knows what the next collective bargaining agreement will look like and how much the Lakers can draw from their mid-level exception. They are coming off a season that featured a $91-million payroll, and their core players are locked into long-term contracts. In other words, the Lakers aren't going to be able to add an All-Star point guard at the flip of a switch. But here are some options on how they can address their point guard needs.

6a00d8341c506253ef014e611163e9970c-800wiSave up for Deron Williams or Chris Paul.

As most Laker fans have noticed when consulting these various free-agent profiles, the options are pretty limited. So as much as it's necessary for the Lakers to address their point guard needs, it's  unrealistic to expect them to suddenly bolster it. Instead, the Lakers would be better off working with what they have and then gear up for when Williams and Paul become free agents after the 2011-2012 season, presuming neither sign extensions with their current teams. Both players are starved for a championship. Both show elite point-guard skills. And both have much respect for Kobe Bryant.

This approach won't solve the Lakers' problems right away and could keep the team from winning a title next season. But making a push for a trade or a free agent this year might do more harm than good. It would require the Lakers to give away some of their resources for a short-term gain at the expense of a long-term investment. Any slight upgrade at point guard this year still may not result in an NBA title, and it would give the Lakers less positioning power to go after Williams or Paul next off-season. Because of how highly coveted they are and the salary Williams ($16.4 million) and Paul ($16.359 million) would command for next season, the Lakers would have to be tight with their finances this year.

It would be shortsighted, however, for the Lakers to simply unload salaries much like the New York Knicks did in making an unsuccessful attempt at LeBron James, because it would put them in a weaker position to win a title in the future. Andrew Bynum will have a team option in 2012-2013 for $16.1 million, but I highly doubt the Lakers would let him go unless they could get Dwight Howard. Lamar Odom enters next season with two years and $17 million left on his contract, including a team option in the 2012-2013 season worth a partially guaranteed $8.2 million, giving the team some possible wiggle room there. But other than those two scenarios, the Lakers would have to make small tinkerings to ensure they're financially in a position to get either Howard or Paul.

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Free-agent profile: Mario Chalmers

This is the 19th post in a series of profiles analyzing a free agent and how he might fit with the Lakers.

Miami Heat point guard Mario Chalmers

Type of free agent: restricted

Positives: Chalmers progressed so much with the Miami Heat last season that the Miami Herald's Barry Jackson reported that the organization feels comfortable starting him. It's too presumptuous to believe the Lakers would feel the same way if they acquired Chalmers, but he would immediately fill some needs the Lakers lack. Chalmers, at age 25, made timely three-pointers and jumpers, played pesky defense and thrived on making the big play. Even though Miami ultimately lost in the NBA Finals, Chalmers gave them some needed bench production, including four-of-eight shooting in Miami's Game 3 win over Dallas, keeping the Mavericks' zone defense honest.  History has shown that Chalmers excels when he has competition around him, and the Lakers surely have that with the likes of Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum running most of the offense. 

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Free agent profile: Josh Howard

Howard1 Normally, this is the month when everyone analyzes, speculates on and frets over the moves NBA teams make to bolster their rosters. However, this isn't a normal time, with the NBA lockout and all. But that doesn't mean I'm going to stop analyzing the free-agent landscape. The times will come, although we don't know when, that the free agency process begins. So it doesn't hurt to get the homework done early.

This is the 13th post in a series of profiles analyzing a free agent and how he might fit with the Lakers.

Washington Wizards forward Josh Howard

Type of free agent: unrestricted

Positives: There is a hint of irony in the fact that the Washington Wizards acquired Howard in a trade from the Dallas Mavericks believing he'd be a valuable veteran presence for a young squad. He left Dallas with well-documented baggage, admitting to smoking marijuana in the off-season, getting arrested for street racing and later being cited for speeding, and criticizing the national anthem. Despite playing only 18 games last season for the Wizards while recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament, Washington valued Howard for his increased maturity and nurturing locker room presence. So should the Lakers acquire Howard, there should be little concern regarding his maturity.

There should also be little concern about Howard's injury -- he will likely have a prolonged NBA lockout to recover and could possibly return to be the player who proved instrumental in Dallas' run to the 2006 NBA Finals. The swingman averaged nearly 20 points per game in three of his last four seasons with the Mavs and could provide versatility that would make it easy for the Lakers to plug him into the lineup.

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