It should come as no surprise that Kawhi Leonard is the Lakers’ top target heading into free agency. Coming off a transcendent postseason that saw him carry the Raptors to a title on the back of incredible two-way play, Leonard has made a genuine case that he is the best player in the league.
The Lakers have the cap space to go out and land Leonard on a max deal and after already bringing on LeBron James last year and trading for Anthony Davis recently, the Lakers would ideally love Leonard to round out what would be an insanely dominant big three.
However, Leonard is a wild card when it comes to free agency and although the Lakers and their fans may be encouraged, nobody really knows what his plan is. That said, if the Lakers strike out on Leonard, there are a number of other quality options in what is a loaded free agency class.
Lakers Free Agency Top Target #1: Kawhi Leonard
As mentioned above, the two-way force that is Kawhi Leonard is the top target for the Lakers in free agency. The Lakers have a meeting with Leonard on the books and there has been a growing sense of optimism among the Lakers and their fans that Leonard is planning to take his talents to the Lakers.
With LeBron possibly offering to defer to Leonard on the Lakers and make him the focal point, Leonard should find a lot more open looks and have to do a lot less of the brutalizing interior drives to the rim that he made a living on in the playoffs. Leonard is an excellent spot-up shooter and with LeBron’s ability to draw collapse defenses, Leonard should find himself open for more quality looks from behind the arc.
Lakers Free Agency Top Target #2: Jimmy Butler
Jimmy Butler is another top target for the Lakers and if he is around in the event Leonard opts to go elsewhere, he could very well become the Lakers’ primary target. Butler brings a lot of the things that Leonard does well to the table, just Leonard does them all slightly better.
Butler is excellent at getting to the basket and creating his own looks and a competent shooter from deep. He plays tenacious defense and creates a lot of points and opportunities from his aggressive perimeter play. Similar to Leonard, playing alongside LeBron should help get Butler more open looks and he should find himself playing a larger role compared to the (at times) fourth option in Philadelphia along some ball-dominant, high-usage players.
Lakers Free Agency Top Target #3: D’Angelo Russell
If all else fails, the Lakers could wind up finding a way to bring back D’Angelo Russell. Reported to have a meeting with Russell while also planning to not offer him a max contract, it will be interesting to keep an eye on what happens to him in free agency. The Lakers could certainly use a point guard and if Irving (as expected) takes his spot in Brooklyn, the Lakers could be him on a team-friendly deal.
Russell is an intriguing fit with the Lakers given how much he had the ball in his hands last season. He certainly won’t be able to come close to that playing on the Lakers but looks like he could slot into the role that Irving played alongside LeBron in Cleveland. A solid shooter and shot creator with excellent court vision, Russell could be an extremely useful off-ball weapon. While he has primarily played on the ball, Laker fans long though Russell was better suited for a complimentary ball-handler role while he was with the team in his first go-round.