On Sunday, word came down that the Lakers had secured their top target in the post-deadline buyout market, picking up two-time NBA All-Star center Andre Drummond, who had been bought out by the Cavaliers. That gave the Lakers a key addition, filling a need for size in the middle that had become more and more glaring as the season has gone on.
But now the Lakers are faced with a tougher challenge and an even bigger need, for a knockdown 3-point shooter who can also be an effective defensive wing. And there’s one candidate who stands out above all others: Otto Porter, the oft-injured former Bulls forward who was traded to the rebuilding Magic on Thursday.
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Porter is a long-armed, solid defensive player on the perimeter who can switch onto big guys and hold his own. He is 6-foot-8 and, at the NBA Combine in 2013, measured in with a 7-foot-1.5 wingspan. He is a career 40.4% shooter from the 3-point line, which would fill a huge void for the Lakers, who are shooting 34.9% from the 3-point line this season, 21st in the NBA.
As one Western Conference assistant coach noted, “He’s the guy they’ve got to go after. There are not many players on the market who are going to do what he can do. I think they need to wait it out and see if he comes available–he’s the perfect fit for them, the ideal guy.”
The Lakers, though, are hoping eagerly for two big circumstances to break their way, and, in the end, each could prove to be too tall a hurdle to get over. The first is the issue of a buyout. And the second is the issue of other teams tugging at Porter with offers of more playing time and, perhaps, even a role beyond this season.
Let’s look at both issues more closely.
Can Otto Porter get a Buyout From the Magic?
A buyout for Porter makes sense, but for Orlando, the reasons for not doing one could be more important than the reasons for doing one.
The Magic, who are rebuilding according to team president Jeff Weltman, would need to agree to pay off Porter most of the remainder of the $28.5 million contract he has on the books for this season. Orlando wants the best odds possible at one of the top picks in this year’s loaded draft class and does not exactly want to win a bunch of games down the stretch of the season to spoil their draft position. That is the incentive to buy out Porter.
But Orlando has incentive not to buy him out. The Magic will have his Bird rights heading into next year’s free-agent market, and if they hold onto Porter, there is a chance Porter will play well, rebuild some of his value and get an offer in the midlevel exception range, which should land just shy of $10 million. The Magic, who will be under the cap, can execute a sign-and-trade for Porter, perhaps coming away with a second-round pick and a trade exception.
There is an incentive, then, to hold onto Porter and, perhaps, wring something more out of the Nikola Vucevic trade. The Magic have until April 9 to make a decision.
Lakers Might Lack Playing Time for Otto Porter
The second problem the Lakers face in bringing in this ideal target is the issue of Porter’s decision on where to play next if, indeed, Orlando buys him out. It might make some sense to go to the Lakers if he wants to win a championship, but he would not be guaranteed significant playing time with the Lakers.
The Lakers happen to have a pretty good pair of forwards—LeBron James and Anthony Davis—plus some depth at the position, with Kyle Kuzma, Talen Horton-Tucker and Markieff Morris off the bench.
Porter will be a free agent this summer, so he will want to accrue some minutes to show he still can play and deserves another decent contract. As much as he might want to win a title, he is only 27, has been hammered by injuries for the last three seasons and needs to consider his own future. Joining the Lakers to be a role player might not be wise in re-establishing his value.
But the Lakers can dream. If he is healthy, Porter could probably leapfrog Kuzma as the first forward off the bench, especially if he shoots the ball the way he has throughout his career. He has shot better than 40.0% from the 3-point arc in four of his last five seasons. Defensively, his length surely would make coach Frank Vogel salivate.
Options on Buyout Market are Slim
If Porter is not bought out or chooses to go elsewhere, the Lakers will find themselves in a bind. There are limited options on the buyout market, and while there is a significant number of big guys available, it is much harder to find a guard/wing-type who can shoot and play defense among the current group of free agents.
The Lakers chose not to move any of their centers—Montrezl Harrell, Marc Gasol, Morris—at the deadline, meaning they’ve got a glut of big men and not nearly enough minutes available while they are desperate for shooting.
Ex-Laker Avery Bradley is a buyout candidate in Houston, after being traded from Miami, and is an ideal two-way player. Veteran Moe Harkless could be bought out in Sacramento, too. But for both of those players, there may be no buyout coming. Pistons guard Wayne Ellington has been targeted as a good fit for the Lakers all season, but apparently, he will be staying in Detroit.
Guard Austin Rivers has been bought out by the Thunder, as has Jeff Teague in Orlando. Both have experience but have been, historically, only so-so shooters (34.9% from the arc for Rivers, 36.0% for Teague). Neither is a great defender.
So the Lakers have done the easy part, getting another big guy, but now face long odds on completing the more difficult part—finding the 3-and-D shooter they so badly need. Otto Porter is the ideal candidate, if only all the right things can happen that will lead him to the purple-and-gold.