It is not a name that would make Lakers fans swoon or send the odds on an L.A. NBA championship skyrocketing. But the Lakers are considered a contender for a big man who would bring a very recent championship ring to the purple-and-gold: Warriors free-agent center Nemanja Bjelica.
Bjelica is 34 and would not be the team’s first choice as an additional big man—they are hoping to get younger this offseason. But he is 6-foot-10 and capable of knocking down 3-pointers, something the Lakers would like from a big guy playing next to Anthony Davis. Bjelica played in 71 games, averaging 6.1 points and 4.1 rebounds in 16.1 minutes for Golden State.
He made 36.2% of his 3s last year, and has made 38.4% from the arc in his career.
Jovan Buha of The Athletic had Bjelica among his potential for Lakers targets entering free agency.
NBA Exec: ‘Beggars Can’t Be Choosers’
There is some consensus around the NBA that the Lakers would like to add a big guy with some shooting skill.
“They only have so much that they can offer so they’re going to be looking for minimum-contract guys,” one Western Conference general manager said. “It is a beggars-can’t-be-choosers market for them so you have to find guys who can fit certain roles and do them well in limited minutes. Bjelica is a good example of that for them because he can come in and spread the floor. Look at the personnel they have—they need shooters. Especially if you can get a big guy who can shoot, that is one of their priorities, I’d say.”
The Lakers have no real options on their roster up front besides Davis. Power forward Wenyen Gabriel is the only other big guy under contract for next season, and he is not expected to play a major role. With nearly $150 million committed in salary, the Lakers have little room to maneuver this summer, with only the taxpayer’s midlevel exception ($6.4 million) and minimum contracts available.
It’s unlikely that last year’s backup center, Dwight Howard, will be back with the team this season.
Steve Kerr Praised Bjelica
Warriors coach Steve Kerr did not use Bjelica much in the team’s championship run—he had six postseason DNPs and played just 10.0 minutes per game over 15 games—but Kerr was a big fan of what Bjelica brought to the roster last year during the regular season. His perimeter shooting we a welcome touch, but so was his passing ability.
The Lakers have not had that kind of offensive center who can shoot in recent years.
“That’s the beauty of our team this year, we are built to take advantage of 4-on-3,” Kerr said. “Bjelica is really a hell of a basketball player. We’ve all watched him stretch the floor and be a pick-and-pop 3-point shooter, but he’s showing what he’s about in terms of his ability to pass, dribble and make plays. When you get 4-on-3 with guys like Draymond [Green], (Bjelica), Andre [Iguodala], making plays with shooters like Jordan Poole and Damion Lee, Otto Porter, you’re going to get good shots every time. Steph is a guy that generates every single advantage, then we have a team that can take advantage of that this year.”