With the Los Angeles Lakers sitting comfortably atop the west, at 41-12, 5 losses ahead of 2nd place Denver Nuggets, they are a bonafide contender and are almost certainly looking for ways to improve the team.
The only way they can currently do so is through the buyout and free-agent market. With the likes of Darren Collison staying retired and Marvin Williams and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist signing with Milwaukee and Dallas respectively, the Lakers options have dwindled but not evaporated completely, so that leads to the question: Who could the Lakers potentially target who could also improve the team at this late juncture of the season?
At this point, the first thing people think of when it comes to JR Smith and his relationship with LeBron James is the blunder in the 2018 finals when JR was confused about the situation in game 1 and so, the game went to overtime instead of the Cavs having a shot to win the game.
Without JR Smith being a really good 3 and D player with LeBron that year, they probably do not make the NBA Finals.
He was integral for all the Cleveland teams whilst LeBron was there and has proven that when it comes time to make an important shot, (see game 7 2016 NBA Finals), there is a trust there, especially from LeBron that when it comes time to hit a tough 3, he will be in the corner, ready, willing and able to knock it down.
While he may not be the athlete he once was earlier in his career, he is still only 34 years old and the length he may provide could be potentially very important in a series where, outside of Anthony Davis, LeBron James and Danny Green, the Lakers have no one tall and long enough to guard bigger wings like Kawhi Leonard and Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Whilst knowing that JR Smith is not an elite defender by any stretch of the imagination, he will be able to do a serviceable job of just trying to make it harder for players of this ilk. There is also a feeling that if the Lakers do make a move, JR Smith being signed is probably the most realistic option.
Maurice Harkless is an interesting case as he is not a free agent yet but he does play for a New York Knicks team that is abysmal, (which has been the case since the Mike Woodson days), currently at 17-38.
Even with that awful record, they are still only 7 games out from the playoffs because after 6 teams, the Eastern Conference is even worse than usual thanks to injuries and teams wanting to rebuild.
To add to that, Harkless is a New York native, going to college at St. John’s, and has publicly stated how much he loves being back in New York. Being part of a championship team is very rare though in the NBA; to be on a championship team rivalling the team that traded you is even rarer in the Association.
With that, Harkless brings excellent on-ball defence against any wing in the NBA and as previously mentioned, is the biggest Achilles heel on this excellent Lakers roster.
Alongside this, Harkless is certainly no slouch when it comes to shooting the deep range ball, shooting 37% from 3 while playing for the Clippers this season. While it isn’t elite by any stretch of the imagination, it is serviceable enough that he becomes an issue if you leave him wide open as LeBron James will almost certainly find him. This move may currently not be the most realistic due to New York having to buy him out; which may just be a pipeline dream for Los Angeles right now.
The wildcard option for the Lakers. Coming into the NBA as the 4th overall pick in 2012, greatness seemed to be destined for Waiters. It has not worked out like that however for him. His last stretch at Miami being a disaster, where he was essentially kicked off the team for having an episode of eating some type of edible on a plane on the way to play the Lakers, coincidentally.
At his best though, he could be exactly what the Lakers need. A secondary playmaker, (not in assists but someone who can get his own shot), who can alleviate some of the stress from the non-LeBron minutes which will ostensibly reduce drastically when we actually get to the playoffs.
He is no doubt better than any of the backup guards the Lakers have in pick and roll situations if he is in basketball shape and ready to play.
That seems to be in doubt though at this juncture and it could be a risk basketball-wise as he could potentially provide nothing. He has an important wrinkle as he is a Klutch client and former Pelinka client, but that could prove to no avail if they believe that he could not contribute to this championship contender. This is the biggest high risk, high reward signing in comparison to the others but also the most unlikely as the Lakers wouldn’t want to interrupt their chemistry for a guy who could potentially contribute down the line.
If the Lakers were to look at him, it would be more likely that they sign him to a veteran minimum, non-guaranteed contract in the summer to see what he could actually provide in a training camp setting.
To conclude, to fill the Lakers’ need in the free agent/buyout market seems like a wild card option more than a real opportunity there, especially with Darren Collison staying retired. If they could get Moe Harkless however, that could be the move that pushes this championship contender over the top.