Lakers grab tenacious, tough-minded players on opening day of free agency
Eric D. Williams
Los Angeles Lakers vice president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka was clear in his manta on putting together a roster to defend his team’s NBA title.
Pelinka sought to keep as many of his team’s core players as possible because of the scrappy mindset and chemistry created during the 100-plus days in the NBA bubble while in Orlando chasing an NBA title.
“The way that we built the roster last year, and it really played out in the playoffs, was we did want to be the team that played the hardest, the nastiest and with the most confidence as any other team,” Pelinka said. “I think a lot of teams felt that way about the (Miami) Heat, in terms of how they played. And the Lakers and the Heat obviously both ended up representing their conference in the finals.
“But that’s something that we want to continue. I think the combination of high IQ players, but that also play with a tenacity and a high level of confidence and not backing down is at the core of players we want to assemble the team with. And that starts obviously with Lebron (James) and Anthony Davis, our two captains last year. They are constantly attracted to players that have that grit, have that nature. And I think we had a roster full of guys like that last season.”
One thing that Pelinka emphasized heading into free agency was that the Lakers would be aggressive in their approach, stating that they were not going to sit back and let other tittle contenders get better while they stood pat or became complacent. Pelinka also talked about the importance for his organization to be fluid and nimble and free agency, so they could respond when opportunities arose that perhaps they did not anticipate.
And he also emphasized that even though the process has been condensed, the Lakers have been prepared for free agency for months and have a clarity on what they want to accomplish heading into free agency weekend.
“Keeping our ability to add great, young players to our core for the future is something that makes a lot of sense,” Pelinka told reporters week. “We don’t just look at this at all as like a one or two-year window. We want to stay competitive for the long-term and make decisions that allow us to do just that, and not just shoot all of our bullets to try and defend for one year.
“We want to be in a position to be sustainable contenders and will operate the cap in a way to be thoughtful and smart around that.”
The Lakers appeared to follow that directive at the start of free agency Friday. Although deals are not official to Sunday, according to reports the Lakers have agreed to terms with Los Angeles Clippers free agent big man Montrezl Harrell and Milwaukee Bucks free agent wingman Wesley Matthews.
Those two, along with the addition of point guard Dennis Schröder through a draft day trade from Oklahoma City, add energy, toughness and scoring to an already talented roster for L.A.
The Lakers also moved on from center Dwight Howard, who reportedly will sign a one-year, $2.6 million deal with the Philadelphia 76ers, although it initially seemed he would stay in Los Angeles.
Pelinka still has to figure out if there’s enough cap space to bring back Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Avery Bradley, along with a final, contract structure that keeps Davis in the fold.
The reigning Sixth Man of the Year, the 6-7 Harrell averaged 18.6 points and 7.1 rebounds last season. Harrell, 26, gives the Lakers a strong presence inside with Howard no longer on the roster, and creates addition by subtraction with the Lakers plucking him from the crosstown Los Angeles Clippers.
According to ESPN, the Lakers will sign Harrell to the mid-level exception on a two-year deal worth nearly $20 million. Harrell is represented by the same agent as James and Davis, Rich Paul of Klutch Sports.
The Lakers reportedly agreed to a deal with Matthews for the $3.6 million, biannual exception, adding a replacement to the roster for the departed Danny Green.
At 6-4, the 34-year-old Matthews shot 36 percent from 3-point range last season for the Milwaukee Bucks and can defend athletic wings on the other end of the floor. Matthews is the son of former Laker Wes Matthews.
Pelinka said the Lakers pursued Schröder, 27, before the trade deadline during the season, that he’s been a player in high demand around the league and they finally were able bring him over this week. Schröder will make $15.5 million in the final year of his deal.
“In canvasing the league and doing research around a player like him, it comes back that Dennis is a player that other teams hate to play against, but his teammates love to play with because he has that kind of nasty tenacity and grit, and that’s really at the center of how we play and how we win,” Pelinka said. “So he folds in perfectly to that. And I think he gives us offensively just another elite playmaker, both on the ball, on the ball in a pick-and-roll situation and off the ball as a scorer.”