The Los Angeles Lakers have been abysmal on the court in recent years, going through the worst four-year stretch in the storied franchises history. The dysfunctional front office of Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak did an awful job of retooling on the fly after the unfortunate injuries that occurred to Kobe Bryant and the departure of Dwight Howard in the summer of 2013. It was like Howard placed a spell on Los Angeles to never attract or get a center again to replace him, even though his stint with the Lakers was an utter disaster.
The Likes of Roy Hibbert, Jordan Hill, and now Timofey Mozgov have patrolled the middle for a team that had a history of always having the most dominant center in the game. Between all the losing, the Lakers have been able to draft promising youngsters D’Angelo Russell, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, and more but a glaring need at the center position still exists.. or does it? The Lakers started Mozgov and his ridiculous 4 year, $64 million contract he signed last off-season to start the year, however it didn’t take long for Ivica Zubac to prove that he belonged.
The second round pick averaged 7.5 points, 4.2 rebounds, and a block per game in only 16 minutes of action, showing enough signs for Magic Johnson and company to view him as a building block moving forward. At the age of nineteen, it was an encouraging start for a young player, making the Lakers dream of the potential that lies within him. Having Zubac grow with the Lakers young core might be the right move, eliminating the possibility of them making an irrational decision by trading or throwing money at a big name player. Not to sound like a broken record between all the different people who have said this before but Zubac is already looking like the second coming of Marc Gasol. He can protect the rim, rebound the basketball, hit a jump shot, and possesses good post moves which gives him all the tools needed to play center.
With the chances of the Lakers getting rid of Mozgov’s contract being slim to none, they will have another big man around who at least is capable of playing the five. Even though his play is certainly nowhere near the amount of money that he is getting paid, Mozgov is still a 7’1”, 275 pound giant who has tons of experience. Whether the Lakers like it or not, he’s going to be on this team and they just need to hope that he can give some solid minutes when needed.
Tarik Black is another option who can play some minutes at center after spending the last three years in Los Angeles. He’s not a future starter in the NBA by any means and the Lakers don’t view him like one, instead knowing what they’re going to get from him. Black is an undersized bundle of energy who will set hard screens, roll strongly to the hoop, and rebound the basketball, the type of player that teams will always find a roster spot for.
The Lakers have also experimented with Randle and Larry Nance Jr. paired together in the front court to see if they were capable of playing off one another. The results were actually not that bad but it was pretty clear that both were better off suited at the power forward position and not center. Going to both Randle and Nance in a small ball lineup for limited doses can be a secret weapon in head coach Luke Walton’s back pocket though.
Even with the current big men on the Lakers roster, adding more size is going to be an area of need that the Lakers need to address over the off-season. As most young teams with the third worst record in the league would do, the Lakers can look to the draft to add that franchise center to help balance out the lineup. The team already has Jordan Clarkson and Russell at guard, Ingram on the wing, and Randle/Nance Jr. at the four so continuing to build through the draft would be the ideal way to keep the ball rolling.
Unfortunately, that seems a lot easier said than done because the Lakers won’t be able to hang onto their pick if it falls outside the top three, all thanks to again Dwight Howard and Steve Nash. Even if they are lucky enough to keep their pick, there really isn’t any franchise centers in this draft that the Lakers would be willing to take with one of the top three picks. It seems like a lock that Markelle Fultz, Josh Jackson, and Lonzo Ball are the three best players, in no particular order, entering this draft and the Lakers would be dumb to pass on one of them to reach for a big man.
Instead, the Lakers next selection at pick 28 should be a spot where they can use that pick to trade up or choose a player with size. Even though top center prospects Zach Collins, Jarrett Allen, Lauri Markkanen, and Justin Patton won’t be around by the time the late first round hits, there are other interesting alternatives for the Lakers to consider.
Kentucky’s Bam Adebayo and Ike Anigbogu from UCLA are two big men out of top schools who might be listed a hair under seven feet tall but certainly don’t play like it. Either of the two can bring toughness and most importantly defense to a team that can use all the help they can on that side of the ball. A player who many expected years ago to be the top pick in this draft class, Harry Giles, is another prospect who might be hanging around late because of his inconsistent and injury plagued freshman season at Duke. John Collins, Caleb Swanigan, and the plethora of international front court players can also be on the Lakers radar when it’s their turn to pick right before the second round.
As unappealing as the centers in the upcoming draft are, the big men out there on the open market might be even worse. Nerlens Noel, Greg Monroe, Mason Plumlee, Zaza Pachulia, and Kelly Olynyk lead the list of “Top Free agent centers”, which should have every fan across the league praying that their team doesn’t hand out an enormous contract to one of them.
Noel actually wouldn’t be a terrible fit in a Lakers uniform because of his athleticism on the offensive end and his defense to bail out his teammates on the other. Only problem though is that it seems like the Dallas Mavericks are prepared to match any offer thrown at him after finally finding a replacement for Tyson Chandler from years ago. Noel is a nice player and all but giving him a max contract would put this franchise even more in the opposite direction, especially with decisions having to be made on Randle and Russell’s contracts in the coming years.
The thought of throwing big money at Monroe or Plumlee shouldn’t even cross the Lakers mind for a split second, hopefully learning from their expensive mistake with Mozgov. Pachulia can be a solid stop-gap for a year at center by taking care of the dirty work for all the young guns, however at this point in his career he’s probably going to want to go play for a contender. One of the only options that can work in LA, Olynyk, would be a good floor spacer while still being able to bang down low so maybe a deal can be worked out there depending on the price.
This is clearly going to be a huge off-season for the Lakers future and they need to nail almost every move they make in order to get back to the top, which is where there used to being. No need to panic by throwing money at free agents or trading away all your future assets to try to win now, we have already seen how that worked when Howard and Nash came to town. In my opinion, slowly bringing along Zubac while keeping around guys like Mosgov, Black, and prospects through the draft is the Lakers best way to shore up a position that has been a mess for close to five years now.
If you would like to receive an email each time a new Los Angeles Lakers article is published, fill out our email notification form.