Lakers free-agency preview: Roster questions after Russell Westbrook trade, targets, cap sheet and more (2023)

The Lakers have already checked their biggest box this offseason — acquiring that coveted third star to complement LeBron James and Anthony Davis — but now the franchise must embark on the more nuanced part of the summer: building a competent team around the superstar core that now includes Russell Westbrook.


When teams can begin negotiating with free agents at 3 p.m. Pacific on Monday, the Lakers could have up to 11 roster spots to fill, with needs at essentially every position on the court. The price for Westbrook was the Lakers’ best two-way guard (Kentavious Caldwell-Pope), their sixth man (Kyle Kuzma) and their limited-but-energetic backup big man (Montrezl Harrell). That’s to say nothing of figuring out what to do at the starting center and shooting guard spots, backup point guard and the general glaring absence of 3-point shooting.

To compound matters, Los Angeles has to try to replace that production in a free-agent market that figures to dry up in a matter of hours Monday — especially for a cap-strapped team with limited tools at its disposal.

The combined salaries of Westbrook (suddenly the Lakers’ highest-paid player), James and Davis alone push the Lakers’ payroll over the projected salary cap of $112.4 million and just north of $120 million. Just filling out the roster with veteran minimum contracts would push the Lakers up against the projected luxury tax (projected $136.6 million).

As it is, they still have to figure out whether to re-sign Alex Caruso and Talen Horton-Tucker (all signs point to yes on both) and what other free agents from last year’s team — a top title contender before injuries precipitated their first-round fizzle — make sense to return.

Let’s dig into Lakers free agency — their cap sheet, free agents, financial tools, questions and more.

Key dates

Aug. 2, 3 p.m. PT: Free-agency moratorium begins. Teams can talk to free agents and verbally agree to terms.
Aug. 6, 9 a.m. PT: Free-agent deals can officially be signed. Free-agency-related trades (like the Westbrook deal) can also be executed.
Aug. 8-17: Las Vegas Summer League.
Sept. 28:Likely start date for training camp.
Oct. 19:NBA season begins.

Current roster and cap situation



Russell Westbrook


LeBron James


Anthony Davis


Marc Gasol


Alfonzo McKinnie



This table does not include cap holds for free agents or empty roster charges. Alfonzo McKinnie’s contract is non-guaranteed and is likely to be waived.


Two-way contracts: Joel Ayayi, Austin Reaves.

Available exceptions: $5.9 million taxpayer midlevel exception and veteran’s minimum.

Depth chart



Point guard

Russell Westbrook

Shooting guard

Small forward

LeBron James

Power forward

Anthony Davis


Marc Gasol

Free agents



Dennis Schroder


Alex Caruso


Talen Horton-Tucker

Restricted | Early Bird

Wesley Matthews


Andre Drummond


Markieff Morris

Early Bird

Jared Dudley

Early Bird

Ben McLemore


Devontae Cacok

Early Bird

Kostas Antetokounmpo

Early Bird

How will the Lakers handle their own free agents post-Westbrook trade?

Bill Oram: Caruso and Horton-Tucker will understandably command the most outside attention, but the Lakers have to make decisions on other members of last season’s roster as well. Wesley Matthews and Markieff Morris fill needs for the Lakers — notably 3-point shooting and defense — and have proven to be good culture fits.

The one free agent whose return makes little sense would be Andre Drummond, who only serves to clog up the middle, especially with the arrival of the slashing Westbrook. If the Lakers need a de facto starting center alongside Davis, it should be a floor spacer — either someone like Marc Gasol, who can step out and shoot 3s, or an old friend like Dwight Howard or JaVale McGee, who provide vertical spacing in the lob game. Drummond does neither. Even if he were interested in taking a pay cut — and he might be disappointed when he sees his value on the open market — it’s unlikely the Lakers will value his skill set with their new makeup.

The Lakers should and will try to retain Caruso and Horton-Tucker, but that will depend on how deep they are willing to go into the luxury tax. Caruso knocked down 40.1 percent of his 3s last season. He is expected to meet with several teams when free agency begins Monday afternoon, a league source told The Athletic, with a belief that he will have multiple options at the full midlevel exception of $9.5 million. The Lakers presumably would be willing to go into the low double-digits to retain Caruso. He is a known commodity, albeit one with a clear ceiling.

From a planning standpoint, Horton-Tucker is the exact opposite. Indeed, the 2o-year-old with two years under his belt is one of the most fascinating studies in the NBA. Rarely does a player with so much upside hit the open market after his second year. It’s easy to imagine the Lakers being priced out of keeping him. Would they really match an audacious offer sheet of, say, three years, $60 million for a young player who is probably most valuable to a rebuilding team? The answer might still be yes. Perhaps he is less important to the Lakers in the more pressing immediate future than Caruso, but keeping him on the books might be more vital to the health of the roster going forward — even if it means matching an aggressive offer sheet.


With the Lakers over the salary cap for at least the next two seasons with their trio of superstars, and with all of the contracts going out the door in the Westbrook trade, a re-signed Horton-Tucker could represent the Lakers’ last bargaining chip to change course or upgrade the roster via trade. For the Lakers, his value goes well beyond what he can contribute to the championship cause over the next 10 months.

Will the Lakers move Dennis Schröder in a sign-and-trade? What could they get?

Jovan Buha: Can they? Yes. Will they? Most likely not.

Any team that has cap space would prefer to sign Schröder outright, avoiding the hard cap triggered by receiving a player in a sign-and-trade. Unless Schröder has considerable leverage and plays hardball with his new team, pushing for extra years or money via sign-and-trade, the Lakers likely won’t find a trade suitor among cap-space teams.

They could find a suitor that doesn’t have the cap space to sign Schröder, but that is a small pool of teams. Look around the league for teams that need a starting-level point guard or sixth man; there aren’t many. The few that do have cap space or the flexibility to create some (New York, Chicago, New Orleans, etc.).

In the unlikely case that the Lakers find a partner, they could receive players in return, as long as the players aren’t free agents being signed and traded back to the Lakers, which would trigger the hard cap. The Lakers don’t have any leverage, so they’d have to either accept a team’s offer or try their luck in free agency.

What are the greatest needs around James, Davis and Westbrook?

Oram: It would be great if there was some dramatic reveal here, but it’s no secret: The Lakers need shooting. You might have heard about it. They have ranked in the bottom third in 3-pointers each of the past two seasons, and bringing in Westbrook does nothing to help that.

It’s difficult to imagine the Lakers targeting anyone else this summer who does not move the needle back toward the positive in terms of 3-point shooting. Who comes aboard to address that glaring hole depends on how willing free agents are to accept minimum contracts, on top of whether Matthews and Morris return. Fortunately for the Lakers, there is an abundance of quality, if long-in-the-tooth, shooters on the market this summer. Even more fortunately, Westbrook, Davis and James will all draw double-teams and are great at finding open shooters.


For 3-point specialists, this is a dream situation and could likely inspire one or more to take a pay cut for the opportunity. Imagine J.J. Redick or Wayne Ellington, both free agents, waiting on the wing. Beyond those two, here is an incomplete list of players the Lakers could target who would help address their shooting deficiencies: James Ennis, Reggie Bullock, Trevor Ariza, Nicolas Batum, Jeff Green, Tony Snell, Avery Bradley. Longtime San Antonio Spurs point guard Patty Mills is an efficient, high-volume shooter who has been linked to the Lakers and would make sense as a backup point guard.

If you start piecing together a roster from this pool of players, it’s hard to find a version in which the Lakers don’t look very old. Perhaps too old. But that’s part of the cost of playing the veteran-minimum game and a risk worth taking when building an all-in roster around James with a one-or-two-year title window. With regards to the outside shooting, the Lakers might have managed to get worse at their worst thing by trading for Westbrook, but they did it in a climate that could allow them to quickly recover in free agency.

Whom should the Lakers target with their taxpayer midlevel exception?

Buha: This question is interesting if only because this might be the Lakers’ only avenue to further improve the roster, barring an unforeseen trade. They can’t whiff on whoever they sign with their $5.9 million MLE.

Based on their roster construction and the players projected to return, the Lakers will likely need to find one of their final two starters with the MLE (specifically, a center or shooting guard). Caruso and Horton-Tucker are better suited to come off the bench given the needs (primarily shooting) around the three superstars. Matthews and Gasol are both fringe starters at this point — L.A. should try to find upgrades, if possible.

There will be title-hungry veterans lining up to sign with the Lakers, as recent reports have suggested. But they can sign only one of those players at the MLE — the others will have to either accept a steeper discount, the veteran’s minimum or sign elsewhere. Whom the Lakers choose — the player archetype, the position — will go a ways in determining the strengths and style of next season’s group.

DeMar DeRozan has been the biggest name linked to the Lakers, but the MLE would be a precipitous drop from his $27.7 million salary in the 2020-21 season. Plus, DeRozan’s lack of shooting — he’s never attempted more than 2.7 3s per game or shot better than 33.8 percent on 3s — would likely relegate him to a high-end sixth-man role, as the Lakers couldn’t afford to plug a center and DeRozan next to James, Davis and Westbrook. If DeRozan is available, the Lakers should sign him. But his starting would require both Davis and James to accept their lesser-preferred positions of center and power forward, respectively, in the starting group, and for DeRozan to become a willing 3-point shooter.

Otherwise, the Lakers will target 3-and-D wings — a broad archetype that can oscillate on the positional spectrum between shooting guards and power forwards, and shooters who can’t defend to defenders who can’t shoot (and everything in between).


Some candidates who would make sense in this range (assuming they’re willing to take a pay cut to contend in L.A.): Danny Green, Rudy Gay, Batum, Bullock, Doug McDermott, Ariza, Andre Iguodala, P.J. Tucker, Otto Porter Jr. and Ennis. If the Lakers can’t nab a wing, Kendrick Nunn, Mills, Redick and Ellington make sense as backup shooters/scorers who are limited defensively.

If the Lakers strike out on all the above names — unlikely but possible — they could overpay with the full MLE or split it among more limited options such as Garrett Temple, Torrey Craig, Bradley, Alec Burks, Austin Rivers, Snell, Maurice Harkless and/or Kent Bazemore.

The options are imperfect, and striking the right balance with the roster construction will be difficult. But that’s the challenge ahead for the Lakers after going all-in on their three-superstar core.

Related reading

Oram: Westbrook trade cements Rob Pelinka as league’s most audacious operator
Harper: Lakers-Wizards trade grades
Hollinger: With trade, Lakers go Hollywood while Wizards free their future
Buha: What does Westbrook mean for the Lakers’ title hopes in 2022?

(Photo of Alex Caruso, left, and LeBron James: Mark J. Rebilas / USA Today)

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