Taking an in-depth look at the Lakers’ free agents: Who should they aim to re-sign and let go?

Peter Dewey
11 Min Read

The Los Angeles Lakers’ offseason began a lot sooner than many expected when they were knocked out by the Phoenix Suns in the first round of the NBA playoffs.

Injuries to LeBron James and Anthony Davis derailed the Lakers’ chances at repeating as NBA champions.

The Lakers now enter a crucial offseason, as they need to find a way to maximize the rest of James’ career, but it won’t be easy given the team’s current cap situation.

Unless they make a major trade, the Lakers will have little to no cap room next season, but they will have the ability to keep some players that they retained Bird Rights for.

In addition, Los Angeles could work a sign-and-trade for a player like it did for Marc Gasol this past offseason. Trading Kentavious Caldwell-Pope or Kyle Kuzma could open up more space for the Lakers, but their main focus will be on retaining key pieces from this year’s roster.

Dennis Schroder, Alex Caruso, Andre Drummond, Talen Horton-Tucker and potentially Montrezl Harrell could all be hitting the free agent market this offseason, and the Lakers can’t re-sign everyone.

Here’s who the Lakers should let go, and who they should keep this offseason.

Montrezl Harrell

Montrezl Harrell Lakers

Harrell is the most interesting case, as he has a player option for next season at just over $9 million.

If Harrell decides to exercise the option, the Lakers would have him back for the 2021-22 season, but it’s possible that he opts out and looks to make more money in free agency.

Harrell is an interesting case, as he averaged 13.5 points and 6.2 rebounds per game this season, but he barely played against the Suns in the playoffs.

That’s certainly concerning for his long-term fit with the team, but the Lakers would rather him opt in and potentially be able to trade him rather than lose him for nothing this offseason.

Since they don’t have Harrell’s Bird Rights, he would be awfully hard to re-sign if he opts out, especially since an opt-out would likely mean that he is commanding more money in free agency.

Verdict: The Lakers should want Harrell to opt in simply for the ability to trade him or have him as a bench piece next season. However, if this postseason was any indication, Frank Vogel doesn’t seem to have a spot for him in the playoff rotation.

Dennis Schroder

Dennis Schroder Lakers

Schroder turned down a four-year, $84 million contract extension from the Lakers during the season, but it will be interesting to see if he gets a larger offer in free agency.

Los Angeles does have Schroder’s Bird Rights, which means it can go over the cap to bring him back for the 2021-22 campaign.

Schroder, like Harrell, struggled in the postseason, but he had been a solid point guard for the Lakers all regular season. Even if Rob Pelinka doesn’t view him as the perfect fit, finding a way to re-sign Schroder would be smart simply for the sign-and-trade possibilities it would give the Lakers.

Schroder shot 33.5 percent from beyond the arc last season, and if the Lakers decide to pursue a better point guard like Kyle Lowry, it’s possible they could orchestrate a deal with Toronto to swap Schroder and Lowry.

Verdict: Schroder may have messed up by passing on the Lakers’ initial extension offer, and Los Angeles would be wise to bring him back given the lack of depth at point guard on the roster.

Alex Caruso

Alex Caruso Lakers

The Lakers have Caruso’s Bird Rights, but he may want a bigger role (if a team offers it) in free agency.

Caruso has proven to be a valuable bench guard for the Lakers, but if Schroder and Caldwell-Pope are back, it’s hard to see him cracking the starting lineup.

A plus defender and solid 3-point shooter, Caruso would make a lot of sense to stay in Los Angeles at a reasonable price.

Obviously, if a team outbids the Lakers it will be hard to keep him with all of their other free agents, but he is a valuable part of the Lakers’ rotation.

Verdict: Caruso makes a lot of sense to stay if the Lakers can agree to a reasonable deal. His return may also make it easier to potentially move Caldwell-Pope or Kuzma for another piece.

Wesley Matthews

Wesley Matthews Lakers

Matthews signed a one-year deal with the Lakers last offseason, but he didn’t make much of an impact. He shot just 35.3 percent from the field and averaged just 4.8 points per game, but Vogel did trust him to play a lot of minutes in the playoffs.

Matthews is a simple case, as the Lakers could bring him back for depth on a veteran minimum deal. However, one has to wonder if it’s worth having him potentially take minutes from Caruso or Horton-Tucker if they are re-signed.

Verdict: The Lakers can let Matthews walk, as there are other ways to replace his minutes.

Talen-Horton Tucker

Talen Horton-Tucker Lakers

Speaking of Horton-Tucker, he may be the most intriguing free agent for the Lakers.

The 20-year-old guard flashed some serious potential this season, but he still needs to improve as a shooter (28.2 percent from 3) to become a key piece for the Lakers.

Someone may try to outbid the Lakers and offer Horton-Tucker a big-time deal as a restricted free agent, but the Lakers can match any offer sheet he signs.

The Lakers need some youth on an aging roster, and Horton-Tucker (and the right price) should continue to be an impact player.

Verdict: The Lakers need Horton-Tucker back, even if it is simply for his trade value, but a rebuilding team may offer him a major deal. The Lakers may be better off trading Kuzma or Caldwell-Pope to make sure that Horton-Tucker stays in Los Angeles.

Ben McLemore

Ben McLemore Lakers

A midseason signing, McLemore has shown that he can light it up from 3-point range, but he scored just six points in the postseason against the Suns.

The Lakers have too many guards to justify bringing McLemore back on anything but a minimum deal, and he isn’t essential to their success.

Verdict: Maybe one of McLemore or Matthews makes sense to return, but Vogel clearly trusts Matthews more given his playoff playing time. McLemore likely won’t be back in L.A. next season.

Markieff Morris

Markieff Morris Lakers

Morris’ role in the Lakers’ rotation fluctuated throughout the season, but if Kuzma or Caldwell-Pope is moved, the Lakers could use Morris next season.

However, it’s possible that he wants a bigger role with a new team this offseason, and the Lakers can’t play the championship card for him to re-sign like they did last offseason.

Morris isn’t crucial for the Lakers’ success, but he is a solid veteran that is able to fill in if someone goes down.

Verdict: At a reasonable price, the Lakers should bring Morris back. However, if he commands more than a minimum deal, the Lakers are better off keeping Caruso, Horton-Tucker and Schroder and trying to find a veteran replacement for Morris.

Andre Drummond

Andre Drummond Lakers

The Lakers don’t have Drummond’s Bird Rights, and it’s hard to see him accepting a reduced salary to stay in Los Angeles.

However, Drummond didn’t have a major market during the trade deadline, and he could be forced into staying in Los Angeles on a small deal if there isn’t a market for him this offseason.

The bigger concern with Drummond is that he was played off the floor in the playoffs and didn’t even appear in the Lakers’ Game 6 loss to Phoenix.

The Lakers are at their best with Anthony Davis at the center, and Drummond crowds the paint too much for Davis and James to operate.

Verdict: Unless it’s on a deal like the one he signed after he was bought out, Drummond doesn’t make much sense. The experiment didn’t work this year, so there’s no reason for the Lakers to make him a priority this offseason.

Jared Dudley

Jared Dudley Lakers

A veteran bench presence, Dudley is great for the locker room and may be back as the team’s 15th man on a minimum deal.

However, he isn’t going to offer much on the floor, so if the Lakers need the roster spot, he could be a candidate to leave this offseason.

Verdict: If there’s a spot, Dudley is fine to bring back for his leadership and locker room presence. However, he certainly isn’t a necessary piece or focus for the Lakers this offseason

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Peter is a graduate of Quinnipiac University where he covered the MAAC and college basketball for three years. He has worked for NBC Sports, the Connecticut Sun and the Meriden Record-Journal covering basketball and other major sports. Follow him on Twitter @peterdewey2.