Grading the Lakers’ free agency moves

Published July 8, 2022, 8:00 AMPolo Bustamante
Polo Bustamante

The Lakers are filling out their roster with interesting offseason additions.

It’s safe to say that the Los Angeles Lakers earned a big F for last year’s offseason gambit. But bringing in Malik Monk on a one-year deal—the one smart signing in the middle of all their questionable free agency moves—paid dividends for the team. Monk was arguably the Lakers’ third-best player last year.

The show-me type deal Monk signed was the template for the Lakers’ moves this offseason. They were able to remake their roster by selling to players the opportunity to play a bigger role, which could eventually lead to a bigger contract after their stint with the Lakers. 

Here are the grades for the Lakers’ free agency moves this year.

Signed Lonnie Walker IV: C+

Like Monk did, Walker is hoping to use the Lakers’ spotlight to increase his value in the league. On paper, he’s exactly what the Lakers need: a young, athletic player, something the team was missing last season. Potentially, Walker can have the same impact on the team as Monk did.

The reason this grade isn’t higher is because for all the positives that Walker brings, he also carries with him huge negatives. He shot only 31 percent from long range last season. The Lakers badly need outside shooting and Walker doesn’t address that. The bigger issue is that he’s also one of the worst defensive guards in the league.

A player like Walker could have been signed for the vet minimum. So using the mid-level exception on a player with his flaws knocks the team’s grade back even lower.

Signed Damian Jones and Thomas Bryant: B+

Bringing back former Lakers is always a good thing. Jones had a short stint with the team back in 2021 while Bryant started out his career in LA. Both these players bring exactly what the team needs. They’re low-usage players with size who can shoot from the outside. 

Bryant was a productive big man for the Washington Wizards before he tore his ACL. He averaged 14.3 points and hit nearly a 3-pointer per game at a 43 percent clip. Since his injury, his production has fallen. He joins the Lakers with the promise of starting alongside Anthony Davis and proving his worth once again after his injury.

Jones is a solid backup big man. He averaged 8.1 points and 4.4 rebounds in 26 games with the Kings last season. He won’t need the ball often but he will impact games with his activity on both ends of the floor.

Having the two means AD will probably play more power forward next season. That’s where the slight ding in the grade comes from. But Bryant and Jones are a clear upgrade over the older, non-shooting big men the Lakers had last season. Getting them on minimum contracts is just a bonus.

Signed Troy Brown, Jr. and Juan Toscano-Anderson: B

Last season, the Lakers played Wayne Ellington, Trevor Ariza, and Avery Bradley heavy minutes. That just goes to show how devoid of depth their wing rotation was. They made up for it this offseason by bringing in a couple of 6’6” wings in Brown and Toscano-Anderson. 

Both of these players won’t play heavy minutes, but they’ve proven in their previous stints that they can fill their roles as backups. They’re plug-and-play wings that will stick to their assignments on defense, play hard every minute they’re on the floor, and can step into bigger roles if key rotation pieces get injured.

Exercised team options on Stanley Johnson and Wenyen Gabriel: A

After losing Monk to the Sacramento Kings, bringing back Johnson and Gabriel were necessities for the Lakers. These two players were a couple of bright spots late last season. 

Johnson was a mid-season signing to boost the team’s wing depth. He was the team’s glue guy, willing to take on all the dirty work to allow other players to shine. Johnson isn’t an excellent shooter but he makes up for it by working to get open through smart cuts to open spaces on the floor. More importantly, he was the team’s dog on defense, a role he gladly took on.

Gabriel was also brought in midseason to bolster the team’s big man rotation. He quickly became the first big off the bench because of the energy and instant production he brought whenever he stepped on the floor.

Both Johnson and Gabriel will see bigger roles next season because of all the positives they brought last season.

Signed Max Christie, Cole Swider, and Scotty Pippen, Jr: B+

The Lakers’ scouting department deserves a raise for once again finding young, productive players at the end of the draft.

Christie was a projected first-round pick that fell all the way to the 35th pick. He’s a good gamble because of his ability to score from anywhere on the floor. He’s not a polished shooter but just like Talen Tucker-Horton, Christie can get buckets.

Swider and Pippen were undrafted rookies that the team signed to two-way contracts. So far in the Summer League, Swider has shown his incredible shooting touch, while Pippen’s versatility and basketball IQ has been impressive.

The Lakers are hoping that one of these three rookies can play out their seasons like Austin Reaves did last season. Reaves started as a two-way player and eventually became a permanent part of the team’s rotation.