Another Ideal Lakers Target in Free Agency Suddenly Available

The Los Angeles Lakers will be looking for plenty of help once free agency begins. Fortunately, another potential target just became available for them on Friday.
Should the Lakers target free agent Jalen Smith?
Should the Lakers target free agent Jalen Smith? / Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

With the 2024 NBA Draft officially behind us, the basketball world is turning its attention to this year's free agency period. Los Angeles Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka will have his hands full in the coming weeks as he not only attempts to add new players to help chase a championship but also to convince LeBron James to remain with the franchise.

When it comes to potential new additions, GM Pelinka doesn't exactly have a lot of financial wiggle room. Outside of adding veterans on minimum deals, the Lakers only have their taxpayer middle-level exception, which Spotrac lists at $5.1 million for the 2024-25 NBA season.

But just when the pickings looked slim for free-agent help, the perfect target became available for the Lakers on Friday.

Lakers Should Target Jalen Smith in NBA Free Agency

NBA insider Michael Scotto reported on Friday that the Indiana Pacers' Jalen Smith has declined his $5.4 million player option, making him an unrestricted free agent this summer. The 24-year-old big man was drafted 10th overall by the Phoenix Suns just four years ago and will likely garner plenty of attention from potential suitors.

After an uneventful start to his career with the Suns, Smith was traded to the Pacers for Torrey Craig and a second-round pick ahead of the 2022 trade deadline. His opportunities increased with the move to Indiana, culminating with his best performance to date last season.

Appearing in 61 games with the Pacers, Smith averaged a career-high 9.9 points on 59.2% shooting while adding 5.5 rebounds and 0.6 blocks. He also displayed some floor-stretching potential as he averaged 1.0 threes made on 2.4 attempts per night. His 42.4% success from deep was the best in Indiana.

With a solid combination of athleticism, shooting, and rebounding, Smith would look great in a Lakers uniform. He could learn a lot from playing behind LeBron James and Anthony Davis while head coach J.J. Redick's sharpshooting experience could help turn the ex-Maryland product into one of the NBA's better bigs on the outside.

Can the Lakers Afford Jalen Smith?

Luring Smith to L.A. won't be easy, especially with him likely to attract teams that have more free cash than the Lakers. Additionally, their MLE is about $300,000 less than the player option that he declined with the Pacers.

At the same time, Smith might be driven by non-financial aspirations. He's still on the right side of 25 and has plenty of time to chase bigger paydays. It might be important for him to prove that he can handle playing under the Los Angeles spotlight and that joining the Lakers is the best path to winning his first-ever championship ring.

Even if he isn't willing to play on a discount, all hope isn't gone for the Lakers to give Smith a competitive offer. Los Angeles has a path — albeit an unlikely one — to free up the full MLE, which sits at around $13 million for the upcoming season. Considering how that's more than double his declined player option, the Portsmouth, VA native could be tempted.

With their options limited this offseason, it's clear that targeting Smith should be at the top of their priority list. Not only does he offer them the opportunity to immediately improve, but he's also young enough to be a roster mainstay for years to come.

If they can successfully land Smith, the Lakers' 2024-25 NBA title odds could see a major boost. The franchise could certainly use the help considering that their +4000 odds to host the Larry O'Brien Trophy next season are tied for 14th on FanDuel Sportsbook.

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