After a bet on an older, veteran-laden roster backfired spectacularly last season, the Lakers took strides toward a younger, more athletic supporting cast around their stars on the first day of free agency.
The Lakers added Lonnie Walker IV and Troy Brown Jr., a pair of former first-round picks looking to rebuild their value, on one-year contracts, according to The Athletic. The team also agreed to a two-year deal with center Damian Jones, who played for the Lakers during the 2020-21 season, with a second-year player option. Juan Toscano-Anderson, a 6-foot-6 wing fresh off a title run with Golden State, also agreed to a minimum deal, Yahoo Sports reported.
In Walker (23) and Brown (22), the Lakers follow the mold of their decision to sign Malik Monk last year – castoff first-round picks in the hunt for bigger deals next summer. With Jones, the franchise added a rim-running, defensive-minded 7-footer who was a fan favorite after just eight games two seasons ago. Toscano-Anderson is a tough-minded wing who fought his way into the NBA after playing international ball (much like his new head coach Darvin Ham) and provides versatility at a position of need.
While the Lakers’ supporting cast became much clearer just one day into free agency, the future of its stars – LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook – became murkier as the entire NBA was rocked by Kevin Durant’s request to be traded from the Brooklyn Nets.
The Lakers were widely known to be interested in acquiring Kyrie Irving before Monday, when he opted into the final year of his contract for $36.5 million. While that decision temporarily quashed many of the rumors about the 30-year-old former All-NBA guard trying to force his way to L.A., the Durant revelation sparks fresh speculation about Irving potentially reuniting with James, his former Cleveland teammate.
ESPN reported that the Lakers were likely to continue to engage the Nets on Irving, which almost certainly would require them to find a third team to take on Westbrook’s $47.1 contract. So far, the Lakers have been unwilling to include draft picks in compensation for trading out Westbrook, whose supermax deal expires at the end of the season. The team can trade its 2027 and 2029 first-rounders (most of its picks in the coming seasons are controlled by New Orleans because of the 2019 trade for Davis).
If the Lakers were to trade for Irving and unload Westbrook, it would be a game-changer for a team that failed to make the postseason at all in 2022. Irving is one of the league’s most dynamic ball-handlers and scorers, averaging 27.4 points and 5.8 assists last season for the Nets.
But Irving also is one of the league’s most polarizing players, clocking just 29 games last regular season largely because of a refusal to be vaccinated in compliance with New York City ordinance. His sparring with Brooklyn management – and the two sides’ inability to figure out a long-term deal after a spotty three-season tenure – is considered one of the biggest factors in Durant’s decision to ask for a trade.
Whoever the Lakers’ top stars are next season, the additions to the supporting cast are expected to help a team that finished in the bottom third of the league defensively (113.3 defensive rating) take a leap forward with length and switchability.
Walker IV, the priciest of the new additions (midlevel taxpayer exception of $6.5 million), comes off a four-year stint in San Antonio where he averaged 12.1 points in 70 games (six starts) last season. While the 6-4 Walker shot just 31.4% last season from 3-point range, the Miami product has shot above 35% in his three other NBA seasons, and at just 23 could represent a Monk-like player with unrealized potential.
A former Oregon prospect, Brown Jr. has already played for Washington and Chicago after being selected 15th overall in the 2018 draft. With career averages of 6.4 points and 3.8 rebounds per game, Brown’s best contributions would most likely come on the defensive end, where his 6-6 frame and 6-10 wingspan figure to be useful in Ham’s defensive system.
Jones is a traditional center who captured the hearts of fans in 2021, when he played eight games for the Lakers and averaged 5.4 points while going 16 for 17 from the field. Jones, 27, spent last season with the Sacramento Kings, averaging 8.1 points and 4.4 rebounds.
Toscano-Anderson, 29, was a three-year role player at Golden State, where he averaged 4.8 points and 3.2 rebounds, but he became a fan favorite because of his local ties and gritty style. Toscano-Anderson played professionally in Mexico before the Warriors picked him up on a two-way contract.
Many of the newcomers come through a familiar pipeline: Walker, Brown and Toscano-Anderson are all represented by Klutch Sports, the agency that counts Lakers stars James and Davis as two of its biggest clients.