Lakers Desperately Need Brook Lopez!

Why one of the Lakers’ critical priorities this summer must be to re-sign the center who has redefined the value of a stretch five

Sometimes you don’t realize what you really needed until you let it slip away. That’s the case with the Los Angeles Lakers, who could have re-signed center Brook Lopez, who’s the perfect stretch five to create space for LeBron James.

After signing LeBron James to a four-year contract, Magic Johnson unwisely decided the best strategy was not to surround the best player in the NBA with proven three-point shooters but instead to surround him with playmakers. This summer the Lakers will have an opportunity to correct what was one of Johnson’s most egregious mistakes as their president of basketball operations by making re-signing Brook Lopez a top priority in this summer’s free agency.

Re-signing Lopez will not be easy despite the fact that Brook loved playing for the Lakers and living in Los Angeles. First, they’ll have to overcome possible bad feelings lingering from last summer when the Lakers had zero interest in re-signing Brook despite his open desire to remain with the team. Second, they’ll have to somehow convince Brook to leave the Milwaukee Bucks, with whom he has emerged as the most proficient stretch five in NBA history.

While Brook was among the leaders in three-point shooting with the Lakers, he completely redefined what a stretch five can accomplish with the Bucks this year and broke every record for threes taken and made by NBA centers. Two years ago with the Lakers, Brook made 112 out of 335 threes for 34.5%. This year with the Bucks, he made 187 out of 512 threes for 36.5%. He took 157 more threes and made 45 more threes than any other center in the NBA.

Splash Mountain was a big reason why the Bucks catapulted from the #25 to the #2 three-point shooting team in the league behind the Rockets. His ability to stretch the floor was a huge contributor to Giannis enjoying an MVP season for the Bucks this year. In fact, Brook’s 7.2 plus/minus per game was second on the team only to Giannis’ 9.1. Bottom line, what Brook did for Giannis and the Bucks is exactly what the Lakers need him to do for LeBron.

Averaging 12.5 points, 4.9 rebounds, 1.2 assists, and 2.2 blocks in 28.7 minutes per game while shooting 45.2% from the field, 36.5% from deep, and 84.2% from the line, Brook would be ideal as the Lakers starting center. The big questions are what would it take to lure Brook away from the Bucks, who are just paying him $3.4 million on a one-year deal, and what could the Lakers afford while not compromising their ability to sign a second superstar.

The other factor to consider is what would the small market Bucks be willing to offer to keep Brook Lopez, especially considering they just signed Eric Bledsoe to a four-year $70 million contract and might have to give Khris Middleton a near max contract to keep him. There’s also the issue that, even though Brook averages over 2 blocks per game and the Bucks are better offensively with him on the floor, his lack of foot speed hurts defensively.

While Brook does a great job stretching the floor on offense, he can be a liability against opposing stretch fives and pick-and-pop players because of his traditional center tendency to want to stay close to the rim. Like most players in the game today, you have to give up something to get something. Right now, the Lakers’ biggest need is more and better three-point shooting to unleash LeBron James. For me, that trumps Brook’s defensive challenges.

Media experts suggest it would likely take an offer of 3-years and $24 million to steal Brook Lopez from the Bucks for next season. The Lakers would likely have to move Moritz Wagner’s $2.1 million contract to clear that much cap space without compromising their ability to sign a max contract free agent this summer? When compare what the Lakers would have to pay for a stretch five like Nikola Vucevic, $8 million per year for Brook seems like a bargain.

While JaVale McGee has resurrected his career as the Lakers’ starting center, he’s better suited to come off the bench as the team’s backup center. For a team like the Lakers who ranked 17th in three-pointers attempted, 25th in three pointers made, and 29th in three-point percentage and which had zero threes made or taken by their center, the quickest and easiest fix is adding a stretch five like Brook Lopez with his 187 threes made and 512 attempted.

Magic Johnson foolishly let Splash Mountain walk last summer. Now that Magic’s gone, the Lakers should prioritize re-signing Brook Lopez to be their starting center for next year. He’ll do for LeBron what he did for Giannis.