With Russell in hand, LA turns focus to Aldridge
LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Lakers officially introduced their latest prize to local reporters Monday. They hope to add another one this week.
Not long after point guard D’Angelo Russell held up his jersey (he’ll wear No. 1) and grinned for the cameras, the Lakers turned their attention to the start of free agency Tuesday night.
They planned to meet with Portland power forward LaMarcus Aldridge at the official 9:01 p.m. Pacific start time and hoped to woo him with a four-year, $80 million deal. Aldridge has a veteran’s understanding of the game — he’ll turn 30 in two weeks — and represents what the Lakers have lacked without Pau Gasol, a scoring presence in the post with nice mid-range touch.
Aldridge is coming off a season in which he averaged a career-high 23.4 points and added 10.2 rebounds per game while making the All-Star team for the fourth consecutive season, no easy task in the Western Conference.
Of great importance to the Lakers, he does not necessarily crave the security of a five-year deal that only the Portland Trail Blazers can offer him. He is expected to also listen to pitches from San Antonio and Dallas, two of his home-state teams.
Aldridge could make as much as $18.8 million next season and would almost certainly ask for all of it since, if he left Portland, he would be forgoing that fifth year of salary. The Lakers have only $23 million to spend on free agents for next season, meaning Aldridge would be their main signing if he came to terms with them.
The Lakers also are scheduled to meet with Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan today, though this one might be a long shot. Jordan is expected to sit down with the New York Knicks, as well as Dallas and the Clippers, the co-favorites to sign him.
“We’re going to try and be as aggressive as we possibly can be,” Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak said. “We’ll try to secure a couple players to make this team more competitive next year.”
It is unclear if the Lakers will meet in person with Kevin Love, who is widely expected to return to Cleveland for a five-year contract. The Lakers had interest in guard Goran Dragic but drafted Russell instead of Duke center Jahlil Okafor and now desperately need frontcourt help. Regardless, Dragic is expected to return to the Miami Heat.
The Lakers will not get a meeting with free-agent center Marc Gasol because of the uneasy final few years his brother, Pau, spent with them. Pau Gasol left for less money with Chicago last July after years of trade possibilities dogged him during his Lakers days, including the David Stern-vetoed deal involving Chris Paul in December 2011.
Meanwhile, the Lakers had their three draft picks meet with the media at the team’s El Segundo training facility.
Russell, 19, continued to pay homage to Kobe Bryant — “I just told him I’m a sponge. Whatever he’s willing to teach me, I’m willing to learn” — and eagerly envisioned a backcourt with promising 23-year-old Jordan Clarkson.
“I know he’s an explosive guard,” Russell said. “He’s bigger than most guards. He’s a guy that I could definitely play with.”
If nothing else, the Lakers will have a great summer-league team in two weeks in Las Vegas after suffering the worst season (21-61) in team history. Clarkson, Russell and Julius Randle will all suit up for the Lakers this summer.
The Lakers’ other first-round pick, Wyoming power forward Larry Nance Jr., found himself in immediate hot water after being selected 27th overall.
He wrote an anti-Bryant tweet three years ago — “Gee I sure hope Kobe can keep his hands to himself in Denver again. #rapist” — and was soon reminded of it after the Lakers took him last Thursday.
“About 24 hours went past, I felt like I was going to throw up. Sick to my stomach,” Nance said Monday. “I was just embarrassed in myself. I felt so bad about what I had said. I just wanted to apologize right away.”
Bryant was arrested in July 2003 on suspicion of sexual assault in Colorado, although criminal charges were dropped and a civil lawsuit was settled out of court.
Nance said he was “terrified” while taking some time to write an apologetic text to Bryant last week, he said. Bryant responded to him.
“Once I got the ‘Hey, you’re a kid. We’ve all said and done things we’ve regretted. It’s water under the bridge. Welcome to the family,’ I immediately felt my stomach release. There was a big knot,” Nance said.
The Lakers’ other pick, Stanford small forward Anthony Brown, said he was a legitimate fan while growing up in the Southland and attending Fountain Valley High.
“I can remember watching the games on KCAL-9,” said Brown, selected 34th overall and the only one of the three draft picks without a guaranteed contract. “I can honestly say that there comes a lot of pride with a Lakers jersey, and I’m definitely ready to represent in the right way.”