Los Angeles Lakers: Five potential offseason free-agent small forward targets

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The career of Kobe Bryant may be over. The Kobe farewell tour may have made it's final stop. But the Los Angeles Lakers must still continue rebuilding their young team in the wake of Bryant's retirement.

2016 proved to be the year for Bryant to finally step away from the court after 20 seasons in purple and gold. His legacy will live on forever in Los Angeles. But shaping the future now becomes the priority in Laker Land.

Much of the hole that the five-time NBA champion now leaves, as a 37-year-old, will be in leadership and experience. Although, 17.6 points per game is nothing to be dismissed. The 35.8 field goal percentage, however, perhaps more so. 

The Lakers may be unlikely to find 'the next Kobe Bryant' this offseason, but the team still needs a small forward for the 2016-17 campaign. Primarily a shooting guard, Bryant slid into the role in 2015-16 to allow youngsters D'Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson to both play in the guard positions.

But with Bryant now retired, there is still a hole at the three spot - and maybe even shooting guard, too, if Clarkson leaves in free agency. The Lakers have a ton of cap space to utilise with Bryant now off the books and the new NBA TV deal about to kick in. They also have a potentially strong lottery pick in hand for this summer's NBA draft.

Trading the pick for a seasoned NBA player could be one way to recruit new head coach Luke Walton a much-needed small forward. Drafting young talents like Ben Simmons or Brandon Ingram is another potential option. However, free agency could bring the best of both worlds.

The free agency class isn't a particularly deep one in 2016, but there are still some interesting - and probably overly ambitious - options out there for the Lakers to consider.

Kevin Durant

The most coveted free agent in 2016 will be Kevin Durant. The 27-year-old has been with the same franchise since entering the league in 2007. The Seattle SuperSonics drafted Durant back then before they then became the Oklahoma City Thunder a year later.

Paired with his partner in crime, Russell Westbrook, Durant has been in serious search of a championship now, without success, for the past six years or so. How much longer is he still willing to wait around in OKC?

The Thunder are looking strong in this year's playoffs and are now set to face the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals. But what if this is still not the year OKC win a championship? Does a strong showing encourage KD to hit the reset button and go again? Or will there be a sense of 'it's just not going to happen here' for Durant?

A litany of questions but only one man has the answers. The queue for Durant would be a mile long should he decide to try his hand elsewhere. The Lakers would surely be in that queue. But how quickly could a Durant-led Lakers become legitimate title contenders?

Chandler Parsons

Chandler Parsons is still more what he could be, rather than what he actually is in the NBA. He could be a leading scorer and a top tier option on a strong playoff team. But what he is right now is injured. Again. Just as he was this time last year.

In flashes, Parsons has shown during his time with the Dallas Mavericks that he still could be that go-to points-scorer. But the injuries have to be a concern at this point. In two years with the Mavericks, Parsons has had both campaigns cut short thanks to season-ending injuries on the same right knee.

The 27-year-old is a versatile player who could fit into most teams. He offers potential, still, but he brings risk also. The smart money probably says Parsons stays on in Dallas, but if he doesn't, he could certainly fill the Lakers void at the three spot. When healthy, that is.

Harrison Barnes

Harrison Barnes is a player Luke Walton is already extremely familiar with. They were both part of the title-winning Golden State Warriors last season, and have now spent two years together in Oakland.

Walton will be in as good a position as anyone to assess whether Barnes is really just an exceptional role player for an outstanding team or whether he is a star player waiting to shine given the necessary platform. That's the conundrum.

He's outshone by the likes of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green with the Warriors. But could he be the star attraction on a team of his own? The 23-year-old has moments which make the latter seem possible. Although, it really depends what Barnes wants, too.

Is he content just being a piece of the puzzle with the Warriors? If not, then a bigger role, and joining Walton in LA, could be a interesting option. Barnes would help the team defensively, bring championship-winning experience, and, potentially, a scoring a punch to boot.

He may not be the star name of certain others in free agency, but he does offer a very strong minimum that you know he will give you on a nightly basis. Plus a ceiling that may be, quietly, higher than people think.

Nicolas Batum

Another reliable option for the Lakers would be Nicolas Batum. Whilst the likes of Durant are superstar options, Batum would be a steady choice for Walton and the Lakers. He is the ultimate team player. He plays tough defence, competes every single night, has seven years of experience in the NBA and usually puts up double-digit points.

The 27-year-old would be a positive example for some of the younger players already at the Lakers. He may not sell the number of jerseys that a Durant would. Or instantly elevate the Lakers name back to past heights. But the Frenchman has proven his ability to be a reliable player on a playoff team.

The question is: does Batum want to leave the Charlotte Hornets? Head coach Steve Clifford has done a fantastic job with the team and the Hornets even made a surprise appearance in the playoffs this year. Batum may well feel there is unfinished business for him in Charlotte.

LeBron James

LeBron James has the option to enter free agency if he wishes to this summer. So there's the good news for the Lakers and everybody else in the NBA. Although, James leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers this summer isn't a realistic prospect by all accounts.

The King already shockingly bailed on the Cavs back in 2010 to learn how to win a championship elsewhere. He picked up two rings during his time with the Miami Heat, before returning to Cleveland with the magic winning formula. Or so the story goes.

But what if Cleveland were to actually win a championship this season? James has made it his mission to bring a championship back to his hometown Cavs. So would that be that? Mission accomplished? Time for a new chapter? Or does the mission statement actually say multiple championships?

Regardless, James will likely be a free agent at some point this summer. It's more than likely that he'll then re-sign with the Cavaliers for more money, but until he officially does that, James is still a potential free agent on the market. 

And whilst that's the case, the Lakers can look on with interest as they do their small forward shopping this summer.

LeBron James
Cleveland Cavaliers
Central Division
Eastern Conference
Western Conference
LA Lakers
Pacific Division
Kobe Bryant
Kevin Durant
Oklahoma City Thunder
Northwest Division

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