Trying to re-sign point guard Ramon Sessions, driving against Utah's… (Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles…)
The NBA draft was entirely anticlimactic for the Lakers, who failed to trade into the top five spots, or the middle of the first round, or even the end of the first round.
They can only hope for better luck in free agency. It won't be easy.
NBA rules limit them to spending $3 million toward a free agent next season because they are so far over the luxury-tax threshold. Don't expect that to lure many candidates in a league with an average salary of $5.3 million.
More realistically, their main signing will be a re-signing. Ramon Sessions, 26, recently became a free agent by declining a one-year player option of $4.55 million. He'll get the first phone call from Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak when free agency begins Saturday at 9 p.m. PDT.
"That's important," Kupchak said.
The Lakers are hopeful they can retain Sessions, who showed some promise before funneling downward in the playoffs against Oklahoma City. The Lakers own Sessions' "Bird rights," meaning they're not limited to the $3-million ceiling for the first year of his next deal.
If the Lakers don't get him back, they'll look for a point guard with their limited purchasing power, hoping for a discount on an older player or a younger one coming off a bad season.
The Lakers have always had an interest in Kirk Hinrich, 31, who averaged 6.6 points and 2.8 assists for Atlanta last season. Hinrich, however, has had trouble staying healthy in recent years. He made $8 million last season.
Other guards who could drop to the $3 million range — some more likely than others — include 39-year-old Jason Kidd ($8.5 million last season), 36-year-old Andre Miller ($7.8 million), Raymond Felton ($7.6 million) and Jonny Flynn ($3.4 million).
If the Lakers can't sign a point guard, they might go to training camp with Steve Blake as their starter. Blake, 32, averaged 5.2 points and 3.3 assists last season and is under contract for two more years and $8 million.
Whatever happens, Kupchak joined team executive Jim Buss in thinking the Lakers could compete for a championship with their current nucleus.
"I think if this group is kept intact — we got some work to do with existing free agents and the free-agent market in general — I don't see why we couldn't be in the hunt next year," Kupchak said Thursday night after the Lakers took the 55th and 60th picks in the draft.
"We may be nipping at the heels of a couple of teams in the West, but we know that the team in the NBA that had the best record this year didn't advance to the Finals."
Kupchak could have been talking about two teams — Chicago and San Antonio tied with a 50-16 mark.
The Lakers will soon begin contract-extension negotiations with Andrew Bynum, 24, an All-Star last season for the first time while averaging career highs in points (18.7) and rebounds (11.8). The Lakers recently exercised a one-year, $16.1-million team option on Bynum but want to keep him beyond next season.
They will also look at re-signing reserve big man Jordan Hill, who was strong in the first few playoff games but fizzled from there. Hill, 24, would have made $3.6 million next season had Houston not declined to pick up a team option for that amount before trading him to the Lakers a few months later.
On Friday the Lakers extended a qualifying offer to forward Devin Ebanks of about $1.4 million, making him a restricted free agent. Ebanks averaged four points and started 12 games for the Lakers last season.