The Los Angeles Lakers have identified a “priority target” in free agency.
According to ESPN’s Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne, the Lakers have set their sights on Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside, who is “highly intriguing” to the franchise thanks his to his defense and rebounding inside.
The 27-year-old averaged 14.8 points and 11.8 rebounds in 2015, while leading the NBA in blocks per game (3.68) and finishing third in field goal percentage (.606). His 41 double-doubles ranked eighth in the league, and he also added three triple-doubles (all of the point/rebound/block variety).
Whiteside’s options in free agency are considered “open.” He is expected to demand a max contract, which he wants to sign on July 1.
“I really don’t think it’s about loyalty. I think it’s just about [finding] the best situation for myself,” Whiteside said, via ESPN. “I didn’t say [Miami] wasn’t the best situation, but we’re going to see what happens. It’s not like I’m really counting the Heat out or counting on another team. It’s just open.”
Along with the Lakers and Heat, Whiteside is expected to draw serious interest from the Dallas Mavericks, Portland Trailblazers and Golden State Warriors, among others.
While LeBron James and Kevin Durant will dominate the free agency headlines, Whiteside stands as one of the best available players after the two transcendent stars.
“He’s a game-changer, and I don’t even think he’s reached his real ceiling in a couple of areas in his game,” Heat president Pat Riley said. “He’s shown all of us he can be a 15 [points], 15 [rebounds] and four blocked shots a game. He’ll be right there in front of the line for us.”
The Lakers will be one of the more aggressive teams in free agency, with the team possessing enough cap room to sign two max players.