Lakers Must Weigh Fantasy vs. Reality in Targeting Best Free-Agent Options

LOS ANGELES — Just about every night, there's someone to admire from afar.

Last Wednesday, Marc Gasol. Last Friday, Thaddeus Young. Up next on Tuesday, Greg Monroe. They are free-agent possibilities on a horizon still more than half a year away, but that's the closest the Los Angeles Lakers can get to seeing a fresh sunrise.

On Sunday night, All-Star DeMar DeRozan sat out his first game with a torn groin tendon, and the Lakers were able to beat the Toronto Raptors, 129-122—seeing just how much one player, one way or the other, can create change. DeRozan figures to be in the free-agent market of 2016, when the Lakers hope to finish shopping and be gazing upon cupboards that have gone from bear back to their usual bull.

An L.A. native who grew up revering Kobe Bryant, DeRozan is the sort of talent who makes some sense as a future Laker. There's a viable game within the game these days while Bryant tries to carry these 4-13 Lakers:

Who will be the men who come to play behind the man?

Beyond that, how do the Lakers ensure that they spend wisely these next two summers in picking players who will win championships the way Bryant did in his heyday? And can the Lakers shop so smartly that he postpones his scheduled retirement in 2016 to pursue that sixth NBA title?

Practically speaking, the Lakers have to take what they can get.

As much as they might see Kevin Durant and Joakim Noah as the prizes of 2016, those guys probably aren't going anywhere if the Oklahoma City Thunder and/or Chicago Bulls win a championship between now and then. Maybe they stay even if they haven't won—and if they do go, brace yourself for insane competition from other clubs with the NBA salary cap jumping perhaps close to $20 million in '16 as the new national TV contracts kick in.

That doesn't mean, however, that the Lakers can't pull a winning hand—with or without being deal...

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