Los Angeles Lakers Rumors: Hassan Whiteside Will Be Major Free Agent Target As Team Shapes Post-Kobe Bryant Era

The Los Angeles Lakers are rumored to be making a hard run at Hassan Whiteside, with the Lakers looking to shape the post-Kobe Bryant era with a team focused less on the glitz and glamour of Hollywood and more on grinding it out and winning.

The Lakers have earned a reputation as the league’s flashiest franchise, from the Showtime team of the Magic Johnson era to the dominant teams led by Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant. But with Bryant retired now, the team is beginning to craft a new identity and may be looking to be more blue-collar.

It may be a much-needed change for Los Angeles. The Lakers reportedly lost out on free agent LaMarcus Aldridge last year in part because he believed the team relied too heavily on what the Los Angeles Daily News referred to as “Hollywood glitter.”

Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak noted that the team’s advertising partners — including Time Warner Cable and AEG — will no longer be involved in meetings with free agents. Officials from these companies attended the team’s meeting with Aldridge last year, which was reportedly off-putting to him.

“I don’t think we’re going to have to rely on our partners as much as we have in the past,” Kupchak said. “We can focus a little bit more on the basketball side of it. We do have more to sell. The franchise and the city have always sold themselves. I’m not sure we’ll concentrate on as much as that as we did last year.”

Hassan Whiteside could become the core of a team with a grittier reputation. The Miami Heat center was one of the league’s strongest defensive players, averaging an NBA-best 3.7 blocks per game to go along with 14.8 points and 11.8 rebounds. He is expected to earn a max contract, with a first-year salary of close to $22 million, ESPN reported.

Whiteside may end up being the best free agent that the Lakers can take a crack at. There had been rumors that the Lakers coveted Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant, but new reports this week indicate that they have dropped off the list and that Durant is most likely to stay with the Thunder.

The rumored target of Hassan Whiteside could also represent a changing tide for the Los Angeles Lakers. The team struggled to sign any big-name free agents in recent years and even had a hard time keeping its own stars, including Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol.

Kupchak even admitted that the Los Angeles Lakers were becoming a hard sell for free agents.

“We just didn’t have that much to sell,” Kupchak said. “‘I’m going to come to Los Angeles, but who am I going to play with? Last summer, you get to play with Kobe. But Kobe’s been injured. Is Kobe going to be healthy, Mitch? I don’t know that. Who else am I going to play with? You’re going to love playing with Julius Randle. But he only played one game. You’re going to love playing with the No. 2 pick, but he hasn’t played at all. We didn’t have as much to sell last year and the year before.'”

If the rumors connecting the Los Angeles Lakers to Hassan Whiteside are true, the team may have some other fierce competition for the Miami Heat big man. The Dallas Mavericks are reportedly a strong contender for Whiteside, and the Portland Trail Blazer are interested as well.

The Heat also won’t let him walk away without a fight.

“More than likely, players out there in free agency, our No. 1 priority is Hassan Whiteside,” Heat president Pat Riley said after the season. “He’s 26 years old. He’s a game-changer.”

The Los Angeles Lakers are rumored to be considering other free agents aside from Hassan Whiteside, including soon-to-be free agent Al Horford.

[Photo by Lynne Sladky/AP Images]

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