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The Los Angeles Lakers have successfully balanced competing desires this offseason. Rob Pelinka's stated goal was to bring back the core of last season's roster, and with new contracts for D'Angelo Russell, Austin Reaves and Rui Hachimura, he's done so. However, their Western Conference sweep at the hands of the Denver Nuggets made it clear that improvements also were needed if the Lakers hope to make the next step towards winning their 18th championship. That's where Gabe Vincent, Taurean Prince, Jaxson Hayes and Cam Reddish come in. 

After two straight extremely tumultuous offseasons, the Lakers have earned rave reviews for their moves this summer. They've gotten better without sacrificing what got them to the Western Conference finals in the first place. Of course, that doesn't mean that their work is finished. Right now, the Lakers have 13 players under contract for next season. Reports have indicated that they plan to sign a 14th, but not a 15th. Maintaining one empty roster spot will give the Lakers a bit of extra flexibility in trades and on the buyout market, so for the time being, there is only one slot left to be filled.

All reports have suggested that the Lakers plan to use that slot on another backup big man, and Pelinka confirmed that when he addressed the media on Sunday in Las Vegas. The Lakers are not only looking for a big man, but a specific type of big man to round out their current rotation. "I think dimensional-izing the skills at that position would be important," Pelinka said. "So we don't want to sign someone who replicates the skills that Jaxson Hayes has. So, if we can diversify the big position and have different looks, that would be good."

Pelinka said that he envisions Hayes serving in a role "much like Dwight Howard in that stretch for us: big body, rim protector, active roller." That would seem to suggest that he is looking for a stretch big man with his last roster spot. Few of those remain on the market, at least among established NBA players. Only one free agent center that is still available made more than 13 total three-pointers last season: Christian Wood.

Wood is among the most polarizing players in basketball. He has averaged 18.1 points and 8.9 rebounds per game over the past three seasons, and in the process, he's made 313 of his 821 3-point attempts, good for over 38% from deep. And that stellar 3-point shooting might not even be his best offensive skill. The Mavericks scored a preposterous 1.44 points per 100 possessions when Wood finished plays as the roller in pick-and-roll last season. As a point of comparison, the Lakers scored 1.28 points per 100 possessions in such situations with Anthony Davis last season. Luka Doncic obviously contributes quite a bit to Wood's remarkable pick-and-roll efficiency -- but the Lakers have LeBron James, one of the greatest pick-and-roll players in NBA history.

James' presence likely makes the Lakers a somewhat appealing destination for Wood considering his apparent circumstances. Marc Stein has reported that he has thus far only received interest for the minimum salary. James has turned the Lakers into a haven for veterans seeking paydays. Malik Monk took the minimum to join the Lakers in the summer of 2021. He scored a $19 million deal with the Kings in 2022. Dennis Schroder returned to the Lakers for the minimum last season after notoriously turning down an $84 million extension in 2021. Sure enough, Schroder turned things around in his second Lakers stint and scored a $26 million deal with the Raptors this summer. Even if Wood comes to Los Angeles as a backup, it's worth noting that Davis has missed an average of roughly 28 games per year since joining the Lakers. There will be opportunities for spot starts.

Of course, there are reasons why league-wide interest in Wood has been so tepid. Defense has always been a problem, and it prevented Mavericks coach (and former Lakers assistant) Jason Kidd from ever truly trusting Wood with a major role last season. Wood is relatively undersized to serve as a traditional rim-protector at 6-9. He theoretically makes up for that with a 7-3 wingspan, but his skinny frame, ball-watching and inconsistent motor have made him an ineffective defensive center. He has the athletic tools to be an effective power forward on defense, but that position demands a greater attention to detail in areas like screen-navigation and rotation. Wood can cover ground, but he's never successfully fit within a team defensive structure.

His history within locker rooms isn't ideal either. In 2022, for instance, Rockets assistant John Lucas III called out multiple players in Houston's locker room during halftime of a game against the Denver Nuggets, and Wood, who was included among them, reportedly refused to sub in for the second half, according to The Athletic's Shams Charania.

In fairness, he's never really played for a normal, functioning organization. Kidd never trusted him a season ago, and the Mavericks turned over a significant chunk of their roster in February to land Kyrie Irving. Wood spent the two previous seasons in Houston, playing only a handful of games with James Harden before he was dealt and the Rockets became one of the NBA's most aggressive tankers. He has played for seven different NBA teams, and only one of them finished above .500: the 2018-19 Milwaukee Bucks, for whom he played in 13 games. An assistant coach on that Bucks team? Darvin Ham.

James has succeeded with plenty of players that raised red flags before joining his team. The right culture can do wonders for a player. Even if the fit is imperfect, the bar is relatively low for a minimum-salary contract. Wood's defensive flaws likely would prove problematic in a playoff setting, but the Lakers didn't even use a backup center in the postseason. If they had to abandon the position again, or simply tilt more of those minutes to Hayes, they could do so relatively easily. Regular-season innings eaters are dangerous bets on sizable contracts, but they're extremely valuable for minimum ones. It would be a low-risk, high-reward addition.

Both sides have other options, but none appear especially appealing. The Lakers could target players like Frank Kaminsky or Meyers Leonard as spacers, but it's been years since either meaningfully contributed to a winning team. Wood has already lost several preferable minimum landing spots in recent days with Golden State choosing Dario Saric as its veteran backup big man and Phoenix landing Bol Bol. Several teams have portions of their mid-level exception left, but none have seemingly shown interest in Wood at that price. 

Only one other team presents the same combination of minutes, fit, winning and a desirable market: the Miami Heat, who are currently trying to trade for Damian Lillard and largely abandoned the power forward spot last season. The Heat have typically been less inclined to take risks on questionable culture fits than the Lakers in recent years, but they can't be ruled out. Of course, resolution on the Lillard front might take months. Waiting that long is dangerous. The Lakers could eventually move on.

Pickings are slim on the mid-July free-agent market. Neither Wood nor the Lakers have many viable options left. The Lakers are targeting a spacer to back up and perhaps play with Davis. Wood needs to find some way to reset his market value with no suitors offering him more than the minimum. At this point in the offseason, neither side could ask for a better fit.