With the Lakers’ season over and the new front office frequently emphasizing free agency as a means to strengthen the team, fans have been focused on ways to create more cap room and targeting potential free agent targets. This may just be my impression, but it sounded like the primary justification for hiring Pelinka was his ability to navigate the cap and leverage his relationships with agents and players to recruit free agents, and Pelinka has probably spoken more on that aspect of team building than anything else.

After the misadventures in free agency the team has experienced the last few years, I have spent a fair amount of time thinking through the best way to obtain and maximize cap room. A few months ago I worked through the Lakers salary cap picture for the next few years, highlighting how much room the team likely have under different scenarios and ways the Lakers could build around the core and add impact players like Paul George. That analysis drove home the need to take advantage of a two-year window to add pieces using potential cap room, before Randle, Russell, and Ingram’s extensions kick in and eat up any possibility of meaningful space.

In this post I will try to forecast this summer’s free agent market conditions by looking at the available capital and free agent pool, comparing these conditions to the last few summers (including last year’s mind-blowing bonanza), and then thinking through how the market should impact the Lakers’ strategy.

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By nature, I am someone who tries to see the good in players. As someone who is constantly examining team building and roster construction I cannot ignore player weaknesses, but those truths must be mixed with what a player does well to paint a full picture. Then, the ultimate goal, is to build a roster which can simultaneously cover up as many of its players’ weaknesses while optimizing as many of their strengths. This is how you get a team that can produce at a level that is greater than the sum of its parts.

Thinking about this brings me to Luol Deng. We don’t need to re-legislate the past, but Deng is overpaid. That happened the second he signed his deal in July 2016. He makes roughly $18 million a year and did not produce on the court at a level approaching that this past season. Deng posted a PER of 10.1 and had an Offensive Real Plus Minus of -1.51 (which ranked 50th among all small forwards in the league). Not promising, especially in the first year of his contract.

These don’t paint a good picture for Deng and his future on the Lakers. However, the contract he signed last summer gives the Lakers limited options in terms of finding an adequate solution for all sides. I mean, realistically, they could do one of the following four things this summer/heading into next season:

  • Waive him outright.
  • Waive him using the stretch provision.
  • Trade him.
  • Bench him permanently/make him a fringe rotation player.

Actually, there’s a fifth option too. But we’ll get to that in a second. Of the four above, I’d argue none of those will actually happen this summer.

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In this episode of the Laker Film Room podcast, Pete and I discuss whether the Lakers should chase star players this summer and, specifically, whether Paul George or Blake Griffin should be options. We take a look at both players’ skill sets, how they mesh with the team’s current group of young players, and how either acquisition would impact roster construction.

After talking about George and Blake, we get into the NBA playoffs and discuss what we’re seeing in some of the series. We specifically get into Houston/OKC, Memphis/San Antonio, and Toronto/Milwaukee. Click through to listen to the entire episode.

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The off-season is here for the Lakers and that means a slow-down of news around our forum blue and gold clad basketball team. Fear not, though, faithful FB&Ger’s as there is still plenty of good reading and listening around the web to consume you until the next piece of breaking information comes out of El Segundo or Staples Center.

With that, below are some things I have been checking out around the web, along with a few thoughts of my own. Enjoy and have a good weekend…

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Basketball is one sport where having that one singular difference maker can matter most. With only 10 players on the floor at one time and each team’s 5 man unit responsible for offense and defense simultaneously, having the guy who is the best player matters a great deal. This is one reason why trades are often viewed through the prism of the team who won the trade is often the one who got the best player. The value of that guy is simply too high to be adequately replaced my multiple, lesser talents or a cadre of draft picks.

I have been thinking about the idea of the best player more and more in recent days after we got through our first weekend of playoff basketball (and, in some cases, into game 2’s). At the time I am writing this this is where each playoff series stands:

  • Warriors 1, Blazers 0
  • Spurs 2, Grizzlies 0
  • Rockets 1, Thunder 0
  • Clippers 1, Jazz 1
  • Celtics 0, Bulls 2
  • Cavs 2, Pacers 0
  • Raptors 1, Bucks 1
  • Wizards 1, Hawks 0

Looking at those results, I’d argue the best player theory is well on its way to holding true. Here’s who I’d label the best guy from each series (in some cases, I’ll name two guys if I think it’s close):

  • Kevin Durant, Steph Curry (both Warriors)
  • Kawhi Leonard (Spurs)
  • James Harden (Rockets), Russell Westbrook (Thunder)
  • Chris Paul (Clippers)
  • Jimmy Butler (Bulls)
  • LeBron James (Cavs)
  • Giannis Antetokounmpo (Bucks)
  • John Wall (Wizards)

Of course basketball remains a team sport and there will be cases where even if a team has the best player, an accumulation of really good (to legitimately great) players on the other team will make the difference in a playoff series. After all, playoff preparation, with its hyper-focused game-plans can mean that even the best player in a series can be neutralized or simply overcome by a more complete roster on the other side. We’ve seen this throughout history and this year will be no different.

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In the latest Laker Film Room Podcast, Pete and I are joined by @T1m_NBA to talk about the season that was. Tim, who has an analytics background at a major Division I college program, brings a ton of specific team and player stats to the table to help summarize what we saw on the court, while also challenging and reconfirming our conventional thoughts on each Laker player.

We had a great time on this pod, but brace yourself — it’s long. Like, Brandon Ingram long. Click through to listen to the entire discussion.

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A common theme from the final two-plus months of the season was this idea that all of the players were now “on notice” regarding their future with the team. With Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka taking over for the dispatched Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak, the narrative (for lack of a better word) became one of the players needing to “impress their new bosses” and “show that they belong on the team” for the future.

It got to the point where an uptick in play by some of the young players (ahem, D’Angelo Russell) was, at times, attributed to Magic and Pelinka coming on board and inspiring guys to play better/harder. And I’m sure there’s some truth to that. In my experience, whenever a new boss comes on board, you want to reinforce your value by working hard and putting out your best effort. I would imagine this concept is even more relevant in professional sports.

How much this idea was real and how much of it was projecting by media, fans, etc doesn’t really matter, honestly. What does matter, though, is that the tables are now turning away from the players and back onto Magic and Pelinka who, in their first off-season running the team, are themselves about to be on notice.

While Pelinka noted in his media session following the team’s exit interviews that the players were going to be held to a certain standard of excellence, he also noted that the message of living up that standard applied to him, Magic, and their staff too. And while that’s a nice soundbite, the fact is, now is really their time to turn the vision they want for the team into an executable plan which can start to bear fruit.

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The Lakers concluded their season on Wednesday with a loss to the Warriors to snap their 5 game win streak, then had a marathon session of exit interviews on Thursday to officially close the books on the 2016-17 campaign. We’ll have more thoughts on the this year over the course of a long break from actual games during the off-season, but it was nice to hear the players, coach, and General Manager reflect on the year that was and offer some insights into the next steps.

After listening to most all of the full sessions, a few themes arose.

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