The Vision Thing

Kurt —  May 8, 2006

In the heat of the playoffs, I got an email from a new Web site asking bloggers to play GM-for-a-day and tell us what their team should do in the off-season.

I’m not sure how you do that in any serious detail yet — free agency signings can’t happen for two months (July 10) and that is virtually a lifetime in this league. The NBA ground can shift a lot by the time you could sign anyone, heck you can’t even talk to anyone until July 1.

But what the good franchises do is have a big-picture vision and follow it. The Spurs probably haven’t looked in detail at the free agent market this summer yet, still they have an idea of what type of player they want, who will work in their system. If a player they want gets a big offer to go elsewhere, they have an understanding of where to go next, who else would work for them.

In the case of the Lakers, they have again started to get “the vision thing.” Jerry Buss seems to have always had it, as did Jerry West, who was the master of finding the right role players. But after the breakup of the Shaq/Kobe team, the team looked lost for a while. What the hiring of Phil Jackson did, besides appease angry season ticket holders, was give the team direction. That direction started to become cohesion by the end of the year.

But, as was exposed in the loss to the Suns, there are certainly things that need to be done, changes that need to be made. I don’t expect big moves this off-season, but whatever moves come do need to fit the big picture plan.

Player season breakdowns and report cards are coming. What I want to do now is start a list of priorities, to discuss what the next steps need to be. Below I lay out a few I have, which are up for debate, or you can add your own.

• New starting point guard. I love Smush, but right now he’s a backup (opponents shot 48.8% against him [eFG%] and they had a PER of 18.7 — better than Chucky Atkins the year before, 49.6% and 19.1, but still not great). All we likely will offer here is the mid-level exception for two or three years (about $5 million per). I’d like to get Mike James for that, but he’ll likely cost more.

I think a more likely target is Bobby Jackson of Memphis — he’s not tall like Phil prefers (6-1) but he’s a solid defender (opponent PER of just 15.5, about average) and he hit 38.9% of his threes last season.

Also, I’m not on the Speedy Claxon bandwagon, at least for the Lakers. Speedy will thrive in the right situation, but in the triangle he’d be as happy as Gary Payton. He’s a solid defender but his offensive game is all about penetration — we’ve got Kobe for that. And last season Speedy hit just 27% of his threes — and that was a career best. For his career he is shooting 18.9% from beyond the arc. That doesn’t fit the triangle.

• Kwame Brown is staying, not that anyone would take him in a trade anyway. The question is really this: Do you trust Kwame enough to trade Chris Mihm? Mihm may be the only real trade bait you have this summer, but get rid of him and your center combo for the next two years is likely Kwame starting with Bynum off the bench. Is that enough?

My gut feel is no, unless you are getting something very good in return — and big, a power forward or better. For those of you thinking Carlos Boozer, well, that is another column, but I will say this: The Jazz will not trade Boozer for just Mihm. Not only don’t the salaries match, but the Jazz need a shooting two guard not another big. Who are you going to entice them with, Sasha?

• That said, another big is needed. One name that intrigues me is Reggie Evans, he can board (grabbed 21.5% of the available boards last year, way better than any Laker), and is an average defender. Not sure what his market will be compared to the $1.75 the Lakers can offer (he made just $880,000 last season) as part of the lower level exception (this money could also resign Laron Profit). Other names on the list include Melvin Ely and Al Harrington.

Turiaf will provide a boost here as well but he’s a 15-minute guy off the bench at this point.

• Lamar Odom isn’t going anywhere. There’s only one player I’d likely trade him for, and KG is not leaving Minnesota despite how many times you post that on a message board.

• I’m not resigning Devean George unless he wants half his current salary (he made $5 million this season). He’s be a good fit in the right spot (San Antonio, Detroit) and will get a decent offer.

• As for the draft, picking number 26 in a weak year means we’ll be getting a project. I forget who said this in the comments on my one earlier draft posts, but at that point you take the best player regardless of position, and I think that’s correct.

to The Vision Thing

  1. seriously? you’re going to mention reggie evans by name and NOT make a joke?

    no “plus, he’s got a real nose for the balls”? or “l.a. would go nuts for evans!”?

    man, kurt. you’re a bigger man than i…


  2. I’d make sure he lives on the same block as Kaman. That would be fun.


  3. notreallyimportant May 8, 2006 at 2:57 pm

    You know I sat here for 15 minutes and I couldn’t come up with one comment on Evans that wasn’t a joke. You are indeed a great man Kurt.


  4. chris henderson May 8, 2006 at 3:25 pm

    really gets a hand on the loose balls…?


  5. I think about what the Lakers need and what they might end up with, and there are some possibilities out there for the right combination. First you need a poing guard that can play in the triangle. How about trying to get S. Blake or J. Dixon from Portland. Both can shoot and neither needs to handle the ball to be effective. Then you can keep Smush an whomever is producing get’s the most minutes. You almost have to trade C. Mihm because he’s the only value you have right now. how about Mihm and Cook for A. Croshere? Croshere comes off the books after next season so you still have the 2008 salary cap room. You’re not going to get a great player but if you are sticking with the 2008 plan these options work.


  6. Pg targets: jason terry, bobby jackson, mike james. We need someone who can defend and shoot the spot-up jumper that gets created by kobe and lamar. Terry is ideal, hes a vet, willing to take big shots and plays d.

    other targets: fred jones, janerro pargo, ronald murray. these guys probably could get away with playing point in our system and can all score and defend.

    by the way, thanks kurt for the wonderful season, this is the first time ive been online and i probably will go back into seclusion until training camp opens up (or if the dodgers start pitching)


  7. God kwame, don’t wait for the Dodgers to start pitching. We’d like to have you back here before 2010.


  8. Evans is interesting because he’s in the price range and does one thing exceptionally well: rebound. But we’re already a pretty good rebounding team. It seems like what the Lakers need out of a big man — except for just size — is some semblance of a low-post game and/or the ability to hit that 15-17 foot jump shot that power forwards in the triangle get all the time. (One reason, I take it, that Kwame seems better at center than at power forward is that he has absolutely no touch on his shot and the closer to the basket for him, the better off we all are.) The worry with trading Mihm is that our already-meager low-post game will just get worse.


  9. I love the Jason Terry idea, he’d be the second coming of Ron Harper, but can you get him for the MLE? He made $7.5 mil this year, so he’d have to take a 25% pay cut to come to the Lakers.

    Josh, your point about needing the big man we bring in to be able to hit the 15 footer is very true, and Evans doesn’t do that consistently (he shot 26.9% on jumpers while with the Nuggets this year). My only argument would be that, for what we’re paying here, he at least does one thing well (insert your grab the nuts joke here), which is more than the others out there in the free agent market. If we are trading Mihm, I expect better than Evans. This seems to be the hardest spot to fill because decent bigs are in short supply, so the prices for them are inflated.


  10. Any chance that someone like Kirk Heinrich can become a Laker? As I’ve said here before, I am tired of hearing about the Salary Cap. The Lakers are valued at $450 million. I can’t imagine that making the playoffs doesn’t contribute to capital appreciation of the franchise. Not to mention merchandise generated from a winning team. Additionally, according to Forbes, the Lakers generate approximately $2 million per home game in ticket revenue alone. Add in concessions, advertising and merchandise. If a luxury-tax generating free agent can get the Lakers into a playoff series or two, it would be a worthwhile investment.

    At this point do we really trust Mitch to make good free agent or draft decisions? Look at the Kings, Dallas, San Antonio – all drafting at the end of the draft and adding quality players.

    I love Turiaf and anticipate that he can contribute, especially if his conditioning and physique develop. Finally, am I the only that sees a bit of Ginobili in Sacha?


  11. Hey Robert

    You might find this comment from the LA Times Laker Blog helpful.


  12. notreallyimportant May 8, 2006 at 8:09 pm

    The problem isn’t that the Lakers don’t have money. The problem is the salary cap. You can’t make a free agaent signing unless you have the cap space (or it is the minimum salary). That is why there is a Mid Level Exception. As far as taking on big contracts in a trade, the Lakers don’t want to do this because they believe that in a few summers they might get someone like Chris Bosh, in which case they would need the cap space to sign a maximum contract, which even for someone with as little experience as Bosh is pretty hefty.


  13. “Heinrich… future Laker”
    has been my mantra for a while,
    and I get the Sasha-bili vibe too,
    especially his work-the-ballhandler’s-nerve defense.

    What he needs to cultivate
    is the moving without the ball skill that Ginobili has
    ( several players would do well to do the same )
    and by Jove, do that drive to the hoop thing some more;
    exploit the element of surprise and not live and die
    by the trespunt.

    I’m sure they’ve got Phil’s voice
    in the back of their head going
    “Stay in the set,” but there were times
    when I thought Sasha had a layup
    and he would kick out instead.

    Kobe mentioned working with Turiaf this off season,
    and I say yea, verily, yea.

    Turok will surely benefit in his endurance,
    and that may in turn sharpen his athleticism
    on defense and reduce the fouls he draws
    by one of two.

    He has that broad upper torso like Devean George
    and like DG, he springs into the defensive mix
    and then swings those long arms which sometimes
    results in a sharp block and sometimes becomes
    catching the shooter on the arm because he’s
    just a skosh late.

    Devean was really at his leanest and meanest
    three or so years ago.
    Lakers could sure could have used
    the player George was during this series.
    He seems to have been unable figure out
    how to compensate for whatever he can no longer do
    since his injury, and his phys has gone up and down
    through the season.

    Perhaps Turiaf can become the kind of player
    Devean exemplified and having gone through his surgery
    is less likely to be mentally thrown.

    Still, the pro game is another beast,
    and the playoffs yet another, and the league is
    chock-full of role players that can give you
    a good 12 minutes.

    Whoever returns on the team next year
    has got to start working now on sharpening
    that mental edge while working the muscles.

    Lamar looked ready to bite a brick
    in post game interviews Saturday.
    I hope he feeds off that feeling and realizes
    that potential he’s had so long.

    – 5 –


  14. The first upgrade that needs to be made is Kiki as GM…


  15. well, i just read on yahoo that kupchak doesn’t anticipate any major trades this summer. so i guess chris should be staying.

    i’m glad. the dude was racking up double doubles earlier this year before the injuries hit. he works hard. i bet his game will improve some more. and since he has an outside jumper, couldn’t phil use him as a power forward on offense and have kwame guard the tim duncan-like fours on defense?

    thing is, he’ll be in the last year of his contract, and i doubt the lakers will be up for paying him a salary increase no matter how much they like him because they want to attract some superstar instead.

    agh. i say keep him and play him off the bench. his foul trouble won’t be as much of a problem. put him and kwame’s totals together, you might have a decent beast in the middle.


  16. The problem with playing Mihm at the PF position is that Cleveland tried that experiment and it was a disaster of Kwame-like proportions. It seems like it would work on paper, but…


  17. I like you idea of Bobby Jackson, who was a thorn in our side when he was with Sac. Keep Laron, he was the new Ron Harper before he went down and probably would come relatively inexpensive. Up front is another question. A big who can drop the 15-17footer and board, who’s that???

    Keep up the good work, enjoy the blog.


  18. Mitch K. takes a lot of blame in Lakerland, but I’ve always wondered just how much control he really has. It’s pretty obvious that in the case of the Shaq trade, that order came from the Buss family. And it is my guess he is the guy who opened the door for Smush, for example. But if your talking about trading Chris Mihm, does Mitch make a suggestion one way or the other then follow the orders of one of the Busses? What I’m saying is, if that is the case, then does it matter if it is Mitch or Kiki? How much power does the GM really have?

    And, there are ways to add salary, but what matters is doing it wisely. The Knicks have plenty of payroll, but who wants their roster.


  19. The Bulls are not going to let Kirk Heinrich go.


  20. notreallyimportant May 9, 2006 at 2:51 pm

    That is true, barring a Garnett trade Deng, Gordon, and Heinrich are all untouchable.


  21. The one Bull the Lakers could get is Chris Duhon, but at what price? I certainly don’t think he’s worth a Mihm. But the first-round pick + somebody? just thinking out loud, but I still think free agency is the more likely route to improvment.


  22. Kurt, I totally agree with your comments about Mitch essentially being a glorified proxy.

    Who really is in charge?

    Last season there were free agents lost due to a restiction on the length of contracts. How much of a factor will that be this year?


  23. i dont think length of contract will be an issue this offseason. If the core of the team is kobe, lamar and kwame, then the 2007/2008 plan is out, therefore we can sign somebody…jason terry/bobby jackson (cough cough) for 5 yrs and 40 mil. I agree that Mitch is handcuffed to a certain extent, but does nobody else agree with me that we should keep Mihm. I find it hard to believe that Bynum will be ready to go next year and we all saw Kwame weaken the last couple games of the series, Mihm would give the lakers and kwame insurance and motivation respectivley. As far as Duhon, I think hed be great, we should offer Cook, or Sasha or a pick


  24. I’m thinking you keep Mihm this summer, unless a great deal comes along that you can’t pass up, then make an assessment at the trading deadline. He’ll be a big with an expiring contract, which could get a lot on the open market.


  25. Kurt, I think your assessment of the Draft is a tad on the pessimistic side. It’s tough to say how it will play out with this year’s thin crop, but usually there are some instant contributors with limited upside who end up available late in the first round. Those guys could help the Lakers next year.


  26. mitch kupchak has about as much pull as any other GM in the league, i’m willing to bet. there’s no way he’s just some puppet.

    the owner is still the boss. the big decisions are going to be theirs to make, everything has to run through them. they’re going to tell you how much you can spend on things. how much they want to interfere and have a say is up to them.

    even jerry west couldn’t stop dennis rodman from playing here, despite his vehement disapproval.


  27. It seems that the inclusion of Jim Buss (and Phil) into the mix makes this more a GM by committee.


  28. I had a Bulls fan tell me yesterday that Duhon for Mihm is definetly going to be offered.

    I don’t know too much about Duhon. I do know he can D, and I believe he’s a step up over Smush.

    I don’t think the loss of Mihm is going to hurt. But yes, I’d like to see who else the Lakers could get for him. Mihm for Duhon does seem a bit one-sided. But then again, as a Laker fan I might see more value in him then somebody else…


  29. I like the idea of a Mihm for Duhon swap. Offensively, Duhon’s a good fit fo the Lakers. He’s a good defender who can hit a jumper and won’t turn the ball over (his passing ability is a bonus).

    If I was Mitch, I’d try to get the lower of the Bulls’ first round picks, and I’d send them the Lakers if need be (i.e. Duhon and the 17th for Mihm + the 26th if necessary). That’s a deal that works for both teams.

    The only better targets are Hedo Turkoglu and Stephen Jackson, the former because he’s much better and the latter because there are point guards on the free agent market, and no real 2/3s that are attainable. Stephen Jackson wants out of Indy, so that seems more likely, though perhaps Orlando would take the cap space after next year. Turkoglu’s per/opponent per last year was 18/14.7 at the 3 spot, and he’s a tremendous shooter, do he’d really be ideal. A Bobby Jackson, Kobe, Hedo, Lamar, Kwame would make the Lakers a real force in the West.


  30. Definitely like the Bobby Jackson idea, but I doubt the Lakers could sign him. Jacque Vaughn could be another interesting choice. Granted he can’t shoot, but a solid vet, plays defense, can handle the rock, can shoot veterans, has playoff experience so he is unlikely to melt under the pressure. Again, he should be looked at because of the money.
    I don’t think the Lakers should make drastic changes. There is no way this team should have won more than 30 games, yet they won 45 and could have easily won 50+. The Lakers need a solid PG, and a SG/SF who can shoot the three would be nice. Also, I would like Phil to incorporate Bynum and Turiaf in the rotation more in ’06-’07.


  31. Sorry guys, meant to say that Jacque Vaughn can shoot free throws.


  32. Where to begin — first-off, I honestly felt Lakers in 7 from the get go. If Barbosa or Tim Thomas had been picked up by us instead of them, no question it goes our way. Let that be a lesson to you, Mitch–no more McKies or Jimmy Jacksons.

    That said, Phil has reiterated there won’t be much turnover this summer. The pieces they have are solid; their ability to develop will determine if they can stay. Bynum is a prototype low-post, shotblocking prospect. Walton is a perfect triangle wingman if his range and defense continue to improve. Smush was essentially a rookie this year–a surge in consistancy makes him a viable starting triangle PG. Hone the lock-down D, keep the explosiveness but cut down the turnovers. Settle down and hit 3s. Cook and Turiaf showed me some fiery D in Round 1. If the talent develops into skill, we have something.

    So Option #1: Keep it together, add small pieces. Kurt has it right on Mihm–he’s not the future, but keeping him until February will a) get more value in return and b) give Kwame/Bynum that much more time to develop without the pressure of holding it down on their own.

    In free agency, I don’t see PGs I really like–Bobby Jackson’s really not much better than Smush, and Claxton/Hart don’t fit Phil’s needs. David Wesley is a thought I would try to split the MLE on some combination of Songalia, Matt Harpring, Trevor Ariza, or even John Salmons.

    In the Draft, I can see LA taking Lowry, Sene, or Boone. Shotblocking was absent against Phoenix.

    Option #2: Make the big splash. Jermaine O’Neal may demand a trade this summer, as may KG (kncok on wood). The ideal situation involves Brian Grant’s expiring $15M contract going elsewhere. A more risky scenario would be an Odom/Mihm/pick comnbination to Chicago for Ben Gordon and the Bulls two 1rst rounders. Don’t hiss because I consider shopping Lamar–he has great value right now and may have reached his peak. While it’s nice that he’ll pass and is currently the Lakers only bigman who can get it done inside, his jumper just isn’t where it needs to be for the Triangle and I’m not sure he can defend elite PFs. Rudy Gaye, while sleepy-eyed, may be the 2nd coming of Scottie Pippen, and the competitiveness of Tyrus Thomas / Adam Morrison would fit perfectly with Kobe’s. A Gordon-Bryant-Gaye-Brown-Bynum lineup for 07-08 looks very sexy. Of course I’d rather have Odom than Kwame, but the Bulls might actually give up potential superstars Gordon/Thomas/Gaye for LO. Just a thought…


  33. I think Bobby Jackson is an upgrade over Smush right now. Smush may, even should, get better, but I don’t want to bank on it without a backup plan. Basically, bring in the vet for a few years until Smush is ready to start.


  34. Not a fan of Rudy Gay. Although filled with talent, he disappeared in UConns biggest games, and I think the Lakers would be better to avoid another project.
    I would love to have Ben Gordon, but I doubt the Bulls would give him up that easily.
    Although I wasn’t his biggest fan with the Lakers, perhaps re-acquiring D-Fish wouldn’t be a bad idea. There aren’t that many great PG available, so why not D-Fish. Also, the Lakers should keep Mihm. He’s developed a decent post-game, and can shoot a mini Jump hook with both hands.