Peeking into the future

Kurt —  April 2, 2007

The Lakers have always been somewhat shrouded in mystery — it may be the most prominent franchise in the NBA but it is run by just a few, a tight-knit family that rarely tips their hand in public (think the anti-Steinbrenners).

So last week, when heir-apparent Jim Buss did a radio interview on 570 AM, it was a rare glimpse behind the curtain to see what he and the Laker brass are thinking. Well, as much as he tipped his hand. I did not hear the interview, so I am relying on Ross Siler of the Daily News for the quotes (and thanks to Ian for providing the link).

Let’s look at what was said in a little detail, with Jim Buss quotes included:

“The way I look at it is I believed last year this current roster could win it this year. The way things are going, it’s going to be very difficult because we didn’t home court. We’d have to go through Phoenix, Dallas, San Antonio – – all three of them – – to get to the Finals.

“If we had played without the injuries that we sustained, then I think we would have had a home-court advantage and we wouldn’t have had such a tough road to get to. And yes, I would believe this team is good enough.’’

I think a large part of this is what you say in a radio interview, not what you believe in your heart of hearts. You always say this team could win it all this year, even if you run the Atlanta Hawks. At least I hope that is why he said this — if the top Laker brass really believed this roster was better than Dallas/Phoenix/San Antonio then we should be worried for the future because they clearly don’t judge talent well. I don’t think they are that misguided. This is a second-tier roster when healthy, one that needs another piece or two, they have to realize that.

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The juicy part of the interview was when Buss said the Lakers were targeting bringing in a major free agent in the next couple of years, something they have been planning for.

“Those things start way before a player becomes available,’’ Buss said. “Everything we do is planning to be in a position if you can get an All-Star-caliber player to help your team go to the next level. You have to have it planned out years before.’’

As Rob L. quickly pointed out in the comments on this site, any signing is not likely to happen next year. The Lakers have $57.6 million committed in salary for next season, and that is before resigning Luke Walton (plus maybe Chris Mihm and Shammond Williams, and Smush coming back is not impossible), paying your top draft pick or filling a couple other holes. This team doesn’t have the cap room to make a big move this summer, unless it is a trade where Odom and/or Kwame are involved. But Buss said free agent signing, not big trade.

That following summer (heading into the 08-09 season), the Lakers have $45 million on the books (plus likely the Walton deal and more), which includes the last year of Lamar Odom’s deal. I’m not sure how much the Lakers could offer any free agent just like this coming summer. But that is the time-frame Buss offered up.

Now, the summer of 2009 is the summer Kevin Garnett can opt out of his deal in Minnesota. Would he walk away from $24 million? Maybe, is this the point at which a then 32-year-old Garnett is willing to take less money for a chance to win (alongside Kobe)? If, as Buss said, the Lakers are laying the groundwork for something this makes the most sense. That summer Lamar Odom’s deal will be up and the Lakers currently have about $33 million on the books, even with the added contracts they can have plenty of room to make an offer. Not a huge one, but a decent one.

Also, it makes the most sense because he can opt out. When the three-year deals for Wade, LeBron and others come due they are not just going to jump ship — their current teams can offer basically 30% more over the life of a deal. They are going to come in a sign and trade, because they are not going to leave that much money on the table. So you’d have to have valuable tradable assets to get them, and the Lakers do not and likely will not. The days of the Lakers basically winning the bidding war for Shaq are gone, you have to be savvy now.

“Mitch (Kupchak) is very good at watching the cap and so am I,’’ Buss said. “We have a plan to move forward and when somebody drops the ball and drops one of their All-Star players, we’re there to get them. You don’t go over the cap like some of these other teams and be mediocre. That’s like the cardinal sin in my book….

“What you do is you manage your money until you can spend it on the right thing. And it will happen. It will happen maybe next year or the year after but it’s going to happen. And when that happens, then we go right back to winning championships.’’

So apparently there is a plan. Of course, there was the 2007 plan which included the pipe dream of Yao or LeBron jumping ship. Let’s hope this plan is a little more realistic.

Kurt

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