I think the best way to start a look at the off-season and any potential moves is to see what you’ve got. So what follows is a break-down of the Lakers roster by position going into next year, with a few comments after each player (some longer than others). At the end we’ll break down the total numbers and I’ll give some general thoughts. Almost all the salary info comes from the best source for that on the Web, Draft Express.
Derek Fisher. back for sure. Under contract for two more years, about $8 million total. He need to spend this summer getting his foot healthy(remember he played the last couple months with ligament issues). One priority for Phil Jackson is to keep his minutes down during the regular season next year (whether he comes off the bench or starts). He is not getting younger and the legs need to be rested.
Jordan Farmar, back for sure. Signed for next year at $1.1 Mil, team option for 2009-10 at $1.9 mil, restricted free agent after that (meaning the Lakers can match any offer). One thing I’m not worried about is Jordan Farmar working hard this summer — he may have the second best work ethic on the team. He’s always going to struggle some to cover strong PGs (ala Deron Williams) but he is a solid defender (opposing PG’s shot a pretty average 47.5% eFG% against him last year and had a slightly higher than average 16.5 PER). The real question here is, what do you sign him for in two years?
Kobe Bryant, back for sure. On the books for three more years at $69 mil total , but can opt out of his contract in June of 2009. I don’t know about you guys, but I think we should keep him. Seriously, he’s not going anywhere, but if the Lakers want to they could start a conversation about extending his deal after next season (not much negotiation involved, this is a max deal). He’ll play in the Olympics then get surgery. Some guys you worry about not getting rest in the summer, not so much with Kobe. He wouldn’t have let himself rest anyway.
Sasha Vujacic, Restricted free agent. That means he can shop around but the Lakers can match whatever another team offers. After the way he played this year there might be some teams interested, but nobody really makes offers on restricted free agents because if he’s a decent player and its not a crazy Thomas-era Knicks overpriced offer the team with rights matches it. The question is, what is he worth — he made $1.8 mil this year. I’d say somewhere between $3 mil and $4 mil.
Which brings us to the second, and a bigger question: Do the Lakers use some of their mid-level exception (MLE) to sign Vujacic to save the luxury tax problems, or do they bite the bullet on Sasha to keep the MLE for a free agent? Fans always want to spend, but it’s not their money.
Coby Karl, who knows if he is back. The Lakers have a team option for $711,000 for next year. It’s hard to say much about how he’ll fit in down the line because we haven’t seen him enough. However, with a pretty full roster and he likely will be battling this year’s second-round pick and some summer camp guys for the last roster spot.
Lamar Odom, very likely will be back. He has owed $14.1 mil for next season but has an expiring contract. He’s become a favorite whipping boy of some Lakers fans after the finals, and he played much of the year at the power forward spot.
Next year, with Bynum and Gasol, he would be asked to play the three spot in the triangle, and ultimately the big question is can he fit in playing that role? What is expected of the guy playing the three? I’ll let Darius explain.
From my standpoint, ideally, the SF must be a versatile player that does many things well. I mean, a SF in this system should be a good ballhandler, be able to shoot with range, be able to score inside, be a good passer, move well off the ball, be able to read defenses, play strong perimeter D, and ultimately have a high BB IQ (think Pippen and, though a much lesser athlete, Rick Fox). In my honest opinion, we don’t have the prototypical Triangle SF on this roster, but we do have guys that possess many of the traits/skills needed (just not all of them in the same player).
Before you start saying “Odom doesn’t have all those qualities” ask yourself this: How many guys in the league do? He can rebound, he can lead the break, his is a good ballhandler and his hoops IQ is good. The questions are how well he can defend opposing small forwards and can he be a good enough shooter to spread the floor. The reason Radmanovic started in the playoffs and Finals despite mental lapses on defense was he could stretch the floor. Guys can’t sag off Radman, they can sag off Odom. I like that Odom said he planned to work on his outside shot this summer, that will be a big key for next year, and I think he understands that.
For those of you who think Odom may not fit at the three, you have some good company. David Thorpe (the best of ESPN.com’s analysts and the executive director pro hoops training at IMG) said in an email he isn’t sold either:
Odom is not as good of a 3 as he is a 4. His lack of quickness for the position and his willingness to be a “floater” as a 3 are both problematic. Stan van Gundy saved his career by playing him as a 4 and really challenging him to be a rebounder/scorer (that season still marks as his best ever, I think). Playing the 4 often forces him to be near the rim, which both allows him to use his terrific length to make paint plays and keeps him from launching too many three-pointers (he’s just able enough as a 3 point shooter to be dangerously bad for LA) or long and medium range two’s. He’s not good at either. He plays too much of the game, as a ball handler, at one speed, and that speed is 3rd gear (out of 5). That works against many power forwards, but not against most small ones. Yes, he’d be a tough matchup on the offensive glass, but that would not make up for his struggles to score efficiently as a 3. And he’d get exposed often on defense as well. Ultimately, I just feel like his overall effectiveness would drop.
Here’s my bottom line: I don’t know if the front line of Odom/Gasol/Bynum will work. Ultimately nobody does because we haven’t seen it. But getting a player who is a better fit for what the Lakers want at the three is going to be very hard to find. Trades are not going to come easily. The only way I’d make a summer deal is if it was too good to pass up. I think you need to give all that potential of LO/Gasol/Bynum chance then, if it is not working out, see what deadline trades may be available.
Trevor Ariza, almost certainly back. Player option for next year for $3.1 mil. While he could test the market after that injury it would be impossible to find someone willing to pay more than what the Lakers will pay him, so expect him to say. I think he could be what we need at the three save for one thing — his outside shooting. Last year he shot 33% on jump shots and 27.8% from three, that is not going to stretch the floor. Someone said in the comments he should shoot 300 corner threes a day, and I think that sounds about right. How much he plays next year will depend on how consistent his outside shot becomes.
Vladimir Radmanovic, back for sure. Two years left on his deal, plus a player option for a third, next year at $6 mil. You may want to trade him, but nobody wants him at that price. I think he can be a solid player off the bench, a guy who could come in and light up second units with threes, he’s valuable as one of those flexible pieces that Phil can use for matchups. Just asking him to be a starter in the finals is too much.
Luke Walton, back for sure. Four years left on his deal, at $4.2 mil next year. I could pretty much cut and past my Radmanovic comments here. There is not going to be much trade interest at that price and length of contract. He can be valuable off the bench and in certain matchups, but asking him to do things like cover Paul Pierce is inviting disaster. He’s a nice role player to have, though.
Ira Newble, likely not back. Look at it this way — when the Lakers needed a defensive stopper for Pierce in the Finals, Ira was glued to the bench. Phil clearly felt that whatever Ira could give was not going to be as good as what was out there (rumors are he never really understood the offense). That tells you plenty.
Pau Gasol, back for sure. Three more seasons on his deal, makes $15 mil next year. As a Laker he shot 58.9% from the floor, scored 18.9 points per game, grabbed 12.2% of the rebounds available and had a PER very close to Kobe’s. Yes, he got thee “soft” tag in the Finals, but again we had to ask him to be what he is not. He is not a banger and a physical force, he is more finesse. Nothing wrong with that if he is paired with a more physical front line guy, right?
Well, again, we have to see it in action to believe it. David Thorpe, for one, isn’t sold:
Four years ago I think Gasol could have been an excellent 4 next to Bynum. But he’s not the shooter he once was, and is far more effective inside the paint or close by. Study his Hot Spot stats at NBA.com. I’ve heard this from International scouts as well, who feel Gasol was a much better face up player on the perimeter a few years back. His very poor perimeter shooting in the playoffs hurt LA. I’m a big fan of his, but not as a 4, anymore. Could he prove me wrong-absolutely, and it’s far more likely than Odom playing great as a 3, but it’s not close to a sure thing.
According to 82games.com, 35% of Gasol’s shots were jumpers and he hit 45% of those. Not bad numbers for a seven footer, but to be sure his midrange game was off in the playoffs. Gasol will be playing for Spain this summer (it’s going to be interesting on this board if USA and Spain meet) and maybe playing international ball helps him find that midrange game again. He needs to because it will be a key to the front line working next year.
Ronny Turiaf: Restricted free agent. I guess we’re going to see what kind of love there is for Ronny out on the open market. First off, I think I speak for most Laker fans when I say we want him back, maybe at a higher price than he is really worth. We love this guy. And as with Sasha, other teams will be hesitant to come after him because the Lakers can match any offer, but you know there is some interest out there. Turiaf made $770,000 last year, and I think his real value is about double that and a contract of three years. Also like Sasha, do the Lakers use part of their MLE here?
Andrew Bynum, back for sure. He is under contract next year for $2.7 mil and is a restricted free agent the year after that. This is the summer the Lakers need to make a long-term offer for Bynum, which leads to the question what is he worth? My gut reaction is a five year deal at about $50-$55 mil, not quite a max deal but he is coming off an injury. If I were Bynum I’d want a three-year deal at $11 per, with the thinking I would be 24 at the end of it and in the perfect spot for a five-year max deal. We’ll see what gets worked out.
As for him this off-season, get healthy and hit the gym. Come back in shape like he did last fall (or better) and be ready for what will be a fun year.
Chris Mihm, back for sure. Player option for next year at $2.7 mil. Lakers fans may not want him back but there is no way Mihm does not pick up that option. Personally, I don’t mind having him back because I may be one of the three people left on the planet holding out hope he can return to his pre-injury form. If so, he is the backup big we need. Remember in the 04-05 season he shot 50% from the floor, grabbed 15% of the available rebounds, blocked 1.4 shots per game and had a PER of 15.7 (just above average), plus he was the second most consistent Laker in terms of hustle that year. I want that Chris Mihm back.
DJ Mbenga, likely not back. He’s an unrestricted free agent. I like the guy, but we may be able to find a better backup big out on the open market. If not, he’s an inexpensive fallback.
Here is where the Lakers are next year as of now: 10 guys who are back for sure, and that makes up the core of the starters and key role guys. That kind of consistency is huge, as is having them all for a training camp and entire season next year. I think the Lakers want to bring back Sasha and Turiaf, so long as another team does not make a crazy offer for them. That would be 12 players, and the Lakers want 14 on the roster. That leaves room to find one veteran free agent with the MLE and keep either Kobe Carl or this year’s second-round pick (either way that guy is spending most of the year with the D-Fenders).
Already, without Sasha and Turiaf, the Lakers salary is at $70 million for next year, way over the cap and pushing the luxury tax. Buss will be paying some tax next year, the question is how much is he willing to pay?
Bottom line, as constructed now this is a roster that will contend for a title next year. Some tweaks may be needed, but even if nothing happens the Lakers are in a good spot. And that makes me as a Lakers fan happy. We are in a position this summer to wait for good offers, not just take what comes along. We can bargain from a position of power.
Here is how we are going to handle the comments on this post. I am going to allow some leeway in discussing other players the Lakers should go after, guys the Lakers should look at in trades or free agency. For example, to say the Lakers should look at Posey is totally fair game (he is an unrestricted free agent). What will not be allowed is: 1) Detailed five-team trade proposals, those things almost never happen and this is not your fantasy league; 2) Absolute crazy talk, like that the Lakers should trade LO for Wade (I’ll give you a hint, I don’t think Miami is going to let him go). Know this, just because it goes through on the ESPN trade machine doesn’t mean the teams involved want to do it. Think it through. In the spirit of the site, let’s keep this thoughtful and well reasoned. And play nice with one another. Know that I will bring the editing hammer down hard and fast on this if it starts to get out of control.