It was rumored that he’d go this route, but it’s now pretty much official. Per Mike Bresnahan of the LA Times, Ramon Sessions has declined his player option for next season – which would have paid him $4.5 million – and will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1st.
From what the front office has said since the off-season began, the Lakers will try to bring Sessions back. The question is, at what cost and for how long a contract. The Ramon Sessions that posted a PER in the 20′s for his first 15 games is certainly worth more than he was set to make next season. That player was a difference maker that gave the Lakers an added dimension through his speed, play making, and ability to score the ball. The Ramon Sessions that posted a single digit PER in the playoffs was another player entirely. That guy looked out of sorts and tentative on offense, making little impact in the second season.
Ultimately, I imagine the Lakers will take a cautious approach here. The free agent market for point guards isn’t amazingly deep, but there are options out there – Nash, Andre Miller, Ray Felton, *Jameer Nelson, and Lou Williams will all be searching for homes this summer. All of those players offer pros and cons and the Lakers must judge if any of them represent an upgrade over Sessions and if any of them are even gettable. After all, the Lakers will only have the mini-mid level to offer FA’s while they can offer Sessions more than that.
In the end, I can imagine the Lakers negotiating with Sessions in the same way they negotiated with Trevor Ariza. If you recall, the Lakers offered Ariza what they thought was a fair offer. When he and his agent asked for more, the Lakers’ brass told him they’d be happy to let him explore his options to see if he could obtain a better offer and that if they found one, they’d be happy to match. If that same approach nets them Sessions they’ll get him at a price they think he’s worth. If he finds a better deal, all the best to him as he’ll likely be moving on. The Lakers are typically pretty firm in what they believe are fair offers, showing that they’re willing to spend but not break the bank just because they can. Plus, with the new CBA, spending just to spend isn’t a sound approach.
If Sessions is to stay on, however, the Lakers will have to commit to him in more ways than just giving him the contract he seeks. In the same way Gasol will need to have his role better defined and his strengths played to, Sessions will need to be catered to a bit more on offense to get the most out of him. That means he’ll need the ball more, should have more P&R actions designed for him, and should be let loose more often in the open court. It was obvious that near the end of the year he’d lost his confidence but some of that was surely related to him being asked to slow the game down and the offense being shifted even more towards Kobe isolations and post ups for Bynum. When asked to play off the ball more than he ever had before, he didn’t play as well as he (or anyone else) would have liked. To maximize what Sessions can offer, he must be more of a featured player. That, of course, means a more balanced attack and a clearer offensive system than the one the team used last year.
But, those are things that will only matter should he be retained. Which, for now, is an open question. The Lakers are once again searching for a PG and will have one more decision to make come July 1st. As we’ve been saying, strap on your seatbelts the ride is sure to be interesting and is only just starting.
*Update: Jameer Nelson has a player option for next season. Original reports had him opting out, but he’s actually still undecided and has been granted an extension to make his decision. His new date to decide on whether to exercise his option is June 29th.