This is going to be a fascinating Lakers season on various levels, but one is the narrative surrounding the myriad Lakers who are in contract years this season. Outside of Steve Nash, Robert Sacre and Elias Harris, there are no Lakers who have contracts that extend past the 2013-14 season. Nick Young has a player option for the 2014-15 season, but can opt out of his deal for greener pastures should he choose to do so.
Going into a season, we’d normally segregate the various contractual castes, but what the top and bottom of the notional salary totem pole have in common is the dynamic that everyone is playing for a new deal this season. Kobe Bryant playing to show that he’s still worth top dollar, in theory, isn’t any different than Jordan Hill or Steve Blake or Jodie Meeks wanting to have a great season to earn a bigger contract over longer years.
Guys going into a season knowing that they’re in a contract year isn’t a new phenomenon, but a team with this many players not knowing what their respective contract situation for the following season is unprecedented, and could potentially be problematic. One of the Lakers biggest issues last season was a lack of chemistry. From the coaching change to the clashing personalities to the plethora of injuries, the team never got on the same page. Now, with the majority of the team in a position to make more money in the following season, getting on the same page could prove to be difficult.
“It depends on you want personally, said Hill at the Lakers media day this past Saturday. “Do you want to win or do you want money? If you perform and win, you’re going to get the money anyway. I just want to focus on winning and playing hard.”
While it may be difficult to get everyone in a contract year zoned in on that singular focus, there is a possibility that the Lakers could see some pleasant surprises out of some players in the five through eight spots in the rotation. If you google search the worst contracts in NBA history, they’re guys who had phenomenal years proceeding large deals.
- Rashard Lewis: Following a year that Rashard Lewis posterd a 20.7 PER with a 22.4/6.6/2.4 split per 36, the Orlando Magic gave Lewis a six-year, $118.2 million contract as an unrestricted free agent. Lewis’ win shares would decline for the next six seasons and he would never post a PER above 16.8 in his career.
- Trevor Ariza: Trevor Ariza had a great 2008-09 year with the Lakers. Both his TS% and eFG% were norht of .500, his turnover percentage was the lowest of his career, he posted decent ORtg and DRtg numbers hand recorded the most win shares of his career. Things got better in the post season as he was instrumental in helping the Lakers get some late game stops to lead the franchis to it’s 15th title while shooting .476 from three. The Rockets would sign the unrestricted free agent to a five-year, $34 million deal and watched as those numbers decline. His win shares would be cut in half and his TS% and eFG haven’t shot back above of .500 since.
- Amare Stoudemire: Amare Stoudemire has only played 82 games twice in his career, and one of those times he was in a contract year. His 2009-10 season with the Suns, Stoudemire posted a 24.1/9.3/1.0 per 36 split with a 22.6 PER and became an all star. Stoudemire parlayed that great season into a five-year 99.7 million contract. Since then, Stoudemire has only played in 66 percent of games for the Knicks and hasn’t really been able to find a fit into the Knicks system beside Carmelo Anthony.
“I think competing takes care if itself,” said Henry on the opportunity to earn a bigger contract by playing well for the Lakers. “If everyone is going out there wanting to win, and we’re winning, everyone is going to get what they deserve at the end of the day. If everyone comes in here and competes, all of those things will work themselves out.
Right now, everyone is saying the right things. Wesley Johnson echoed a lot of what both Hill and Henry said on Saturday, while both Bryant and Pau Gasol don’t seem interested in bringing up their respective contract situations, and neither have began negotiations with the team. Only time will tell whether or not this team will be able to gel and put personal goals aside, but it’s going to be necessary for this team to do so if they’re going to be successful this season.