Because I am a basketball nerd, one of the things which most interests me about the free agency period is how team execute their signings in order to maximize their cap space and get the most bang for their buck when building their team. Because of all the exceptions, triggers, and rules surrounding the execution of contracts, one of the things teams do is organize the order of how they execute the deals they agree to with players in order to ensure they operate within the confines of the collective bargaining agreement.

What does this have to do with the Lakers? Well, if you’ve been paying attention to the press releases, the Lakers haven’t actually executed all the deals they have reportedly agreed to this summer. Oh, you’ve seen the pictures of Luol Deng, Timofey Mozgov, and Jordan Clarkson signing their deals. They have even formally announced the acquisition of Jose Calderon via trade.

Other deals, however, have remain unannounced. And that’s because they technically have not yet been signed. I’ll let Eric Pincus of Basketball Insiders explain:

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Summer league was successful in accomplishing a few things. One was showing off the Lakers’ young talent and how the returning young guys had improved while giving us a first glimpse at the skill of the newly drafted kids. A second was allowing us to somewhat forget about Julius Randle.

I know. I know. This is an exaggeration. No one really forgot about Randle.

But I do believe there has been a bit of “out of sight, out of mind” going on with Julius. After all, we got to see Larry Nance, Jr. play really well before his hand injury. Nance flashed an improved jumper, an emerging “grab and go” game off the defensive glass, and a sharpening of his already strong defense. Nance’s development was happening in front of our eyes while Julius’ was going on in private workouts.

That is no longer the case, though. Randle has joined the Team USA training camp as part of the Select Team. He’s practicing, going through drills, and scrimmaging. He’s out there for everyone to see and is looking like an improved player. Or, at least he is in the short glimpses the public has been exposed to. For example, here he is working in one-on-one drills:

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The Lakers famously spent a boatload of cash this past summer on free agents Timofey Mozgov and Luol Deng. I have spilled countless words on those signings so I will not revisit the merits or drawbacks of either contract now. That said, one of the real consequences of those deals was how it impacted salary cap space for next season. 

It was always assumed that if the Lakers were unable to secure commitments from top flight FA’s this July, they would simply roll over a large chunk of space, combine it with the cap jump scheduled for next summer, and try to ink two top-tiered free agents in the summer of 2017. The Mozgov and Deng deals ended those assumptions with large cash commitments. Add in the guaranteed deals of their young core and Lou Williams’ (not to mention Nick Young’s) contract and the Lakers might be close to not even affording a single max contract slot.

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During a game between the Lakers and Thunder this past season Kevin Durant had a brief in-game exchange with former Lakers’ head coach Byron Scott. Durant said to Scott that the Lakers were a lot better than they had been earlier during the year and Scott responded that his young guys were “starting to get it”.

It was a nice exchange and acknowledgement from Durant that the Lakers had made some progress — especially the young players. It really shouldn’t have been taken as anything more than that, but, well, we all know that’s not how these things work.

Fast-forward to this summer. The Lakers were interested in meeting with Durant in free agency. Durant did not reciprocate that interest, shunning the Lakers entirely and never granting them a sit-down. This was big news. Well, it leas it was treated as big news. In reality, it shouldn’t have been.

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I know the caveat. It’s only summer league. I’ve been saying it myself since before the games started and continued echoing the point through every performance by every player. Here’s the thing, though. While it’s easy to dismiss any strong (or poor) performance with that mantra, evaluations from the summer aren’t completely useless.

Summer will never tell us the entire story, but if you watch intently enough, it can give you hints as to what is possible for a player. Especially when what you see isn’t so much based on athleticism or eye popping numbers, but innate skills or traits which will carry forward regardless of the competition level.

This brings us to Lakers’ 2nd round pick Ivica Zubac. The Bosnian by way of Croatia had a really strong showing in Vegas and looks as though he might end up being a steal of the draft. His all-around play showed glimpses of high level two-way play and hinted that he might be more ready than assumed for a 19 year old Euro big man who missed most of last season dealing with injury and contract issues.

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Heading into Friday night’s summer league finale, Brandon Ingram had done lots of things well but not had a singular strong performance. His best game in the four previous contests to that point was the Lakers’ Vegas opener where he scored efficiently and played a nice all-around game. But even that game was just sort of a let-the-game-come-to-me sort of performance rather than one where he actively tried to take control.

That approach changed on Friday against the Jazz and, boy, was it fun to watch. Ingram finished the night 22 points on 13 shots, grabbed 5 rebounds, and dished 4 assists. Down the stretch he made key plays, but more than that showed a certain assertiveness throughout that was great to see. Just watch the highlights:

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After a game which saw a loss on the scoreboard and in Larry Nance, Jr. with a supposed broken hand (more on that in a minute), the Lakers are worse for their wear and back in action tonight in Las Vegas. After that game fans were all sorts of upset — at Nance’s injury, at the coaching staff for not playing the starting 5 down the stretch, and at the players (specifically D’Angelo Russell) for poor play in the 2nd half which cost the team the lead and then the game.

I get the frustration. At least partially. Winning games, as the team had in Vegas up to that point, generates investment and buy-in. Fans want to watch and, when they do, want to be rewarded. Seeing the team lose in the fashion they did is upsetting and inspires venting. I get it. I really do.

On the other hand. This is summer league. While the I understand the hypocrisy in trying to claim the good performances and wins matter but the losses don’t, I think it’s fair to say that what really matters is overall team progress and how it measures against tangible steps backwards. While the 2nd half of Thursday’s game wasn’t pretty, the progress from the first 3 games outpaces the steps back from that lone contest.

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Wait. What’s this? Injury news that is not as bad as originally expected? I…I don’t know what to do with this information. I’ll let the Lakers’ share the good news since I am totally out of sorts:

It was originally feared that Nance broke a bone in his right hand/wrist. Initial projections had him out 4-6 weeks, and maybe up to 8 depending on if surgery would be needed. Now, none of that. Again, I almost do not know what to do with this information. I am, truly, excited at this development.

Finally the Lakers get some good injury news. Tonight’s game just got a lot less heavy.