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Just as we figured, the LeBron James decision has started a flurry of moves around the league as teams now move on to their own plans. That includes the Lakers who have helped facilitate the Rockets’ pursuit of Chris Bosh by taking Jeremy Lin off their hands. From ESPN:

The Houston Rockets have traded guard Jeremy Lin and a future first-round pick to the Los Angeles Lakers, a league source told ESPN’s Jeff Goodman.

The Lakers were amenable to this deal, according to sources, because Lin is only under contract for one more season, thus preserving their cap space next summer. They also covet draft picks, after trading away their first-round picks in 2015 and 2017 to Phoenix and Orlando as part of the Steve Nash and Dwight Howard trades, respectively.

If the Lakers are going to miss out on the big name free agents this summer — and with each passing minute that seems increasingly likely — they needed to move on to their Plan B and start to fill out their roster. Acquiring Lin helps in that.

Lin is the exact type of asset the Lakers have said to be pursuing this summer. He’s a good player (we will get into this later with a full analysis) and he is only signed for one more season. This allows the Lakers to preserve their cap space and financial flexibility for next summer when they can again pursue the top free agents on the market.

The sweetner here, however, is the 1st round pick the Lakers will also receive. While the Rockets are likely to be one of the top 5-10 teams next season and deliver a pick in the mid-20′s next June, that pick is much better than the one the Lakers would be slated to have should they finish outside the top 5 selections — which would be no pick at all. Now the Lakers will be armed with a pick that can be used in another trade or used to select another young player who can potentially be part of the team.

Viewing the deal through this dual prism, I am quite happy with what the Lakers have accomplished. When the Lakers talk about “financial flexibility”, this is one of the ways in which they use the term. Having money under the cap isn’t just about signing FA’s, it is about leveraging that space to absorb players and getting additional assets for their trouble. The fact that Lin can actually play, fills a position of need, and has other marketing qualities that will help the Lakers is icing on the cake.

It is about time the Lakers got creative and started to use all the assets at their disposal to improve the team in the short and the long term. Drafting Julius Randle was step one in this process. It remains to be seen what becomes of Lin as a player next year or what the pick they will receive from the Rockets produces, but the hope is that they too become pieces that improve the short and long term trajectory of the team.

Fast Break Thoughts

Darius Soriano —  July 10, 2014 — 106 Comments

Some links and thoughts to hold you over while we wait for the free agency dominoes to fall…

  • Julius Randle remains unsigned, though is on his way to Las Vegas as part of the Lakers’ summer league team. Randle isn’t likely to suit up until he puts his name to a contract and at this point we will wait — a day, more? — for that to occur. All signs point to Randle remaining unsigned so the Lakers can preserve the extra bit of cap space that will be tacked on to his contract. Rookies generally sign for 120% of their slotted salary and every little extra bit helps. As an aside, with Randle unsigned the Lakers could still, technically, trade his rights to a different team whereas if he was signed there would be a waiting period before they could do so. I don’t believe that will happen, but it is something to keep in mind.
  • Speaking of summer league, Ben Rosales of Silver Screen & Roll has a nice breakdown of the players who will suit up for the Lakers. Get to know these guys, they should be fun to watch.
  •  While summer league will be a nice distraction, all eyes do remain on the free agent ticker. Several Lakers from last year’s team have already inked deals with other teams, for good money too. If you’re keeping score at home, Jodie Meeks got $6 million a year for 3 years from the Pistons, Chris Kaman got $10 million over 2 years from the Blazers, Jordan Farmar got $4 million over two years from the Clippers, and Steve Blake just got similar money as Farmar from the Blazers. I wish all these guys nothing but the best on their new teams. Last season they all showed they could be rotation players in the league and they will get their chances on their new rosters.
  • Of course, some would have liked the Lakers to bring back one or more of those guys. Personally, I could go either way. While all are serviceable players, none truly stood out to me last season. The closest were probably Meeks and Farmar. Meeks had an excellent season and showed growth in several areas, but when his career is over, last season’s numbers may stand as his best season. Farmar, while showing he is now a very good shooter, was also injured for half the season and didn’t quite show as much next level passing as you’d like from a starting caliber guard. Again, I like both players fine and would have welcomed them back, but losing them to another team isn’t the end of the world. Best of luck to them.
  • This is nearly two weeks old, but if you missed it, give Zach Lowe’s piece on Jason Kidd departing the Nets for the Bucks a read. The Kidd stuff is very good and worth your time on its own. But the bullet points also have a couple of Lakers’ related nuggets that speak to the team’s financial health.
  • On that note, Brian Kamenetzky wrote a very good piece on why the Lakers should be patient this off-season.
  • Lastly, Kobe Bryant is holding his annual basketball camp in Santa Barbara right now and did a press conference to open things up. He spoke on a variety of topic, but in this clip he speaks on his health noting that he feels “great…strong and crisp” and notes that he doesn’t think about his knee or his achilles when he’s training. He also talks about the way he “pitches” the Lakers as a free agent destination.

On Thursday, July 10th the free agent moratorium period is officially over. What this means, is, all the deals you’ve been reading about — Farmar to the Clippers, Channing Frye to the Magic, Kyle Lowry back to the Raptors, Dirk re-upping with the Mavs — become official. So, expect a lot of tweets from athletes with pictures of them inking their new deals.

What you can also expect is for the dominoes start to fall in terms of the major free agent decisions coming.

It’s not just your imagination that we have been waiting longer for the biggest fish to make up their minds on where they are going to sign. As someone pointed out to me on twitter, last year Dwight made his intentions to sign with the Rockets on July 6th. When LeBron left Cleveland for Miami, he made his decision public on July 8th. We are now beyond those dates and none of the LeBron, Carmelo, or Bosh trio have made their decisions known.

Sure, there have been stories about LeBron choosing between the Heat and the Cavs, Bosh mulling an offer from the Rockets should he not re-sign in Miami, and Melo choosing between the Knicks, Lakers, and Bulls. But nothing concrete has emerged and all we have is rumor and innuendo. That will likely change very soon, however.

In fact, it could be as early as Wednesday.

That is the day that LeBron will meet with Pat Riley in Las Vegas (where LeBron is holding his basketball camp). One can only guess what James will tell Riles, but it’s likely to be more than just a check-in on the Heat’s progress in making moves beyond the deals they inked Josh McRoberts and Danny Granger to.

No, LeBron is likely going to tell Riles whether he’s staying or going. After all, everyone’s chips are now on the table. It’s pretty much known that LeBron wants the maximum contract allowable (at least in terms of dollars per year) that he can make under the collective bargaining agreement. Riley knows what that means in terms of being able to sign Bosh and Wade while honoring the commitments he just made to McRoberts and Granger.

After LeBron informs everyone of what his plans are, expect soon after for Anthony and Bosh’s plans to also be made public. If not by them, then through leaks reported to the masses. And then the floodgates should really open as teams who were waiting on the stars to sign start to ink the Luol Deng, Trevor Ariza, and Lance Stephenson types to their respective deals.

So, be patient for just a couple more days and we should have our answers. Hopefully, when it’s all said and done the Lakers will be getting some good news.

There are few things certain with the Lakers right now. Whether it’s their coaching search, their pursuit of free agents, or the production their holdover players can provide to next season’s roster this is a team with more questions than answers.

One open question, though, has been answered. After being drafted with the 7th overall draft, the questions shifted from Julius Randle’s talent to whether a pre-draft report about him potentially needing foot surgery would turn out to be true. On Wednesday the Lakers sent Randle to a foot specialist and, for what seems like the first time in a couple of seasons, the Lakers actually got some positive injury news:

This, of course, is a huge sigh of relief. Concerns that a screw would need to be removed and, with that, deal with a recovery period of up to 6 months were quite real. Instead, Randle will likely be in Las Vegas with his summer league mates, showing off his skills and generating excitement for the fans.

In the midst of all the wondering, at least the Lakers have something they can hang their hats on. And hopefully for a long time to come, too.

UPDATE: Well, so much for a potential chase of Kyle Lowry. The free agent guard has decided that Toronto is the “right place” for him and has re-signed with the Raptors to the tune of 4 years/$48 million. He will have an early termination option after the 3rd year of his deal, giving him the chance to opt out and test the free agency waters again when he’s 31 years old. As noted below, it was always a long shot that Lowry would be a Laker, but the idea of pursuing him still intrigued. The Lakers, though, never really got that chance. Instead, they will meet with Carmelo Anthony tomorrow as planned, hoping to land the superstar forward.

While I am admittedly a bit skeptical of how the Lakers’ free agency plans will play out, it doesn’t mean they should not be putting their best foot forward by exploring all their options and pursuing a path to improve the team. After all, even after the draft, the Lakers still have as many as seven roster spots to fill just to get to the minimum of 13 to carry for the season. There is work to do.

That work seems to involve exploring the tier below the superstar gets and targeting two perimeter players:

Before we get too ahead of ourselves, I’m not incredibly encouraged that either player will be a Laker next season. There are hurdles to clear in the form of contract terms likely to be offered (the Lakers are rumored to only do a 2 or 3 year deal for free agents not named LeBron or Carmelo) and the competition the Lakers face from other suitors who offer more complete rosters to join. Not to mention the Lakers are merely listed as “interested” or “bidders” which only amounts to so much.

In saying all that, I would be on board with the Lakers signing either or, if possible, both free agents.

For those who have followed this site for some time, you likely remember Reed, a fantastically astute basketball fan who posted thoughts here both on the main board and in the comments. Over the summer we have discussed all things Lakers’ and early this summer he had thoughts on these exact two players:

I see two really interesting unrestricted free agents this summer that are young, have room to grow, and reasonably likely to be all star level producers — Kyle Lowry and Lance Stephenson. They are rare unrestricted free agents in that they are very young and have room to grow. There is some likelihood they both produce at 15M a year levels. If we could lock up both for beginning at 9-10, stretch Nash to free up another 6, and bring back Gasol, I’d be pretty happy.

More on Lowry:

Point Guard is a critical position given the breadth of PG talent in the league, and he can match up physically with other elite players at the position. He would provide playmaking and take pressure off of Kobe going into hero mode. Plus, he is pretty low risk to bust, and would be a valuable trade chip in the future when going after even bigger fish (Westbrook, Durant, etc.)

And on Lance:

I think we see if we can land Stephenson on a favorable deal. I was actually happy to see his erratic behavior during the playoffs as I believe it drove down his price and probably limited the number of interested suitors. But I believe that Kobe + the right coach could maximize his talent, which is prodigious.  He’s the one FA out there that could probably be had for $8-9M a year, but who could provide max level returns. Maybe you give him an opt out after a year or two in case he breaks out, but try to get him in the door this year at a favorable price.

You can quibble with what it might cost to get either player (Lance just turned down $8-9 million a year from the Pacers), but this analysis is sound. Both Lowry and Stephenson offer prodigious talent are relatively young (28 and 23 respectively), and are physically gifted for their positions. (Yes, Lowry is only listed as 6 feet, but he is sturdy and strong and offers very good quickness as well.)

Of course there are questions about both players too. Lowry has bounced around the league in large part because he can be a pain in the butt to his coaches. He has reportedly matured in last couple of years, but there’s a reason that he’s 28 and just now seen as a player who will command $10+ million on the open market. And Lance is, well, Lance. He’s been seen as a head case since he came into the league and his antics in the second half of this season and in the playoffs (especially against the Heat) drew heavy critique and countless eye-rolls around the league.

There is a reason both players are on the market as unrestricted free agents as they hit or will soon hit their primes.

But, the Lakers are devoid of talent. Especially high end talent. Sure they have Kobe. And the hope is that Julius Randle becomes a steal of this draft and produces like a top 3 pick he was touted to be when enrolled at Kentucky. Beyond them, however, the cupboard is basically bare. It’s time to stock up and these two players have what the team can use.

Getting them to sign is another story. Will short term, high dollar salaries work? As I mentioned on twitter, would Lance decline a 5 year/$44 million deal from the Pacers and sign with the Lakers for 2 years/$23 million? Would Lowry sign for something similar? Again, this seems doubtful, but that is where the allure of the LA market, the franchise’s history, and the current front office brass making a solid pitch on building towards the future would need to close the gap.

As I said at the top, I am skeptical. But this is a plan, if executed, that I could get behind.