Archives For

The Lakers are back in action tonight in summer league, facing off against the 76ers in the first round of the “tournament” that has become the second half of the LVSL.

And while the results of this game matter — if the Lakers win they advance, if they lose their summer league is over — I’m not really going to get worked up over what the final score is. If anything, I want them to win only so I get to see more of Julius Randle (and to a slightly lesser extent Jordan Clarkson).

Randle’s performance is, ultimately, the major takeaway from this team. While there are other players who have shown promise, it is the player who the Lakers selected 7th overall whose performance matters most.

In Randle’s first game he did not perform very well and looked like a player who had only signed his contract 20 minutes before tip-off while also doubling as someone who had not played much basketball in recent months. His timing was off, he looked a bit sluggish at times, and wasn’t able to find a rhythm.

Continue Reading…

I have openly wondered whether or not the Lakers would make another move in this free agent period. My hope, of course, is that they will. In order to sign another impact player, however, it’s important to understand what tools the team still has in their bag to accomplish this goal. With that in mind, I did some research on the Lakers’ cap situation to try and sort out exactly where they stand and what they can still do to improve the roster.

As of Monday, the Lakers have financial commitments — either already on the books or verbally — to nine players. Below are those players and their salary cap numbers (please note that these numbers are pretty rough, but should get us in the ballpark of where the team is payroll wise):

  • Kobe Bryant – $23.5 million
  • Steve Nash – $9.701 million
  • Jeremy Lin – $8.374 million
  • Jordan Hill – $6.770 million (cap hold; salary will go up to $9 million once contract is signed)
  • Julius Randle – $2.497 million (100% of his slotted salary spot; will go up to $2.997 when his contract becomes official)
  • Nick Young – $915K (cap hold; salary will go up to at least $4.5 million in the first year of his contract, could be higher)
  • Ryan Kelly – $1.016 million (this is the amount of Kelly’s qualifying offer that made him a restricted free agent)
  • Robert Sacre – $915K
  • Kendall Marshall – $915K (non-guaranteed salary)

If the Lakers were to renounce the rights to all the other free agents they have on their roster, they would also add cap holds in the form of $500K each for four additional players to bring them up to the minimum roster of 13. Add all these numbers together, including the aforementioned $500K and the Lakers are roughly — again roughly — at a payroll of $55.877 million*. The salary cap for next year is $63.065 million, leaving the Lakers about $7.5 million in cap space.

Of that $7.5 million, Nick Young’s salary eats up a major piece of it. Remember, until he is signed, he is only on the books for the amount of his cap hold. After Young’s salary, the rest of the money is slated to go to Jordan Hill who, like young, will be paid more than the amount of his cap hold. So, basically, the Lakers don’t have any cap space.

Not so fast.

Due to Jordan Hill** not yet signing, the Lakers actually do have cap space. As mentioned above, the difference between his cap hold and his starting salary next season is about $2.3 million. As long as Hill remains unsigned, this difference is cap space the Lakers have at their disposal. Also important is that the Lakers have Hill’s Bird Rights. This means they can go over the salary cap to sign him to his contract as long as they never renounce his free agent rights (meaning his cap hold will remain on the Lakers’ books).

What does this mean? It means that the Lakers have a little bit of wiggle room to chase another free agent. That, however, could be a bigger chunk of room if the Lakers take one last step: waiving Steve Nash via the “stretch provision”. This provision would allow the Lakers to spread out Nash’s salary this season over 3 years, reducing his cap figure to a shade over $3.2 million this season and opening up an additional $6.468 million in cap space.

Suddenly, the Lakers would have around $9 million to chase a free agent. This is not a small number and could, potentially, land a very good player (Lance Stephenson?) or two good, rotation players.

Of course, the Lakers would need to be willing to take the hit on Nash’s contract while essentially paying him to go away all while forfeiting cap space over the next two summers when they would be looking to add to the roster via free agency. Those scenarios inherently mean maximizing cap space and having Nash’s since expired deal still counting against the cap would be a drain. With the cap likely rising the hit wouldn’t be too severe, but it also wouldn’t be nothing.

When looking at this from every angle, I would be okay with using the stretch provision on Nash if the Lakers had a free agent commit to them who was worth it. The only target on the market I could see being worth this is Lance Stephenson since A). he’s an unrestricted free agent and once he commits there is no recourse from the Pacers to match (unlike Eric Bledsoe and Greg Monroe) and B). he is young enough where, if he can be had on a short 2 or 3 year deal (arguable if that is even possible) he can be a good asset in the short term who can be evaluated as a potential long term fit.

That is a lot of ifs and not a sure thing by any means. But the idea is worth exploring. The Lakers are in a position where they have used all their cap space and need to try and explore creative ways to generate more spending to improve the roster on the floor if they are really going to sell people that they are trying to compete for a playoff spot next season. Because as it stands now, filling out this roster with veteran minimum contracts after simply inking Young and Hill to their deals is highly unlikely to be a good team next year***.

*Thanks to Larry Coon and Eric Pincus for help in trying to sort out these numbers and the rules that the Lakers would be trying to navigate. Again, the numbers I have listed should not be taken as gospel, but they are in the ballpark and close enough that they are worth exploring. 

**This is possible to do with Hill, but not Nick Young because the Lakers do not possess Young’s Bird Rights. They also need to fall below the cap to absorb Jeremy Lin’s contract, so Young’s salary must be paid out of cap space.

***There is a strong argument to be made that even by stretching Nash and adding Stephenson, the Lakers wouldn’t be good enough to make the playoffs, so why spend the money? I understand this sentiment and don’t entirely disagree. The West is a minefield and, just like last season, the odds are a good team (or more) miss the playoffs out West. The reason why I’d support signing a guy like Lance is because at some point the Lakers must actually add talent to their roster and build the foundation for a winning team. Lance is not a superstar, but he’s a good player. He has been a fixture of the Pacers’ best lineups the last two seasons and has excellent two way potential.

The Lakers need more players like him if they are to attract quality free agents. Don’t think of it as “will stars come to play with Lance Stephenson?” but rather “will stars come to play on a barren roster devoid of talented players?”. I think the answer to that question is “no” even with the Lakers’ brand and history making the pitch. At some point the Lakers need to start grabbing mid to upper-tier prospects — especially young ones — who can form the nucleus of a good team that superstars want to join or be the base of trades to acquire them.

And with that simple announcement, Pau Gasol is a Laker no more. It is fitting that the man from Spain, where this happens yearly, has decided to join the Bulls.

In reality, we have known for some time that this day was coming. On his own website, after the season, Pau said that money would not matter as much as the chance to compete for and win championships. While the Lakers could offer the cash they cannot offer the high level team needed to advance deep into the playoffs. Gasol knows this just as well as we do and while his decision was surely difficult, you have to imagine this fact proved to be the tipping point.

As for whether or not the Lakers will get one last parting gift from Pau via trading him to Chicago, that seems unlikely.

Once acquired for expiring contracts, unproven talent, and draft picks while also being the key player who was to net the Lakers Chris Paul, Gasol now parts the team on his own terms and leaves them empty handed. The circle of NBA life is funny that way.

While the latter stages of Gasol’s time with the Lakers was somewhat tarnished by trade rumors and having his role jerked around, he will forever be remembered by me as a true warrior who gave his all to the organization to help it reach the top of the mountain. The Lakers don’t win their 2009 and 2010 championships without the Spaniard’s overall brilliance, without him being the inside foundation to complement Kobe’s wizardry from the wing. That duo formed one of the league’s best tandems, torturing opponents with diverse and immense skill and iron willed determination that spearheaded three straight trips to the finals and back to back championships.

Just as Kobe and Pau’s skills meshed masterfully, so did their personalities. Pau, by default is an introspective, and even polite, person. His more calm and patient demeanor played off Kobe’s more outwardly fiery personality perfectly and allowed them (along with Derek Fisher and Lamar Odom) to provide a full scope of leadership that those teams needed. They also, of course, found a perfect partnership in the most simple thing of all: a shared love of the game. During time on the bench or at glimpses behind the scenes, you would often see those two going over strategy and planning how to dissect a defense in order to get a key basket. And while there were times that Kobe could be hard on Pau publicly (his “big boy pants” comment comes to mind) these two were mostly on the same page, speaking the same language of winning basketball players.

Those days are over now, though. Fisher and Phil have long been gone. Odom too. Role players like Ariza and Ron, Farmar and the Machine came and went. But there was always Pau. But now he is a Bull.

And while Kobe will have new teammates, in a way he is now alone.

I, for one, will still root for Gasol and wish him nothing but success. The memories he brought me are simply too good for me to ever think of him negatively. I will always remember his chemistry with Kobe, how he instantly connected with Odom, how he took to the Triangle like a fish to water, and how he always seemed to take everything in stride like a true professional. Yes, he spoke his mind and could needle people in the press with the best of them, but even in these times he spoke with an elegance and grace and calm knowing that was respectful and measured.

I am sure he will do the same in Chicago. And will be watching from afar hoping he brings their fans some of the same joy he brought me.

Friday was a wild day for the Lakers. What started with a glimmer of hope that Carmelo Anthony might still decide to bring his talents to tinseltown, ended with the Lakers seemingly spending all their cap space on acquiring Jeremy Lin from the Rockets, re-signing Nick Young to a 4-year contract, and re-upping Jordan Hill for an additional two years (with a team option on that second season).

Not necessarily how many fans envisioned the team’s day evolving, that’s for sure.

The question isn’t what these moves bring to the Lakers, that’s really the easy part of all this. All three players are pretty proven commodities who fans should be quite familiar with. We’ll evaluate them more in time, but not now. That’s because there is a bigger question at hand: do the Lakers have one more move in them?

As mentioned above, the Lakers have seemingly used all their cap space on the aforementioned three players. In Lin ($8.37 million), Hill ($9 million), and Young (not yet known, but a 1st year salary of roughly $4.5 million is possible) the team’s nearly $22 million in cap space would be spent if all these deals were signed in the next 24 hours.

But, will they be?

If you want the Lakers to continue to be players on the free agent market, you should hope they won’t be. Because despite having commitments to those players, the Lakers can still try to do a bit more simply by using timing and various mechanics of the CBA to their advantage. The LA Times’ Eric Pincus explained this via twitter:

Okay, the difference between Hill’s cap hold and expected salary (roughly $2.3 million) and the room exception (an exception for teams who fall beneath the salary cap to sign another player above the minimum) don’t sound exciting, but they are options to sign a couple of more players who could help the team.

These aren’t the only cap gymnastics the Lakers could try, however. More from Pincus:

Pau Gasol is not going to be a Laker next year (more on this at another time), but the Lakers can still try to facilitate a sign and trade as Pincus notes. It would have to be perfectly timed and the Lakers would be limited in how much money they could bring back — they would need at least $13.5 million left of their cap space to sign Young and Hill. This isn’t much, but if a team wants to give up an asset for Pau while not sending much salary back it could be explored.

The only way for the Lakers to really up their cap space is to use the stretch provision on Steve Nash. This would turn their $2.3 million of cap space into close to $9 million in cap space. That would be enough to chase one high potential, second-tier free agent (Lance Stephenson?) or multiple mid-level free agents who could be part of the rotation. This may be far-fetched, but it is an option that still exists. And if you want the Lakers to be as good as they can be next season, you should hope that they explore all these options.

Of course, these are all just hypotheticals. And considering how quickly the Lakers moved in making the moves they did on Friday, I’d bet they are done looking. Add in that “stretching” Nash keeps money on the books beyond next summer and into years where the team is hoping to have clean books, it only adds further doubt they would take these measures. Instead, I would imagine they are destined to now fill out the roster much like they did this past year — chasing low cost players who need to rehabilitate their games and wouldn’t mind doing it on the stage the Lakers offer.

One can hope they still have one more trick up their sleeve, though. Because while I can live with what they have done to this point, I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t like at least one more.

Apparently, the Lakers aren’t done doing business today after trading for Jeremy Lin. According to multiple reports, the team has agreed to bring back Nick Young:

Nick Young is entertaining. And last year he proved to be a good teammate, bringing good spirit and a sense of joy to a lockerroom that desperately needed both. He also had one of, if not his best statistical seasons of his career. There is no doubt that he can play and when you combine that with his love of the game and how he can bring a fun loving nature to a team, I can understand wanting him back.

That said, I am not in love with this deal. Young is already 29 and, if the above report is true, the 4th season is a player option. Maybe a 32 year old Swaggy P decides he wants to test the market one last time before his contract expires, but that seems doubtful to me. In essence, then, the Lakers are paying Young roughly $5 million a year for the next four years. As much as an argument could be made for paying a bench scorer of his caliber this much money, his age makes it more of a gamble than, say, if he were even two years younger.

The flip side to all this, however, is that the Lakers now have another good player on a roster that desperately needs them. Young has his warts and will always have his detractors because of his shot selection and only average defensive ability, but he can impact a game offensively. If his skills on that end of the floor can be harnessed to their maximum potential while finding ways to cover up some of his limitations, he can be a very good contributor on a *contract that is not, from a pure numbers standpoint, totally okay.

If all that sounds like I am trying to sell myself on this deal. It’s because I kind of am. Young surprised me this past season however. Maybe he will do so again.

*The number on Young’s deal — roughly $5 million per year — may be seen as an overpay, but in reality is the equivalent of a mid-level exception contract. Those contracts are typically very tradable assets on the market and can make for good filler in larger deals. I am not trying to trade Young right as he inks his new deal, but it is worth noting that should it ever come to that, his contract could be useful in a variety of ways down the line. Just something to keep in mind.