Archives For Free Agents

The Lakers’ quiet off-season is now officially over. After having discussions with several free agents (George Hill, Dion Waiters), the team has found its man (and someone to take their money) in former Piston Kentavious Caldwell-Pope:

First, it’s important to note how unlikely this exact signing would have been a week ago.

KCP entered this summer as a restricted free agent with the Pistons. It was not until the Celtics secured Gordon Hayward in free agency and needed to off-load some salary did things shift. Danny Ainge executed a trade with the Pistons, sending Avery Bradley to Detroit for Marcus Morris. Adding Bradley meant that Stan Van Gundy found his “shooting guard of the future” and it made KCP expendable. Gone went his qualifying offer and with it his restricted status. He could now go to any team he wanted.

And he chose the Lakers and their one-year deal. Excuse me if I seem shocked. I am. Caldwell-Pope surely had longer term offers on the table. To eschew those to sign with the Lakers for one year seems almost unfathomable to me. Credit to the Lakers’ front office of Magic and Pelinka for getting this done. They got a young FA, about to enter his prime, to sign in LA for a single season. Yes, the dollar amount is high, but that seems irrelevant to me at this stage. Again, he could have made much more on a longer deal.

As for fit, KCP instantly slides into a thin backcourt at SG and can be slotted between Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram rather seamlessly. He’s a good (not great, but good) shooter from distance, hitting 35% of his 3’s — but he did so on nearly 6 attempts per game. That volume from distance is what intrigues me more than his percentage as it shows me a player who is comfortable taking the long ball and someone who, because of that volume, teams will defend him more seriously out on the arc.

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July 4th has come and gone and, with that, some dominoes have started to fall. Gordon Hayward is a Celtic. George Hill is a King. As is Zach Randolph. Otto Porter signed a max offer sheet with the Nets and several other lower tiered free agents have also agreed to new deals. Of the eight players I covered in my free agency primer, only KJ McDaniels (#7) and Tyler Ennis (#8) remain unsigned.

This leaves the Lakers in an interesting, though not unpredictable place. Anyone with some foresight could have seen this exact scenario playing out.

The Lakers, strapped with good, but not great, cap space (a little over $16 million) and armed with only 1-year deals to offer voluntarily put themselves in a corner when negotiating with any target. JJ Redick signed a 1-year deal, but it was for $23 million — or about $7 million more than the Lakers have in total cap space. The team spoke with Hill about a 1-year deal, then he signed with the Kings for three years with an annual salary of $19 million. Even second tier targets like Justin Holiday and Darren Collison signed for two years. Omri Casspi was a player I wanted and he signed for 1-year for low dollars but did so with the world champion Warriors.

You see where I’m going with this. There’s really not a deal signed by FA’s to this point where the Lakers had any sort of an advantage in negotiations or where the final deal signed lined up at all with what the Lakers could offer.

So, what should the Lakers do with their cap space now? Let’s look at a few options:

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It’s July 4th and while Lakers fans are waiting for their free agency fireworks, they might just settle for some sparklers at this point. The team has been fairly quiet since the market opened, making contact with Andre Iguodala (stayed in Golden State) and Ben McLemore (signed in Memphis), had multiple conversations with Rajon Rondo (still unsigned), and have met with Dion Waiters and George Hill — who are both still on the market.

Hill is the best name among this group for what the Lakers need. He’s a point guard in name, but more of a combo guard in skill set. He’s a fine lead ball handler who can initiate the offense, run P&R’s, and create shots for himself and teammates (though this is not his best strength, to be sure). He’s also a very good off-ball worker, someone who can make spot up jumpers, understands spacing, and knows how to attack a compromised defense when the ball rotates to him and the opposition is in scramble mode.

Defensively he’s also an excellent player. He offers good size and length, has a keen understanding of opposing team’s tactics and habits, tracks his man and gets to his help responsibilities fluidly, and competes hard on that end. Due to his size and smarts, he can guard either backcourt position and not be overwhelmed. He’s not an all-NBA level performer on that end, but everywhere he’s been he’s helped make his team’s defense a top third of the league unit and while that’s a team stat, I don’t think you can dismiss Hill’s role in making that happen.

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The Lakers have been quiet in free agency through two days, having discussions with several players and waiving Tarik Black, but that’s about it. No signings, not even any face to face meetings with potential additions. That last part, at least, is going to change on Sunday night, however:

Waiters is a former client of Lakers GM Rob Pelinka, so the meeting makes sense if only looking at it from that angle. Of course, it makes sense on other levels too.

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As we outlined in our free agency primer and our podcast on potential plans once July 1st hits, the Lakers’ plan to chase stars in the summer of 2018 impacts what they can do in free agency this summer. When you need every spare penny to sign two max salary players a year from now, whatever you spend now needs to be carefully counted for then.

Even if this wasn’t simple math, the front office came out and told us as much on Thursday. Mark Medina has the intel at the OC Register:

“We’ll be very strategic to keep the cap space in 2018,” Pelinka said after the draft. “We’ll be very sacred about that. We worked very hard to get into that position. So we’ll be smart in free agency.”

To be smart in free agency, the Lakers also have set their eyes on two realities. The Lakers are not expecting to acquire George from the Indiana Pacers amid their insistence on keeping Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram. With their hopes set on George becoming available next summer, the Lakers want to pursue players who fit specific criteria that would accelerate the young roster’s development…

…But at what cost? The Lakers want to minimize multi-year contracts, but they are open to spending a bit more as a way to compensate for a one-year deal. As much as they want to attract elite stars again in 2018, the Lakers are also intent on acquiring veterans who will have a positive influence on their young roster.

First, let’s talk Medina’s last point about limiting 1-year contracts. As we’ve discussed plenty, this is to be expected.

The Lakers simply do not have the financial flexibility on their roster to add salary which runs through the summer of 2018 without having to cut that same money (and more) to open up the space needed to chase the stars they covet. Taking this approach will impact their negotiations and reduce the number of viable targets they can sign, which many in the local media are taking to mean the team simply will not be very active when the bidding opens at midnight eastern July 1st.

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I’m going to be completely honest here. I’ve little clue what to think about the Lakers as they head into this free agency period.

Teams can start to come to agreements with players in just four days and, really, that should be an something to get excited about — especially for a team like the Lakers that is looking to improve. But with so many moving parts surrounding this roster’s construction, it’s difficult to really formulate a clean course of action when there are some key open questions about the direction of the roster.

Are the Lakers going to trade for Paul George? Are they going to do anything about their glut of PF’s and C’s? How are they going to manage Tarik Black and his non-guaranteed contract for next season? Are there any players from the end of last year’s rotation who deserve a longer look (Tyler Ennis, Thomas Robinson, etc)? Is this front office willing to commit any money this off-season that will be on next year’s books?

Answering any of those questions one way or the other re-routes the Lakers down a different path, like one of those choose your own adventure books I read when I was a kid. Do the Lakers trade for Paul George? Yes => Advance to Page 327. Do the Lakers pick up Tarik Black’s option? No => Advance to Page 285.

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With the Lakers’ season over and the new front office frequently emphasizing free agency as a means to strengthen the team, fans have been focused on ways to create more cap room and targeting potential free agent targets. This may just be my impression, but it sounded like the primary justification for hiring Pelinka was his ability to navigate the cap and leverage his relationships with agents and players to recruit free agents, and Pelinka has probably spoken more on that aspect of team building than anything else.

After the misadventures in free agency the team has experienced the last few years, I have spent a fair amount of time thinking through the best way to obtain and maximize cap room. A few months ago I worked through the Lakers salary cap picture for the next few years, highlighting how much room the team likely have under different scenarios and ways the Lakers could build around the core and add impact players like Paul George. That analysis drove home the need to take advantage of a two-year window to add pieces using potential cap room, before Randle, Russell, and Ingram’s extensions kick in and eat up any possibility of meaningful space.

In this post I will try to forecast this summer’s free agent market conditions by looking at the available capital and free agent pool, comparing these conditions to the last few summers (including last year’s mind-blowing bonanza), and then thinking through how the market should impact the Lakers’ strategy.

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We recently told you the Lakers had upped their training camp roster to 18 via the signing of 3 players. Well, their camp roster is now up to 20 after the additions of Metta World Peace and Thomas Robinson according to Shams Charania of  The Vertical.

Before we get to the merits of each player, I think the best way to look at both signings as a continuation of the major theme of the Summer. After Luke Walton was hired, almost every soundbite coming from him or his staff has been related back to two central themes — competition and culture.

Walton has openly discussed wanting to establish a culture where players wanted to come into the gym and work hard. He wants players to have fun, but he wants that fun to come out of competing every day and cultivating an environment where players can improve.

The Metta and Robinson signings are an extension of these ideas.

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