Archives For Free Agents

Free agency, for the most part, is run its course and nearly every major name on the market has had his fate decided (Brandon Jennings is the one player still twisting in the wind). With that being the case, the rush to grade the winners and losers has also commenced and the Lakers aren’t looked upon too kindly after losing Dwight Howard. Here’s a sampling from the great Zach Lowe at Grantland:

Oh boy, was there a lot of Lakers schadenfreude among rival execs in Las Vegas — and a lot of confusion about why the Lakers are bothering with Chris Kaman/Nick Young types instead of going into full-blown tank mode.

I keep hearing from L.A. fans assuring me this is a playoff team. Really? Take a look at the Western Conference: The Clippers, Spurs, Thunder, Grizzlies, Rockets, and Warriors are locks, barring catastrophic injuries. That’s six spots. Denver still lurks, Portland fattened up its bench, Minnesota and New Orleans are both going for it, and Dallas has shown it’s hard to win fewer than 40 games with a healthy Dirk Nowitzki and even a so-so supporting cast.

News flash, Lakers fans: Kobe is coming off one of the worst late-career injuries a player can suffer, and this defense was a giant sieve anytime Howard hit the bench last season. This looks like a lottery team banking on free agency for salvation, only it’s not quite bad enough to get true lottery value.

Whether the Lakers are a playoff team, at this stage of the off-season, isn’t really an argument to get into. There are simply too many unknowns to account for and opinions are mostly shaped by whether you envision each team reaching their ceiling or not.

A topic worth digging into more, however, is how the Lakers have responded to losing Dwight Howard and what that signals for the direction they want to go. As Lowe states, the Lakers aren’t tanking. They’ve taken a punch on the chin in losing Howard, but have responded by getting up off the mat and sticking to their game plan of trying to land their jab in hopes of setting up a power punch at a later junction of the fight.

Mitch Kupchak spoke to the idea of tanking in a recent conference call with the media. From Mike Bresnahan of the LA Times:

“You know that’s not our plan. Our plan was to bring back Dwight Howard and that would have sky-rocketed our payroll,” Kupchak said. “That’s never a plan here with our fan base, to throw in the towel before the season begins. We always try to win, and that’s what we’re going to do this year.

“We have challenges. There’s no doubt. We don’t know when Kobe’s coming back, and we don’t know what level he’s going to come back at, although we’re optimistic. Everything’s good with Steve [Nash]. Pau [Gasol] should be fine. We’ve added some athleticism. We’re hopefully putting ourselves in position where we can compete in every game.”

As Kupchak states, there’s really no way of knowing how many games the Lakers will win next season considering the variables they’ve faced in building this team and the circumstances they face heading into training camp. Kobe’s recovery, Pau and Nash’s ability to remain healthy and perform, and how well that added athleticism translates to actual basketball performance all remain to be seen. If all those things break in the Lakers’ favor, the team will likely defy expectations and be better than early projections suggest. If they don’t, the team will fall to the back of the pack of a crowded Western Conference.

The bigger point, however, is that the Lakers aren’t simply surrendering that position in the race before the starting gun is fired. They’ve decided to at least try and field a competitive roster and see where that takes them rather than eschewing trying to win in order to secure a high(ish) lottery pick, as enticing as that may be. And, in trying to win, the team is sending the message (or at least trying to) that winning is what matters most, not necessarily the accumulation of another young asset that can be part of the future.

Make no mistake, this is a strategy that comes with a fair amount of controversy. The most valuable asset a team can have is a top level contributor on a rookie scale contract. And while those players can be plucked in mid to late portions of the first round, they most often come from the top several picks in the draft. Looking ahead to next June, the 2014 draft is one of the deepest and most talent filled groups in more than a decade and the prospect of setting yourself up to land one of those top players has the potential to be extremely rewarding. The Lakers, though, aren’t doing that and, as Lowe questioned above, many are wondering why, especially when this team, no matter how competitive they can be, are clearly a step (and likely two or three) below championship contention.

I’d suspect the answer has multiple layers — franchise pride, being able to sell tickets, convincing veterans like Kobe, Pau, and Nash that losing is what’s best — but the most important may be a look at the one thing those who support tanking so often cite as the goal of all those losses: building a better future.

The Lakers hope to rebuild their team quickly through free agency. They hope to convince stars on other teams that leaving their current situation for the Lakers is the best move for their respective careers. That sell job, however isn’t as easy as it may seem. Recently Paul George spoke about speculation that he’d leave the Pacers to go to the Lakers when he enters free agency:

Indiana can’t offer near the same luxuries off the court that Los Angeles does. Still, George is excited about the future of the Pacers, including the recent re-signing of forward David West.

George also is happy that Bird and Pacers general manager Kevin Pritchard are at USA Basketball’s minicamp to support him. The Lakers, meanwhile, are transitioning after Dwight Howard departed in free agency for the Houston Rockets.

“I’m happy to be in Indiana,” George said. “I’m happy to be where I am. If I was going to leave Indiana and come to the Lakers, it just wouldn’t be a smart move for me. We got a great thing going right now.”

What wasn’t said outright was certainly implied by George. Why would he leave the Pacers for a team that is not as good? The answer is, he wouldn’t. What was also unsaid was that George would be forfeiting financial security to try and get to the Lakers and that surely plays a part in his decision making as well. But, if the biggest goal is winning, a lot of these players are likely to look at a the team recruiting them and openly wonder how close that new franchise is to competing for a championship.

That brings us back to tanking. The Lakers aren’t in a position to compete for a title next year as constructed and with the rest of the league as strong as it is. But, that doesn’t change the fact that they are in a position to remain competitive and, thus, show other free agents that they’re not that far away from competing should they choose to relocate to Los Angeles.

The point is simple: by trying to win (and, hopefully, succeeding) the Lakers position themselves as a team that can take the next step as an organization with just a little bit of help from a couple of new pieces. If that pitch sounds familiar, it should. It’s the same pitch the Chandler Parsons used on Dwight Howard. Of course Parsons (and Harden, Lin, etc) are younger than the core the Lakers have to offer next summer. But the point remains: the better the team is, the closer they are to winning, and the more appealing they are to a free agent.

This isn’t to say this is a pitch without holes in it. A high lottery pick could be viewed as even more of an asset when trying to win games than an extra 10-15 wins on the docket that won’t be carried over from one year to the next. And, you can never truly know how veterans view the next up and coming “star” as a teammate. Do they want to wait on his development? Do they think he can instantly be part of a winner? Does his low salary play into their minds as a positive when considering roster construction? These are unknowns and likely vary on the individual free agent.

But as it stands, the Lakers seem to be gambling on the fact that winning as many games as they can next season is best not just for next year, but beyond. Time will tell if that turns out to be true.

Money Matters

Darius Soriano —  July 24, 2013

A casual look around the internet reveals a simple truth: more people care about what the Lakers will be doing a year from now than what occurs in the months leading up to that date in 12 months.

Yes, people wonder (and care) about how good the Lakers can be next year, whether or not they should be tanking for a top draft pick, when Kobe will return (and how good he will be when he does), and whether or not Nick Young will shoot a lot (no one actually wonders this, we all know he will). But, even though these are legitimate talking points, the real intrigue around the Lakers is what they will do next summer when they can potentially have a boatload of cap space to chase any free agent who is on the open market.

I say “potentially” because the Lakers’ cap situation isn’t as clean as many have led you to believe. Sure, it’s possible the Lakers can have as much as $50 million in cap space, but that number isn’t exactly real. Nor is it very likely to exist when July 1, 2014 rolls around on your calendar. I’ll let Kurt Helin of Pro Basketball Talk explain:

Continue Reading…

After signing Chris Kaman, Nick Young, and working on a buyout to get Jordan Farmar on board, the Lakers have made another move in free agency. From Mike Bresnahan of the LA Times:

From the opening of free agency, Johnson has been a player of interest and someone I thought could make sense for the Lakers  as a value signing:

If you’re looking for a wing player who fits into the mold of the type of guy the Lakers should take a risk on, Johnson is your guy. He checks off the desirable boxes of youth, athleticism (though he’s not an elite athlete), and good size for his position. Johnson was also a former lottery pick who flashed talent, but never found a way to put it all together in Minnesota or in Phoenix. As far as his game, Johnson has always been seen as a player who would impact the game offensively, but I see most of his upside coming on the other side of the floor. He has good length and can slide his feet well enough and that translates to being able to guard either wing position fairly well. Last season in Phoenix he held opposing SF’s to a PER of 12.4 and SG’s to a PER of 14.5, numbers that show a certain amount of defensive ability. His problem has been that he hasn’t been able to do enough offensively to stay on the floor and considering that’s his pedigree, he’s largely been a disappointment. However, if he can remake himself into a solid “3 and D” player (he only shot 32.3% on threes last season, but did shoot 35.6% his rookie year), he can have value in this league.

Johnson is by no means a difference maker and should not be viewed as some savior heading into next season. The Lakers will be his 3rd team since being drafted #4 overall in the 2010 draft and the fact that he’s been given up on twice this early in his career doesn’t inspire confidence. When you add the fact that Johnson is already 26 years old (for comparison’s sake, Kevin Durant is 24), we may be looking at a player who doesn’t have much “upside” left. Or at least the type you’d hope for when talking about a player drafted as high as he was so recently.

That said, 26 is by no means ancient and the NBA has a habit of giving up on young players too early in their careers. Sometimes it takes some failure and a guy refitting his game to a new role under different expectations to really find his niche. The hope is that Johnson can follow that path rather than simply being another on a long list of lottery flameouts.

Even if Johnson doesn’t pan out, however, he’s well worth the risk at this price and playing in the role he’ll likely be asked to fill. As a bench player who will likely be sharing the floor with at least one (and likely two) of Kobe, Steve Nash, and Pau at all times, he can work as a slasher and spot up shooter on offense. As a wing working on the weak side, he should see plenty of late rotations to him when he’s spotting up and if he can work well off the ball, he should be able to sneak in for easy shots around the basket as the defense rotates away from him.

And, as noted in the excerpt above, I think he has very good potential as a defensive wing where he offers above average physical attributes. He can guard either shooting guards or small forwards and can also help down in the paint when needed. He’s also a capable defensive rebounder who can slide down and get on the glass when big men rotate.

Ultimately, this is a very good signing for the Lakers as they continue to add depth at reasonable prices. Johnson has some ability and with a reduced role where he can play off superior teammates, he may just find a place in this league. And, if he doesn’t, it’s a small financial commitment. Sounds like a win-win situation for both sides.

The Lakers have finally signed a free agent to play on the wing and he should be a familiar name to residents of Los Angeles. Per USA Today’s Sam Amick:

Young is a Los Angeles native and a product of USC. He was then drafted in the first round by the Wizards and has bounced around to the Clippers and the 76ers in the past couple of years. Young will have to play for the minimum, since that’s all the team has to offer to free agents at this point.

To be honest, of all the wings available on the market, Young was the one who I had the most questions about should he be signed. Young is a relatively high usage, low efficiency player who has had issues with differentiating between a good shot and a bad one. Said another way, Young is a gunner. He’s also not known for his ability to create shots for others, so his ability to put the ball in the basket is about all he’s bringing to the table offensively.

That said, what Young can do is what nearly no other Laker sans Kobe has been able to do consistently: he can create his own shot at any point in the shot clock. This can be a valuable skill and it’s one that the Lakers didn’t have enough of, even with the addition of Jordan Farmar. What Young can also do is hit the occasional 3 point shot, especially if he’s taking it from above the break or the top of the key:

 

Nick Young

Young’s lack of prowess from the corners is a bit concerning and if he’s unable to knock that shot down consistently, he’s going to struggle playing on the weak side when the Lakers run their P&R sets. However, if he can continue to hit at a reasonable rate from above the break, he can still be a valuable outside threat when the Lakers run more post centric sets or HORNS when the ball isn’t kept as flat.

Young also isn’t known as a lock down defender by any stretch, but his metrics aren’t awful either. When playing SG or SF, he holds his man to a PER of 14.2 which is right around league average. And, based off his on/off numbers in Philadelphia last year, the 76ers defense stayed flat whether he was in the game or not. There are worse things in the world than being a neutral defender and if Young can channel is size and relative athleticism into simply playing hard on that end of the floor the Lakers could have done a lot worse on that side of the ball by signing a different player.

So, in the end, considering his contract and his skill set, this is a pretty good signing. Young will have his nights where he’s hot and knocking down ridiculous PUJITs and the crowd will love him. And there will be nights where he drives everyone crazy with his shot selection and gunning when making the easy pass would be the better option. This is who Young has been his entire career so I don’t expect that to change now. However, considering the Lakers’ lack of depth on the wing and need for more players who can create their own shots with the ability to positively impact the game with bulk scoring, Young is a nice enough get. There will be a large variance in his production from night to night, but for the minimum, that’s what you’d expect.

*Statistical support from NBA.com

Wednesday Storylines

Dave Murphy —  July 10, 2013

There’s the rock star reunions that aren’t so cool, y’know the go-through-the-motions and strap on the Stratocaster and yawn your way through some outdated set list from a decade or so ago. And then there’s the reformations that you crave. If Kobe, Pau, Lamar and Farmar somehow end up on tour again, I’ll pay to see the show. If the Machine is on board as well, so much the better. And if Metta can miraculously wind up on the other side of the amnesty period, still in purple and gold? Mad Dog’s already coaching the D-Fenders and Kurt Rambis is in the mix for an assistant coaching slot.

What could make this even tastier? Some white-haired dude in a tall chair with a split-finger whistle? At some point it becomes ridiculous of course, it’s just piling groundless conjecture onto a few actual crumbs. Jordan Farmar did sign for veteran’s minimum however, so that part of it’s real. Plus the onetime caveman from across the hall has joined the band – he was never an actual member but he did jam in the same rehearsal space. Whatever Mitch Kupchak’s game plan is, I don’t think he brings a bunch of old faces back just to tank.

Dave McMenamin from ESPN writes about the signing of Jordan Farmar to a one-year deal. “I’ve been a Laker since I was born” says Farmar. You gotta love that.

In some interesting math mechanics, Eric Pincus from the LATimes asks if Kobe could take veteran minimum in 2014 to help the team. The Lakers would still hold his Bird rights and could then sign him to a max contract for the following year.

Mike Bresnahan for the LATimes writes about Phil Jackson’s humor, the Lamar Odom possibility and bringing the band back together.

Robert Sacre was a very solid #60 pick for the Lakers in last year’s draft. He has now signed for a second year – Drew Garrison from Silver Screen and Roll has the story.

Also per Drew Garrison, if Metta World Peace is amnestied, the Knicks will be his preferred destination.

Brett Pollakoff from ProBasketballTalk looks at last year’s highest NBA luxury tax bills, topped by the Lakers.

Daniel Buerge from Lakers Nation speaks with Roland Lazenby on the Lakers future and Jim Buss.

And finally this. Loren Kantor is a woodcutter/writer from Los Angeles who did a woodcutting of Chick Hearn and wrote about it.

***

Today being July 10, free agents can officially sign contracts. Of course, much of the deciding has already been done. For the Los Angeles Lakers who carry a heavy payroll, the choices are limited. They spent their mini-mid level exception on Kaman and are now dependent on veteran minimum deals, the league’s version of bargain basement bag-stuffers. The Lakers have often used these deals on older brand name players who never had their chance at a ring. This year, they seem to be looking at another angle, the idea of reuniting players who’ve already had their best days in Los Angeles. A sizable piece of the puzzle would be the return of Lamar Odom. After the events that led to his departure in 2011, I paraphrased the old Thomas Wolfe phrase, that you can’t go home again. I’m hoping I was wrong.