Archives For Free Agents

The absolute chaos formally known as the NBA’s annual free agency period toys with fans’ imaginations each and every year. In an instant, a team’s fanbase can go from being depressed about what the next five years will look like to fantasizing about a starting five that includes every marquee free agent. I have to admit that during this free agency period, I’ve fallen into the trap. You guys, I’m really, really excited about having even a slight chance of landing Carmelo Anthony. And you should be too.

There’s a belief among a troubling amount Lakers fans on the Twittersphere that the purple blue and gold should not offer Carmelo the maximum 4-year, $97 million dollar contract that they’ve put on the table. Those who believe this claim that Carmelo isn’t a “winning player” because he’s yet to make it to the Finals in his first eleven years in the league. And while I respect the passion of the fanbase (it’s what makes ours the greatest in the sport), I feel as though the anti-Carmelo camp needs a stern talking to from the voice of reason. And I personally volunteer to act as the voice of reason.

I’d like to start by dispelling the rumors that Carmelo isn’t a winner. Sure, Carmelo hasn’t enjoyed deep playoff runs during his stellar career. But last season was the first of his career that he missed the playoffs. Carmelo has been the first option on every team he’s ever played on, so it’s not like he’s riding the coattails of other superstars, also. Clearly, Carmelo knows what it takes to win in the NBA. To knock the dude for not having won a championship is lazy; as a certain team from South Florida has shown, one, and probably even two, superstars aren’t enough to get a title in today’s NBA. I have zero doubts that if given a sublime supporting cast like LeBron was in Miami, Carmelo could contend and win championships.

And as Melo passes the 30 benchmark and heads toward the tail end of his career, you have to believe his main focus above all will be winning. He’s looking for his Miami, a place to go and join other players that he can trust in order to get that elusive championship. And for those of you who have watched Carmelo play for Team USA, you know that when he wants to be, he can move the ball very well within an offense and isn’t always the gunner ball-stopping type that his haters label him as. If he leaves New York, he’ll be desperate to win, no matter what it takes.

Kobe and Carmelo’s friendship has been well-documented and probably a bit exaggerated by the media these past couple days. But it’s true that the two are very close and that Kobe admires and respects Carmelo, and we all know that Kobe doesn’t give compliments easily. They’ve won two gold medals together and both share the ability to hit mind-blowingly difficult fadeaway jump shots (they probably don’t bond over this, but I have an image in my mind of the two playing absolutely epic HORSE games that last until the early morning). So the locker-room chaos that took place last year with Dwight having such a different approach to his job than Kobe and Nash wouldn’t realistically be an issue.

I’m somewhat confident in suggesting that Laker fans do, and should, trust Phil Jackson’s judgement. Hell, Phil is a borderline deity to Laker fans, and rightfully so. So my question is this: If Phil badly wants to keep Carmelo in New York, shouldn’t you want him in Los Angeles? Phil Jackson understands the inconvenient truth that these type of players don’t come along too often, and when they do, you simply can’t let them walk despite the fact that sometimes they may shoot too often.

Let’s be honest here. Signing Carmelo is virtually the only chance the Lakers have to get Kobe his coveted 6th ring, which seems to be the number one priority for the front office whether you agree with it or not. That’s why it blows my mind that some people truly believe the team would be in a better position to win and win soon without Carmelo. When you accept the reality that the Lakers have no shot of landing LeBron, it becomes shockingly evident that the Lakers don’t have many options here. Some are proposing LAL sign a younger player whose best days are ahead of him, like a Lance Stephenson or an Eric Bledsoe type. But those type of players are still 2 or 3 years away from entering what I like to call “prime championship years.” While your physical prime might come around 25, it takes more than being in your physical prime to win championships. It’s during a player’s late 20’s/early 30’s, when he’s still in the tail end of his physical prime while simultaneously understanding what it takes mentally to be a champion that he’s most likely to win (see James, LeBron or Jordan, Michael). Carmelo is in his championship prime. He’s ready to win now.

Lastly, let’s revisit just how special of a player Carmelo is. Sure, he has his flaws, but I don’t think people realize just how good Carmelo Kyam (isn’t that a sweet middle name) has been over the past two seasons. Over the past two years, he’s averaging exactly 28 points, 7.5 rebounds and 2.9 assists on 45% FG, 39% 3FG and 83.9% from the line. For those of you who claim he’s not efficient, he’s finished in the top-10 in each of the past two seasons in Player Effeciency Rating. Those are bonafide superstar-in-his-prime numbers. And that’s exactly what Carmelo Anthony is- a superstar in his prime.

When you have the opportunity to get a superstar in his prime, you should be pumped.

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.

Welcome to free agency. The Lakers are a team with major cap space (and the ability to create more should they make a decision to attempt to jettison Steve Nash via the stretch provision or via a salary dump trade) and hope to attract the type of difference maker that can transform a franchise.

Of course, that means a guy like LeBron James or, to a much lesser extent, Carmelo Anthony. The Lakers are supposedly very interested in both and hope to meet with both, even planning a meeting with Carmelo for later this week (after the forward makes his visits to Chicago and the two Texas teams). The team is also rumored to still be very interested in keeping Pau Gasol, likely as a bridge player to help facilitate an Anthony signing.

Those plans, however, don’t have a high probability of success. James seems to be giving Pat Riley and the Heat every opportunity to make the requisite roster adjustments to bring him back to Miami. And while one may hope that a pitch from Kobe and the potential of a returning Pau would sway Melo, the odds that he finds a better situation with the Bulls, Rockets, Mavs, or even back in New York are likely.

If the Lakers strike out, then, what will their plan be? Apparently it is to chase multiple free agents in the class below that upper tier, hoping to grab more than one on what would be team friendly deals:

Is this a viable plan? Time will tell, but I have my doubts. Free agency is typically about overpaying for a talent you want to lure to your team — especially when you’re a team like the Lakers who are mostly a blank slate and coming off an awful season. There are two ways you overpay free agents: with money or with years. The Lakers, seemingly, will offer neither.

Maybe they will splurge from a dollars standpoint on one free agent by offering an above market deal. But they certainly won’t do so on two as it will be that much more difficult to fill out a viable roster around Kobe Bryant and Julius Randle (still seems strange to type that sentence, by the way).

Where will that leave the Lakers? It’s impossible to say for certain, but if their strategy is to only chase the biggest stars with the real money and years while offering fewer dollars and years to the players who are on the next tier down they could find themselves without either.

Free agency begins when the clock strikes midnight, turning Monday into Tuesday. At that point teams will be making their initial phone calls to free agents, putting out feelers and proclaiming interest. This includes the Lakers, who will be chasing the biggest fish on the market but would be wise to also look at the mid-tiered prospects who will be needed to fill out a roster that the front office obviously hopes will compete for a playoff spot next spring.

In the lead up to being able to sign other team’s free agents, the Lakers have made a couple of minor moves to help clean up their own cap. From the LA Times’ Eric Pincus:

The Lakers have given Ryan Kelly a $1-million qualifying offer, making the former Duke forward a restricted free agent.

Kelly was selected by the Lakers with the 48th pick in the 2013 NBA draft.

After a slow start as he recovered from April 2013 foot surgery, Kelly become a regular contributor this season, averaging 8.9 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.1 blocks a game after the All-Star break.

The Lakers have chosen not to give guard/forward Kent Bazemore a qualifying offer of $1.1 million. He’ll become an unrestricted free agent this week.

I would have been on board with extending qualifying offers to both players, since both are so cheap and the Lakers will surely need to fill out their roster with players just like them — young, inexpensive, and eager to prove themselves capable of sticking in the league.

That said, declining to make Bazemore a restricted free agent makes a lot of sense for the Lakers. First, he is recovering from foot surgery and, even if he recovers to full health, right now his status is in doubt. Second, and more important, is that Bazemore is not likely to earn more than a minimum level deal on the open market. With this being the case, the Lakers can make him an unrestricted free agent and clear up some minor cap space in process all while speaking to him about potentially returning next year. Losing his rights does nothing to disrupt the Lakers’ plans and if both sides decide it would be good to have him back next season, they can work on that deal later in the free agent period.

Kelly, however, is a different story. The Lakers surely see Kelly as a player who will have more value on the open market and/or as a player they would like to retain next year. Making him a restricted free agent by extending him a qualifying offer gives them the right to match any contract Kelly is offered on the open market, which not only gives them leverage but options as well. If a team were to offer Kelly a contract, the Lakers could either match or let him walk for nothing. Another option would be to try and negotiate a sign and trade to the team who signs him to an offer sheet, extracting an asset in the process. I don’t envision that is the route things go with Kelly, but it is nice to have these options.

Of course, the hope is that bigger moves are on the horizon for the Lakers come July 1st. But in order to sign any of the bigger name players, the Lakers needed to make these smaller decisions in order to clean up their own house and clear up exactly what they are working with. Now, the real hunting can begin in earnest.

Trying to guess what another human being will do is usually very foolish. We’re not in that person’s head, do not know what he or she values, what might motivate them to choose option A over option B. There are simply too many unknowns to try and guess what choice will be made in any given situation.

In saying that, when dealing with sports there are usually two things that matter most: money and winning. In today’s NBA, for the top stars, the latter is usually more important than the former as long as they are still getting paid somewhere near what their maximum salary is.

This brings me to LeBron James and, to a lesser extent, Carmelo Anthony. After Anthony informed the Knicks that he would opt out of the final year of his contract on Monday, LeBron told the Heat the same on Tuesday. Both will be free agents and instantly jump to the top of every team’s list as the most sought after targets on the open market.

If you are a Lakers fan, this probably excites you. After all, this is the moment the team has supposedly been building for over the last several years. It is why nearly every player’s salary came off the books this past summer; why the front office has preached “flexibility” as often as possible when it comes to explaining nearly every roster move they have made recently. The Lakers want to sign star players and rebuild as quickly as possible. Now, two of the biggest stars in the league (and two excellent players — LeBron’s case, the league’s best) are there for the poaching. Again, this is the Lakers’ moment.

There’s only one problem. Despite having money to spend, the Lakers still aren’t necessarily in a very good position to snag LeBron or Anthony, much less both.

Don’t get me wrong, there are ways to get there and these are the ways that the fans who believe this is possible will rattle off from now until some point in July when everyone’s minds are made up. In no specific order:

  • The Lakers have the ability to free up around $30 million in salary cap space to chase two star players. If LeBron and/or Melo take less than their max salary, they can sign with the Lakers and the team will still have room to chase another big time player (or, in the case of the LeBron AND Carmelo dream, both can sign for around $15 million each).
  • This is the Lakers. They have the franchise history, the Los Angeles market, the stars in the stands and banners in the rafters. Not to mention, they always treat their superstar players well and will always go the extra mile to accommodate them. This matters to players and when the front office pitches players, they will remind them off all the above.
  • The Lakers have not yet hired a head coach. To outsiders, this may seem like a deterrent, but this is just one more sweetner the team can offer any prospective free agent. We want your input on who the next coach should be.

I do not deny there is some merit in thinking this way. There is nothing outlandish in the bullets above and any actual pitch the Lakers make to one (or more) of the top free agents will include this logic.

However, what this line of thinking ignores are some of the basic realities about team building and what the Lakers would need to do in order to get to the point where some of the above statements are even true. For example:

  • In order for the Lakers to get upwards of $30 million in cap space, they would need to renounce every free agent on their roster while trading Steve Nash and the #7 pick while taking close to no salary back in return. The former is expected at this point and is only a formality. The latter, while doable, isn’t so simple. The Lakers would likely need to use the #7 pick as sweetner to take on Nash’s deal which makes the process easier, but also uses a very good team building asset in a poor manner. The idea in chasing star free agents is at least somewhat connected to how close a team is to winning. Getting zero return on a good asset makes you further away from a better foundation to help lure good players.
  • The history of the Lakers is one thing, but the present can be perceived as quite another. As I wrote when discussing Phil Jackson taking the Knicks’ job, there is a perception that Jim Buss is not good at his job. Whether this is true or not doesn’t mean as much as the idea having traction. I don’t think whatever views are held of Buss erase the Lakers storied past, but if players are concerned about ownership or the direction of the franchise, that will affect the pursuit of free agents.

I don’t say any of this to say that the Lakers should not try to sign the best free agents. Having LeBron hit the open market is exactly why they have a max salary slot open heading into the summer. They wanted to be able to sign any single player of their choosing at any salary he can command under this CBA. Now that this is actually possible logistically, you bet they will try to make their pitch. If they can convince guys to take less and try to sign more than one of these players, more power to them.

Just don’t expect the Lakers to come out victorious in this and have LeBron and/or Carmelo actually playing at Staples as part of the home team next year. Because much like looking in your side mirror while driving, as close as the Lakers may seem they are still quite a ways away from luring one of the top free agents. Yes, they can offer the money (at least to one of them), but offering the chance to win right away is much more complicated.