Archives For Free Agents

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.

With Kobe Bryant sidelined at least 6 weeks and all three point guards on the shelf injured, the Lakers needed to add a warm body who can initiate an offense and soak up some minutes at the lead guard spot. Late Thursday night, they have done just that, adding 2nd year point guard Kendall Marshall.

Marshall was the Suns’ 1st round pick last season (13th overall) but sat behind Goran Dragic and Sebastian Telfair nearly all season. Heading into this year, he was looking to establish himself as a rotation player but with the Suns trade for Eric Bledsoe, and the regime who drafted him shown the door, he was traded as part of the Marcin Gortat to the Wizards deal that got Phoenix a first round pick in the upcoming draft. The Wizards, however, promptly waived him as they too were comfortable with their point guard rotation of John Wall and Eric Maynor.

Marshall then took his talents to the D-League, catching on with the 76ers affiliate Delaware 87ers where he averaged 19.7 points and 9.6 assists in nearly 37 minutes a game over the 7 contests he played.

On the surface, this signing fits right in with what the Lakers have done in the past year. Marshall has a nice pedigree as a prospect but, for a variety of reasons, hasn’t really shown he’s capable of playing in the NBA to this point in his career. His shooting numbers in his lone season with the Suns were not good and the fact that the Wizards waived him outright is a bit of a red flag. All that said, much Al Davis and Bill Parcells used to say in the NFL, at some point someone thought this kid was a real talent and guys like that are worth taking a chance on. Especially when the price is a minimum contract for a team desperately in need of a player at his position.

As for what Marshall can do on the court, there’s really not much to go on. Theoretically, he’s a very good set up man who has excellent court vision. He offers good size and while he’s not a great athlete, he is smart and knows where to be and when to be there. Whether that can translate into actual production on both ends of the floor remains to be seen, but even if you have doubts about this (which I do), the fact is that Marshall is young enough and still a developing prospect. Taking a chance on him being able to turn into someone who can play 10-15 minutes a night while the other point guards heal is more than worth it.

If you’re looking for a sliver of hope with Marshall being able to see court time soon, two factors work in his favor. First is that his D-League numbers, while not amazing, show he has some talent. His overall field goal percentage (41.3%) is low, but he’s shown an ability to hit the three ball (19-41 from deep in those 7 games) and his passing — his best trait by far — has translated to very good assist numbers. The other good thing about Marshall is that when he was drafted by the Suns, Alvin Gentry was still their head coach. Gentry was one of Mike D’Antoni’s top assistants with the Suns and when he took over as the head man, he essentially kept the offense intact. This should mean that Marshall has had some exposure to at least some of the principles of what the Lakers’ do on that side of the floor and that should help him transition.

Again, though, these are all just hopes. Marshall was a lottery pick from a big college program and that works in his favor. He was also traded away by the team that drafted him a year ago and promptly waived by the team that acquired him. I’m sure the Lakers hope they’re getting the guy with the ACC pedigree and elite passing skills who has a developing offensive game. On the surface it’s doubtful that ends up being the case, but based off the chances they took on Xavier Henry and Wes Johnson that have worked in their favor, maybe they catch lightning in a bottle a third time. Considering their depth issues at that spot, there’s certainly no risk in trying.