Archives For Laker Analysis

We are on the eve of free agency and the Lakers are looking to add talent. We have laid out the different approaches the Lakers can take in free agency, but practical navigation of these paths won’t be nearly so straightforward. Fact of the matter is, when the Lakers dip their toes into the free agent waters, they’ll likely use a combination of all different strategies to try and upgrade the team, putting out feelers to players at all levels to express interest in the hopes of getting commitments from as many players as possible who can affect the bottom line of wins and losses.

The questions, of course, are who are these players and what positions should the Lakers prioritize? Before we try to answer those questions, though, a few points worth mentioning:

  • The Lakers have several players who have non-guaranteed deals who they will need to make decisions on. Some of these decisions will be impacted by free agency. For the time being, I am thinking they end up keeping Jabari Brown and Tarik Black. I also think Sacre returns (you can never have enough bigs).
  • There are several free agents who I do not believe the Lakers have any chance at signing. These are guys who are either a restricted free agent whose team will almost certainly match any offer sheet or are so entrenched in their current situation, I don’t see them leaving.
    • These players, in no specific order are: LeBron James, Marc Gasol, Jimmy Butler, Draymond Green, and Kawhi Leonard. I have a feeling Dwayne Wade and Kevin Love will join this list, but I’m keeping them off, for now. But I don’t thing there’s really a chance the latter two join the Lakers even though, their names have been linked to the team in one way or another.
  • The Lakers already have meetings lined up with LaMarcus Aldridge and DeAndre Jordan. They’ll meet with Aldridge at 9:01pm PST on Tuesday, right after free agency opens. They will meet with Jordan on Wednesday. Greg Monroe will also have a meeting with the team.
  • The approximate max salary slots for players like Jordan and Aldridge (seven to nine years of NBA service) will be 30% of the cap, which, based on current projections, should be around a $18.9 million first year salary. For players with zero to six years of service, the max will be 25% of the cap, or around a $15.8 million first year salary.

With that out of the way, let’s focus on what the Lakers should actually do when the clock strikes midnight on Tuesday (at least on the east coast).

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While I am firm believer the Lakers cannot be fixed in a single off-season, they are in position to make some important signings in free agency starting late Tuesday night when the 2015-16 NBA season officially opens for business. Should Jordan Hill’s option not be picked up (which it, reportedly, will not be), the Lakers look to have roughly $24 million in cap space. This is a healthy amount of money which can be divided in any number of ways to upgrade a roster that, while on the ascension, could sorely use more talent.

The purpose of this post, though, isn’t to look at who the Lakers should chase, but rather what approach they might take in spending their cap space. Before we get into those paths, however, a few points worth mentioning:

  • The $24 million mentioned above is only an estimate, due to a few reasons:
    • Jordan Hill’s $9 million option must be decided on before Tuesday.
    • The Lakers have several players on non-guaranteed contracts for next year — Jordan Clarkson, Tarik Black, Robert Sacre, and Jabari Brown.
    • The Lakers two 1st round picks carry cap holds tied to their guaranteed contracts as first rounders
  • Players of different years of service have different “max” salary amounts. Players who have 0-6 years of service have a maximum salary of 25% of the salary cap. Players who have 7-9 years of service have a maximum of 30% of the salary cap. Players with 10+ years of service have a maximum salary of 35% of the salary cap. Of course, there are ways around these numbers, but for the purpose of the Lakers’ free agency pursuits, these are the percentages that matter.
  • There are unrestricted and restricted free agents. The former are free to sign with whoever they want. The latter are still tied to their current team via an ability to match any offer made to the restricted player. The team who has the right to match has three days to make their decision. During this waiting period, the cap space offered to the restricted free agent by the team making the offer is tied up in the offer and not available for an offer to any other free agent.
  • The longest deal the Lakers can offer a free agent from another team is 4 years.
  • Because the Lakers will once again fall under the cap, they will not have the “mid level” or “bi-annual” exceptions available to them. Instead, they will only have the “room” exception — roughly a $3 million salary slot to chase a mid-level type of player.

With all that information out of the way, below are the three general approaches the Lakers can take in free agency. For the purposes of this post we are going off the $24 million cap space estimate. Let’s start the slideshow. (Just kidding.)

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After two consecutive seasons of being one of the worst teams in the NBA, those who cheer for the Lakers are ready for a change. An escape from wondering about lottery odds would be nice. Meaningful games in April and May would be nice. Anything but the awfulness of the last two campaigns would be nice. Forget a return to prominence, a return to competitiveness is what drives fans to seek out optimal solutions to the team’s many problems.

I am of the opinion the Lakers made real strides towards becoming just that again with their drafting of D’Angelo Russell with the #2 overall selection on Thursday. I think Russell is worth the #2 pick, believe his skill set is is diverse enough to be a highly successful player, and see his physical tools as being enough of a foundation to be at least a neutral defender (and potentially better) as he matures and learns the league. Add it all up and he’s a guy I’m very happy with.

The players the Lakers took with their other picks — Larry Nance Jr. at #27 and Anthony Brown at #34 — are not nearly as highly touted, but have useful skill-sets and physical attributes to be successful pros. Whether they can channel those traits and use them to turn potential into actual production remains to be seen. There is a reason many refer to the draft as a “crapshoot” – there are just too many unknowns to speak on most all prospects with absolute certainty and, for many, with only some certainty at all.

But positive steps forward have been made. This is worth feeling good about. It is also natural, I think, to want to see the team advance even further in their improvement this off-season. The Lakers, as a brand, could use not only a bounce back to being respectable, but to a team competing for the playoffs and, ultimately, even more. Jim Buss does have a timeline he’s being held to, after all.

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The always smart and clever Dan Devine of Yahoo’s Ball Don’t Lie made his comment above right around the close of the 1st half of Sunday’s game 5 Warriors’ win over the Cavs. Mozgov would only end up playing an additional four and a half minutes all night (and did not start the 2nd half), Ezeli got a shade over three minutes all game, and Bogut did not play at all. No country for big men, indeed.

After the game, both head coaches were asked about the decision to play their big men as few minutes as they did. I’m paraphrasing, but Steve Kerr cited the desire to speed the game up to a tempo more his team’s liking while Blatt dodged the question entirely, simply noting that what his team was doing was working (noting “the game was close the entire time”).

This shift away from big men, especially sine it has occurred on the league’s biggest stage, combined with the excellent play of LeBron and Curry while each team trots out lineups filled with other versatile wing players has reinvigorated the discussion about the direction of the league and how it has become, essentially, a “guard’s league”.

In a way, I really don’t blame people for making these conclusions. After all, if you watch the myriad of perimeter difference makers the Warriors deploy or watch LeBron almost single handedly keep his team in games by making plays all over the floor as a scorer and facilitator, it’s easy to become intoxicated with the style of play we are watching.

However, I would caution against tilting too far away from any perspective which does not properly value big men. The NBA hasn’t so much become a game dominated by wings as much as it has become a game dominated by the most skilled players. And those players, for the most part, are wings.

But this does not mean skilled big men do not have immense value in this league. Sure, either the Warriors ore the Cavs will win the championship this season, but if you look back at the championship teams through the past decade and a half, you see names like Duncan, Bosh, Gasol, Bynum, Odom, KG, Nowtizki, Rasheed, and Shaq. Not all of these players were “Centers”, but all operated as foundational pieces within their teams offensive and defensive schemes.

When looking at the draft, both Karl Anthony Towns and Jahlil Okafor can only hope to reach the heights some of the names mentioned above did, but when hoping so, it is important to note both have a high enough skill level to do so. Towns, as we have discussed, has an inside power game combined with an ability to stretch his game to the perimeter which is not often seen. Of course, there are fewer questions about Towns than there are, it seems than about Jahlil Okafor.

As for Okafor, we love to pick him apart, but his deft low-post scoring and ability to pass and make reads against schemes meant to slow him are key traits needed for any big man working 15 feet and in. When making the leap to the NBA, he has the tools to be able to operate in the hub of most any offensive scheme as a scorer and a playmaker for others. Defensively we have our question marks — valid ones, I’d add — but only time will reveal if he’ll be able to use his physical tools (length, strength, quick feet) to be in the right position and challenge shots often enough to be a key contributor on that end.

Of course, neither will be guards facilitating offense via pick and roll initiations or wing isolations on a cleared side from the three point line. But both have the skill needed to be able to operate from the middle of the floor as scorers or passers, making correct decisions to help their teams excel.

So, while it’s reasonable to glorify the excellent guard and wing play being displayed in the Finals, it is not reasonable to look at Bogut or Mozgov and equate that to the value of all big men moving forward. For one thing, the Finals are about winning one series against a specific opponent who has certain strengths and weaknesses to counter and exploit. But second, and even more important, some big men can also play the skill game and bring enough diversity of game and polish to thrive no matter what direction the league is evolving. After all, the name of the game will almost always be to get the ball as close to the hoop as possible to create the most makable shots. Big men who can do it consistently will never go out of style.

Renato Afonso is a long time reader, commenter, and friend of FB&G.. He is based in Portugal, played semi-pro hoops, and after that coached his alma mater for two years. He now passes his time in a veteran’s league while waiting the arrival of his first born. This is his inaugural post at FB&G. Welcome, Renato!

In today’s NBA there’s a lot of talking about spacing, ball sharing, efficiency and advanced statistics. Teams like the Rockets assume that feeding a big man in the low post is nonsense and the long two is absolutely forbidden, maximizing the number of shots at the rim, three pointers and free throws.

But this new way of thinking can only be applied when you have good three point shooters, guys that are able to get to the rim and good free throw shooters. Obviously, a free throw is always uncontested but one can argue that an open midrange jump shot may be the most effective shot an offense can get at any given moment. Sometimes the defense doesn’t allow you to finish at the rim or simply denies open three point shots and all you’re left with is what the defense gives you. When such thing happens there’s an obligation to convert those midrange jumpshots. With this, the best shot isn’t necessarily a three pointer but actually the available open shot. It goes without saying that long contested twos are obviously worse than long contested threes. This is also assuming average players and not statistical outliers like our own Kobe Bryant.

In the midst of these thoughts, I found myself completely absorbed by the Grizzlies-Warriors series that proved that there are different ways to run an offense, there are different ways to play proper defense and talent can be presented in several ways.

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Is it just me or is the sun a bit brighter today?

Even if it’s not, it sure feels like it after the Lakers not only held on to their top-5 protected draft pick, but moved up to the 2nd slot overall by leapfrogging the Knicks (sorry, Phil) and the 76ers (more on them in a minute) at Tuesday’s NBA Draft Lottery. No, the Lakers didn’t get all the way to #1, but getting to #2 is a fantastic turn of events for an organization which hasn’t had many things go right in the last two plus seasons.

So, in the wake of all this happiness, below are 10 thoughts in the aftermath of the Lakers lucky lottery:

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The playoffs are showing each and every fan of the Lakers just how far away the team is from the level needed to play high stakes games in May and June. Look at the remaining five teams (bye, Chicago) and the same formula exists: superstar player (or players) in or approaching their prime, very good (if not elite) coaching, and role players who can perform steadily and/or reach a level where they turn a game in their team’s favor.

Look at the Lakers’ roster and there is no indication they have any of these things right now. While the playoffs offer fantastic entertainment (did you watch the drama of the Clippers’ collapse in game six vs. the Rockets?), they also offer a reminder the Lakers aren’t just at the bottom of the mountain, they are still in the supplies shop roaming the aisles looking for the right equipment to start their journey.

There are glimmers, however. Julius Randle may have missed his entire rookie season with a broken leg, but his season long commitment to his rehab — including weight loss which should help his already established quickness and athleticism — combined with an intriguing skill set is a nice piece to work with. As is Jordan Clarkson, a player who developed very nicely over the course of the season by showing a combination of athleticism, ball skills, and an ability to apply off-court teachings to on-court action. We do not yet know what these players will become, but their ceilings are high enough that envisioning them as contributors to a winning team isn’t far fetched.

The next piece of the puzzle, of course, is what occurs in the upcoming draft. Should the Lakers be able to keep their own pick, the ability to nab another player who has a combination of talent, pedigree, and potential to be able to provide similar impact to Clarkson and Randle is there. The Rockets’ pick (owed from the Jeremy Lin deal) and the Lakers own 2nd rounder offer less potential for immediate impact, but do provide additional avenues to improve the talent base.

Each one of those picks represents a potential step in the right direction. Just as every free agent signee is and every move to add or subtract from the coaching, training, and scouting staffs are. Mitch Kupchak has said many of the right things about not mortgaging the team’s future in the pursuit of quick gains, but that must also play out in strategy employed when managing the entire restoration of an on-court product which has been the worst, results-wise, the organization has ever seen.

The Lakers, even while a vocal sect of their fanbase festers with impatience, must understand they cannot skip steps. There is no such thing as a three-run homer when no one is on base. In order to be great once again, they must first merely be good. Good enough to develop winning habits, good enough to attract better talent, good enough so “making the leap” is realistic and not an endeavor destined to fail.

All of this will require several small — and some big — things going well. A foundation of success must be built and cultivated. And while we are in a time where, after two awful seasons, the desire is to be great again soon, simply being good may not just have to be enough, it may be necessary.

The Lakers, with Kobe Bryant’s disastrous extension wiped away that summer, could sniff three max cap slots. The Lakers’ cap flexibility yielded nothing of note last summer, but a Lakers team with the ability to offer a package deal to multiple stars is the ultimate NBA bogeyman.

(via Zach Lowe: How the NBA’s New TV Deal Could Blow Up the Salary Cap)

In the coming summers, this upcoming one included, the Lakers should have immense spending power. They purposely built their roster to “maintain flexibility” and be able to be a major competitor on the open market for the league’s best free agents.

This upcoming summer, for example, should the team not exercise their team option on Jordan Hill and get two first round picks (their own — which is still in question — and the Rockets, which is not) the Lakers would have between $20-23 million in cap space come July 1st. This number would include cap holds for Jordan Clarkson, Tarik Black, Robert Sacre, and Jabari Brown. Jump to the Summer of 2016 when, as Zach Lowe notes above, Kobe’s contract comes off the books, and the Lakers could be in a position to spend boatloads of money on free agents to rebuild their roster with an influx of amazing talent.

When viewing the team’s trajectory through this prism, visions of what the Miami Heat did in the Summer of 2010 becomes a model many fans hope to follow. Keep the cap clean — maybe even losing a lot next season to get another high pick — and then spend like crazy in the summer of ’16 when there will be a batch of free agents worth spending the cash on. There’s a seductive logic to this that is easy to be roped into. I get it.

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