Archives For Laker Analysis

On Friday the reports were that the Lakers had offered Byron Scott the head coaching job and that negotiations had ensued. On Saturday, reports are that a deal has been struck to name the former Lakers’ guard as their new head coach:

So, after nearly 3 months and as many interviews, the Lakers have found their man.

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The move that we looked at heading into the weekend became official on Monday when Ryan Kelly re-signed with the Lakers, signing his name to a two-year contract to return to the Lakers. From Eric Pincus of the LA Times:

Kelly will receive $1.65 million for the coming season and $1.72 million for 2015-16. Both years are fully guaranteed for a total of $3.37 million. The Lakers appear to have used part of their $2.7 million room exception on Kelly, leaving $1.08 million to spend on free agency.

The 48th overall pick from last season’s draft returns to a crowded front court where he will compete for minutes at power forward with rookie Julius Randle and amnesty waiver pick-up Carlos Boozer. Kelly may also see some minutes at small forward, though I still believe that his best position is at the big forward spot where his shooting and offensive skill set are better utilized against players who aren’t as used to defending players who play his style of game.

Kelly’s role, however, is a topic for another day. We still don’t even know who will be coaching the team, so exploring how he fits into the offense and how he can be best utilized within the scheme are a ways off. Instead, then, let’s shift our focus to this season’s second round pick, Jordan Clarkson.

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How did we get here?

Daniel Rapaport —  July 19, 2014

The glory days of Kobe and Phil may seem like ages ago, but a quick peek at a calendar reminds you that it really was only three years ago that the Lakers sat at top of the NBA pyramid. But my, oh my, how things have changed. The roster doesn’t look good, the future isn’t looking all that bright, and we still don’t have a coach. So, how did we get here? Let’s take a step-by-step look at just how things went so sour so quickly for the Lakers, starting with the end of the Phil era.

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I have openly wondered whether or not the Lakers would make another move in this free agent period. My hope, of course, is that they will. In order to sign another impact player, however, it’s important to understand what tools the team still has in their bag to accomplish this goal. With that in mind, I did some research on the Lakers’ cap situation to try and sort out exactly where they stand and what they can still do to improve the roster.

As of Monday, the Lakers have financial commitments — either already on the books or verbally — to nine players. Below are those players and their salary cap numbers (please note that these numbers are pretty rough, but should get us in the ballpark of where the team is payroll wise):

  • Kobe Bryant – $23.5 million
  • Steve Nash – $9.701 million
  • Jeremy Lin – $8.374 million
  • Jordan Hill – $6.770 million (cap hold; salary will go up to $9 million once contract is signed)
  • Julius Randle – $2.497 million (100% of his slotted salary spot; will go up to $2.997 when his contract becomes official)
  • Nick Young – $915K (cap hold; salary will go up to at least $4.5 million in the first year of his contract, could be higher)
  • Ryan Kelly – $1.016 million (this is the amount of Kelly’s qualifying offer that made him a restricted free agent)
  • Robert Sacre – $915K
  • Kendall Marshall – $915K (non-guaranteed salary)

If the Lakers were to renounce the rights to all the other free agents they have on their roster, they would also add cap holds in the form of $500K each for four additional players to bring them up to the minimum roster of 13. Add all these numbers together, including the aforementioned $500K and the Lakers are roughly — again roughly — at a payroll of $55.877 million*. The salary cap for next year is $63.065 million, leaving the Lakers about $7.5 million in cap space.

Of that $7.5 million, Nick Young’s salary eats up a major piece of it. Remember, until he is signed, he is only on the books for the amount of his cap hold. After Young’s salary, the rest of the money is slated to go to Jordan Hill who, like young, will be paid more than the amount of his cap hold. So, basically, the Lakers don’t have any cap space.

Not so fast.

Due to Jordan Hill** not yet signing, the Lakers actually do have cap space. As mentioned above, the difference between his cap hold and his starting salary next season is about $2.3 million. As long as Hill remains unsigned, this difference is cap space the Lakers have at their disposal. Also important is that the Lakers have Hill’s Bird Rights. This means they can go over the salary cap to sign him to his contract as long as they never renounce his free agent rights (meaning his cap hold will remain on the Lakers’ books).

What does this mean? It means that the Lakers have a little bit of wiggle room to chase another free agent. That, however, could be a bigger chunk of room if the Lakers take one last step: waiving Steve Nash via the “stretch provision”. This provision would allow the Lakers to spread out Nash’s salary this season over 3 years, reducing his cap figure to a shade over $3.2 million this season and opening up an additional $6.468 million in cap space.

Suddenly, the Lakers would have around $9 million to chase a free agent. This is not a small number and could, potentially, land a very good player (Lance Stephenson?) or two good, rotation players.

Of course, the Lakers would need to be willing to take the hit on Nash’s contract while essentially paying him to go away all while forfeiting cap space over the next two summers when they would be looking to add to the roster via free agency. Those scenarios inherently mean maximizing cap space and having Nash’s since expired deal still counting against the cap would be a drain. With the cap likely rising the hit wouldn’t be too severe, but it also wouldn’t be nothing.

When looking at this from every angle, I would be okay with using the stretch provision on Nash if the Lakers had a free agent commit to them who was worth it. The only target on the market I could see being worth this is Lance Stephenson since A). he’s an unrestricted free agent and once he commits there is no recourse from the Pacers to match (unlike Eric Bledsoe and Greg Monroe) and B). he is young enough where, if he can be had on a short 2 or 3 year deal (arguable if that is even possible) he can be a good asset in the short term who can be evaluated as a potential long term fit.

That is a lot of ifs and not a sure thing by any means. But the idea is worth exploring. The Lakers are in a position where they have used all their cap space and need to try and explore creative ways to generate more spending to improve the roster on the floor if they are really going to sell people that they are trying to compete for a playoff spot next season. Because as it stands now, filling out this roster with veteran minimum contracts after simply inking Young and Hill to their deals is highly unlikely to be a good team next year***.

*Thanks to Larry Coon and Eric Pincus for help in trying to sort out these numbers and the rules that the Lakers would be trying to navigate. Again, the numbers I have listed should not be taken as gospel, but they are in the ballpark and close enough that they are worth exploring. 

**This is possible to do with Hill, but not Nick Young because the Lakers do not possess Young’s Bird Rights. They also need to fall below the cap to absorb Jeremy Lin’s contract, so Young’s salary must be paid out of cap space.

***There is a strong argument to be made that even by stretching Nash and adding Stephenson, the Lakers wouldn’t be good enough to make the playoffs, so why spend the money? I understand this sentiment and don’t entirely disagree. The West is a minefield and, just like last season, the odds are a good team (or more) miss the playoffs out West. The reason why I’d support signing a guy like Lance is because at some point the Lakers must actually add talent to their roster and build the foundation for a winning team. Lance is not a superstar, but he’s a good player. He has been a fixture of the Pacers’ best lineups the last two seasons and has excellent two way potential.

The Lakers need more players like him if they are to attract quality free agents. Don’t think of it as “will stars come to play with Lance Stephenson?” but rather “will stars come to play on a barren roster devoid of talented players?”. I think the answer to that question is “no” even with the Lakers’ brand and history making the pitch. At some point the Lakers need to start grabbing mid to upper-tier prospects — especially young ones — who can form the nucleus of a good team that superstars want to join or be the base of trades to acquire them.

Just as we figured, the LeBron James decision has started a flurry of moves around the league as teams now move on to their own plans. That includes the Lakers who have helped facilitate the Rockets’ pursuit of Chris Bosh by taking Jeremy Lin off their hands. From ESPN:

The Houston Rockets have traded guard Jeremy Lin and a future first-round pick to the Los Angeles Lakers, a league source told ESPN’s Jeff Goodman.

The Lakers were amenable to this deal, according to sources, because Lin is only under contract for one more season, thus preserving their cap space next summer. They also covet draft picks, after trading away their first-round picks in 2015 and 2017 to Phoenix and Orlando as part of the Steve Nash and Dwight Howard trades, respectively.

If the Lakers are going to miss out on the big name free agents this summer — and with each passing minute that seems increasingly likely — they needed to move on to their Plan B and start to fill out their roster. Acquiring Lin helps in that.

Lin is the exact type of asset the Lakers have said to be pursuing this summer. He’s a good player (we will get into this later with a full analysis) and he is only signed for one more season. This allows the Lakers to preserve their cap space and financial flexibility for next summer when they can again pursue the top free agents on the market.

The sweetner here, however, is the 1st round pick the Lakers will also receive. While the Rockets are likely to be one of the top 5-10 teams next season and deliver a pick in the mid-20′s next June, that pick is much better than the one the Lakers would be slated to have should they finish outside the top 5 selections — which would be no pick at all. Now the Lakers will be armed with a pick that can be used in another trade or used to select another young player who can potentially be part of the team.

Viewing the deal through this dual prism, I am quite happy with what the Lakers have accomplished. When the Lakers talk about “financial flexibility”, this is one of the ways in which they use the term. Having money under the cap isn’t just about signing FA’s, it is about leveraging that space to absorb players and getting additional assets for their trouble. The fact that Lin can actually play, fills a position of need, and has other marketing qualities that will help the Lakers is icing on the cake.

It is about time the Lakers got creative and started to use all the assets at their disposal to improve the team in the short and the long term. Drafting Julius Randle was step one in this process. It remains to be seen what becomes of Lin as a player next year or what the pick they will receive from the Rockets produces, but the hope is that they too become pieces that improve the short and long term trajectory of the team.