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 MG 2088This is going to be a fascinating Lakers season on various levels, but one is the narrative surrounding the myriad Lakers who are in contract years this season. Outside of Steve Nash, Robert Sacre and Elias Harris, there are no Lakers who have contracts that extend past the 2013-14 season. Nick Young has a player option for the 2014-15 season, but can opt out of his deal for greener pastures should he choose to do so.

Going into a season, we’d normally segregate the various contractual castes, but what the top and bottom of the notional salary totem pole have in common is the dynamic that everyone is playing for a new deal this season. Kobe Bryant playing to show that he’s still worth top dollar, in theory, isn’t any different than Jordan Hill or Steve Blake or Jodie Meeks wanting to have a great season to earn a bigger contract over longer years.

Guys going into a season knowing that they’re in a contract year isn’t a new phenomenon, but a team with this many players not knowing what their respective contract situation for the following season is unprecedented, and could potentially be problematic. One of the Lakers biggest issues last season was a lack of chemistry. From the coaching change to the clashing personalities to the plethora of injuries, the team never got on the same page. Now, with the majority of the team in a position to make more money in the following season, getting on the same page could prove to be difficult.

“It depends on you want personally, said Hill at the Lakers media day this past Saturday. “Do you want to win or do you want money? If you perform and win, you’re going to get the money anyway. I just want to focus on winning and playing hard.”

While it may be difficult to get everyone in a contract year zoned in on that singular focus, there is a possibility that the Lakers could see some pleasant surprises out of some players in the five through eight spots in the rotation. If you google search the worst contracts in NBA history, they’re guys who had phenomenal years proceeding large deals.

  • Rashard Lewis: Following a year that Rashard Lewis posterd a 20.7 PER with a 22.4/6.6/2.4 split per 36, the Orlando Magic gave Lewis a six-year, $118.2 million contract as an unrestricted free agent. Lewis’ win shares would decline for the next six seasons and he would never post a PER above 16.8 in his career.
  • Trevor Ariza: Trevor Ariza had a great 2008-09 year with the Lakers. Both his TS% and eFG% were norht of .500, his turnover percentage was the lowest of his career, he posted decent ORtg and DRtg numbers hand recorded the most win shares of his career. Things got better in the post season as he was instrumental in helping the Lakers get some late game stops to lead the franchis to it’s 15th title while shooting .476 from three. The Rockets would sign the unrestricted free agent to a five-year, $34 million deal and watched as those numbers decline. His win shares would be cut in half and his TS% and eFG haven’t shot back above of .500 since.
  • Amare Stoudemire: Amare Stoudemire has only played 82 games twice in his career, and one of those times he was in a contract year. His 2009-10 season with the Suns, Stoudemire posted a 24.1/9.3/1.0 per 36 split with a 22.6 PER and became an all star. Stoudemire parlayed that great season into a five-year 99.7 million contract. Since then, Stoudemire has only played in 66 percent of games for the Knicks and hasn’t really been able to find a fit into the Knicks system beside Carmelo Anthony.
The list of guys who have excelled in their contract years is limitless, and the possibility of a few Lakers having similar success is high, and performing well in Los Angeles will definitely get a guy like Xavier Henry some looks from teams around the league.

“I think competing takes care if itself,” said Henry on the opportunity to earn a bigger contract by playing well for the Lakers. “If everyone is going out there wanting to win, and we’re winning, everyone is going to get what they deserve at the end of the day. If everyone comes in here and competes, all of those things will work themselves out.

Right now, everyone is saying the right things. Wesley Johnson echoed a lot of what both Hill and Henry said on Saturday, while both Bryant and Pau Gasol don’t seem interested in bringing up their respective contract situations, and neither have began negotiations with the team. Only time will tell whether or not this team will be able to gel and put personal goals aside, but it’s going to be necessary for this team to do so if they’re going to be successful this season.

The Lakers have been working the edges of the roster in recent weeks, adding all types of wings and combo forwards to compete for a roster spot when training camp opens later this month. In continuing that pursuit, the team has added Marcus Landry, a combo forward who shined for the team’s summer league outfit in Las Vegas in July.

As Mark Medina notes, Landry’s contract is not guaranteed so he joins the ranks of recent signees Shawne Williams, Xavier Henry, and Elias Harris as guys who will have every chance to let their skill set shine through and potentially earn a role when the games count starting in late October.

As for earning that role, I believe Landry has a pretty good shot. He has a history with the D’Antoni brothers, getting a brief stint with the Knicks in the 2010 campaign, and, while not getting a lot of burn, impressed with his skill set and work ethic. Further, after his showing in Vegas, Landry showed he has an NBA style game and an offensive versatility that serves him well in a spread pick and roll attack. With Landry’s ability to space the floor and, just as important, his willingness to compete defensively and on the backboards, he is a solid (if unspectacular) player who doesn’t take a lot off the table.

Does this mean that Landry is a shoe-in to make the team? No. Nor does it mean that he should be viewed as some sort of a difference maker who should be looked at as a future contributor. That said, after signing guys who were high draft picks but haven’t been able to translate that pedigree into production, Landry is likely to be a player who doesn’t flash a high ceiling, but also has a higher floor than a boom or bust gamble.

Ultimately we won’t know if that’s enough to get him onto the final roster until we see him in the mix with the other players competing for a spot, but like the tortoise and hare, his more methodical style may just prove to be enough.

The Lakers, as they continue to fill out their roster in the lead up to training camp, announced that they signed swingman Xavier Henry to a one year contract for the minimum. Henry is a three year veteran and last season averaged 3.9 points and 1.8 rebounds a game for the New Orleans Hornets (now the Pelicans).

Henry fits the mold of the type of player the Lakers have chased this off-season. He is young (22 years old), a former high draft pick (12th overall in 2010), and is not only athletic but offers some positional versatility (he can play both shooting guard or small forward). Those are the positives. On the negative side, he’s not been able to produce much, on either side of the ball, in his first three years which should be something you remind yourself of if you start to convince yourself the team has signed some sort of contributor. Just look at his career numbers for verification of what he’s been through three seasons. That’s not the end of the story, but it’s a big part of it since it’s what’s actually occurred on the court so far.

That said, it seems that the Lakers, knowing that the market is thin and their ability to offer any substantial salary is even thinner, have targeted players who still have potential to tap and are looking to, in one way or another, redeem their careers. Henry fits that description to a tee as he was a highly touted prospect coming out of Kansas when he was drafted but hasn’t done much of anything to justify his draft slot. When camp opens we’ll see how much he has to offer the team with a skill set that still needs refining but was enough, combined with his age, to see him go in the lottery.

And, really, that’s the bigger point here. Henry has some talent and will have the chance to show it. Chance is the key word, though. I’m not sure if Henry will even make the team when the dust settles at the end of training camp. As of now, he’s a camp body who will compete with the likes of Elias Harris, Shawne Williams, Ryan Kelly, and (though not yet confirmed) Marcus Landry for a roster spot. If Henry, or any other of the aforementioned guys, can show that they have enough potential to possibly earn some minutes in the long grind of the campaign, they’ll likely stick. If they don’t, they’re likely to be jettisoned with little invested beyond some practice time and whatever partial guarantees may exist on their contract.

But make no mistake, players like Henry are worth the gamble. Unlike a certain former #2 overall pick who was just paid to go away by the Suns, Henry doesn’t bring a lot of baggage to the table. Not in the form of legal issues or brazen attitude problems that flatlined what should have been a promising career. No, Henry is just another player who flashed enough skill in college to be drafted in the late lottery — a part of the draft that produces as many busts as it does viable rotation players. The Lakers surely hope that he, like Wes Johnson (and to a certain extent Nick Young), have the ability to come close to living up to some of what was seen in them in the first place.

Whether that ends up happening or not remains to be seen, but it’s not like the Lakers have much choice here. They only have the minimum to offer and there’s only two ways to go with that type of contract. They can try to sign young players who still have the promise of potential to improve or they can chase grizzled veterans whose primes are far behind them (the Drew Goodens and Mickael Pietrus’ of the world) and try to get them to sign on and chase a playoff spot. It’s not my money, but going after players who are, hopefully, still ascending in their careers with the potential that, if they perform, they could be part of a future with the team seems like the better play. Even if both approaches are a gamble.

So, in a month we’ll see what Henry has to offer. If it’s his career norm, no harm no foul and he can move onto another opportunity (if one exists). If it’s more than that, the Lakers may just find a part time contributor with traits they need.

On Tuesday, GM Mitch Kupchak announced the signing of Shawne Williams, a 6’9” forward who can play either forward spot, to a 1-year contract for the minimum. The contract is only partially guaranteed.

The 27-year old Williams will be reunited with Coach Mike D’Antoni, under whom who had his best season in 2010-11 while playing for the Knicks. The former first-round pick out of Memphis (17th overall to Indiana) averaged 7.1 points a game that year while shooting an impressive 40% from behind the arc.

With the recent report from ESPNLA’s Dave McMenamin that second-round pick Ryan Kelly is behind schedule in his rehabilitation from multiple foot procedures, this signing makes a whole lot of sense. Williams, if focused (he’s been charged twice for marijuana offenses, most recently in February), could morph into the three-point shooting stretch forward that MDA envisioned in Kelly. That is, if he makes the team- Williams will likely compete with recently signed forward Elias Harris as well as Kelly and Marcus Landry, both of whom are expected to sign, for the final roster spots.

It’s hard to believe that the Lakers, despite being able to carry as many as 15 players during the season, would be willing to take on TWO underachieving first-rounders with a weed problem, so it’s safe to assume that the Lakers will not be a player in the Michael Beasley sweepstakes.

It looks like the Lakers are adding to their roster from their Summer League team. Check out this report from Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo!

I am definitely happy for former Gonzaga Bulldog Elias Harris, who showed great energy throughout that Summer League campaign, doing all the things he was asked to do whether it was some defense, filling in the lanes on the break, getting the boards, and converting the three. Here’s what Darius said about him a few days ago.

“Elias Harris. Harris is rangy power forward who has a good combination of skills offensively with good enough athleticism to compete defensively and on the glass. He was a nice “glue” player for the team and was able to do a lot of the little things that helped the team win games, even if his individual numbers didn’t stand out.

Harris is 6’8″ and 240, according to his profile. He’s a big body and immediately fills the need for a four who can play ahead of second-round draft pick Ryan Kelly. Harris is also 24 years old. He’s probably not going to turn heads but again, a great energy guy that can hopefully help out on both ends. Harris will help fill the big man depth of the Lakers.

Harris averaged 10.2 points and 5.6 rebounds in five games at Las Vegas. He scored 17 points in the Summer League quarterfinals against the Golden State Warriors SL team, which probably clinched this deal with the Lakers.

Congrats to Elias Harris and good luck on his NBA career.