For the past week, there have been strong rumors linking the Lakers to Goran Dragic. The current Sun will be a free agent this summer and, up until now, the rumors (originally reported by ESPN’s Marc Stein) said the Lakers would strongly pursue him in free agency by offering him a max contract. The thought of trading for Dragic was not really an option because the Suns were reportedly not interested in dealing the Slovenian PG, preferring to try and re-up him this July.
It seems, however, that those plans are about to change:
Wait, there’s more:
And then, there’s this:
So, to recap: Goran Dragic will not re-sign with the Suns this summer and the Suns will try to trade him by this Thursday’s trade deadline. The Lakers are among the teams on Dragic’s short list of preferred trade destinations. If Dragic is not traded, the Lakers will still try to pursue him in free agency where they will likely offer him a boatload of money ($80 million over 4 years).
After digesting all that, there are two ways to look at this:
- The Lakers should try to trade for Goran Dragic
- The Lakers should wait until free agency and try to acquire him in July.
Both of these sides have solid arguments, so let’s quickly tackle both, starting with the latter.
Pursuing Dragic in free agency only requires two things: for Dragic to be a free agent and the Lakers to have the money to pay him. Luckily for the Lakers, both of those things will be true come July. The benefits to taking this approach are two fold. First, the Lakers do not have to surrender any assets in their pursuit of the point guard. This is important since the Lakers do not have many assets to offer. The second is that the Lakers really do not need to do anything that would improve their team right now. Being that the Lakers draft pick is only protected if it falls in the top five of the draft, it’s to their benefit to not acquire players who help them win more games right now. Whether or not you like watching a losing team (I do not) or if you are pro “tank” (I am not; though I’m more ambivalent on this now than 3 months ago), there is no argument in which not having a top 5 pick is better than having it. If you find that argument, please tell me as I am happy to listen.
It’s difficult to stress how meaningful those two points above really are. The Lakers are a team who really cannot afford to give up anything of value for a player they can chase in free agency. You want to give up the Houston pick? Fine, but just remember you can have that pick and Dragic if you are good enough in selling your franchise and convincing him your money and vision are worth it. Further, that top 5 pick may not yet be an asset, but if it becomes real it will instantly become as valuable an asset as the Lakers have possessed since they turned Andrew Bynum into Dwight Howard.
In saying all that, trading for Dragic now does have its benefits.
At the top of that list is the fact that trading for Dragic nets you his Bird Rights. While the Lakers were burned with that line of thinking when they acquired Dwight Howard, Dragic is a bit different for a key reason: Dragic’s cap hold this summer is only $11.25 million. This low-ish cap number allows the Lakers a certain amount of flexibility in how they negotiate with Dragic while still chasing other free agents. For example, let’s say the following things occur:
- The Lakers trade for Dragic
- The Lakers decline Jordan Hill’s team option (or trade him before Thursday)
- The Lakers are left with roughly $20 million in cap “space” this July after all relevant cap holds for players not named Dragic are accounted for (NOTE: This is not a real number and is for example purposes only)
Of that $20 million in cap space, $11.25 million of it will be tied up in Dragic, but the Lakers would still have $8.75 million to pursue another free agent (or more). Maybe that means the Lakers ink Ed Davis. Maybe they chase another big man. Maybe they go after a wing who can defend (like DeMarre Carroll). Or maybe they just roll that space over into the season, giving them flexibility in other trades that allows them to take on salary in a move. The key is, though, that they have the ability to do something besides just sign Dragic in free agency due to controlling his Bird Rights. And, yes, while those rights also mean the Lakers could pay him more than any other team (and would likely be pressured to do so by his agent), that flexibility has value.
On the flip side, if pursuing Dragic in free agency all of the Lakers’ cap space is likely devoted to making him an offer. And this would be after renouncing rights to all their current free agents and not picking up Jordan Hill’s option. So, presented in this context, would you rather only have the ability to pay Dragic or would you like to have the ability to pay him and pursue one or more other options in free agency?
Of course, your answer may well be that you don’t want Dragic at all. Not in free agency, not in a trade, not ever. That’s a perfectly valid opinion. I mean, if the choice is paying Dragic $20 million to have him on your roster or not paying him at all, it’s perfectly reasonable to say “thanks, but no thanks” and move on to other options. And, despite typing all those words in the paragraphs above, it’s not like it’s some sort of given the Lakers just snap their fingers and end up with him via a trade or in free agency. Any deal for him requires the Suns to say yes or for him and his agent to agree to terms. As we’ve seen in years past, this isn’t a gimme.
But, this is the rumor season, the trade deadline is on Thursday, and the Lakers are prominently mentioned as a viable option for a very good player. Plus, there are good arguments on both sides of the argument on how to best pursue him. So, what say you?
*I should add that ESPN’s Beto Duran explains that Goran Dragic speaks fluid Spanish and that he could become the face of TWC Deportes. This may or may not be something that should be considered and left me only responding with !!!!! to Beto’s tweet at me. But, considering the Lakers’ broadcast partnerships was a variable in the Dwight and Carmelo free agency pitches, it’s probably a variable worth considering.