Earlier in the day Friday the Lakers waived Kendall Marshall, simultaneously creating some cap space but also creating an extra roster spot to fill. The team wasted little time in filling Marshall’s vacated spot, and more, inking some familiar faces to contracts:
Let’s go in order here.
Signing Xavier Henry was really a no-brainer for the Lakers. Of all their gambles on reclamation projects last season, it was Henry who looked like the most capable two-way player of the bunch. Though his two point percentage was nothing to write home about (41.7%), Henry shot a respectable 34.6% from behind the arc while also shooting 7 free throw attempts per 36 minutes. This output shows a nice mix of jump shooting range and an ability to get to the rim that can be the basis of a solid offensive player. Add to this Henry’s ability to defend either wing position and he’s a nice buy low candidate for the second consecutive season with only a minimum salaried contract investment.
While Henry was a natural player to bring back, I can’t necessarily say the same about Wes Johnson. Don’t get me wrong, Johnson had his moments on both sides of the floor at times proving to be a capable shooter (36.6% from behind the arc) and open court finisher while also flashing some good games on the defensive glass and a wing defender. His athleticism tantalized all year and there were times he looked like he could carve out a niche as a 3 and D player. However, like his career up to the point that he joined the Lakers, Johnson also showed an overall lack of consistency and remained a player who was over-reliant on his athletic gifts to succeed. If I could summarize Johnson in one sentence, he’s a player who makes more good athletic plays that good basketball ones. Even for the best athletes, you want that to be the opposite. This doesn’t make Johnson a bad signing — for the minimum there is rarely such a thing. But I can’t say I’m excited to have him back or that I envision him making a big leap forward this upcoming season.
Kelly, meanwhile, probably is the guy I wanted back the most and am happy that the team was able to secure him. The fact that his deal will, reportedly, be for two seasons without any options is also a bonus. Yes, Kelly need to improve his man to man defense and work on the defensive glass. And, yes, he also needs to get stronger and find ways to build up his frame to be a more reliable two way player who can play from the paint to the three point line on both ends. But even with these weaknesses, he flashes a complete offensive game that, for a player his size, is a real asset for any team. While it was not reflected in his percentages, Kelly has range to the three point line, a good enough handle to bring the ball up the floor and beat closeouts off the dribble, and enough feel to be a passer off the bounce, when working at the elbows in HORNS sets and when coming off screens when defenders blitz him. And, since he’s a legitimate 6’10”, he can take smaller defenders into the post and get good looks against single coverage. Will he ever be more than a role player? That seems doubtful, but every team needs good role players and he has the skill set to be just that.
All in all, this was a good day for the Lakers. They signed three players who gained valuable experience last season and who, in well defined roles can bring minutes to the team. These guys are not world beaters and there’s a reason they could be had for cheap (though, I’d imagine Kelly’s contract will exceed what Johnson and Henry got). But they do help the Lakers fill out their roster and bring some institutional knowledge with them, hopefully carrying over some of that familiarity to better results this year.