Now that it is official LaMarcus Aldridge will sign with the Spurs (which was the presumed outcome when free agency started), the Lakers have officially missed out on every player they have (reportedly) targeted in free agency. To summarize, they met with Aldridge, Greg Monroe, and DeAndre Jordan. The latter two signed with the Bucks and Mavericks respectively while other “players of interest” like Robin Lopez (Knicks) are now also off the market.
This leaves the Lakers as the team standing up in this free agent game of musical chairs. And, with that, here are 10 thoughts on where the Lakers are now, how they got here, and what comes next:
1. It’s become pretty clear the Lakers are prioritizing stars and do not want to spend big money on role players/guys who do not clearly have star potential. This goes back multiple years, but last summer and this summer are prime examples — they tried to get LeBron and Melo last year (as well as keep Gasol) and made Aldridge and Jordan top targets this summer. Monroe is the only player who doesn’t fit exactly into this archetype, but even he is young, was a lottery pick, and put up strong numbers last season (and ones before that). My guess is they thought Monroe could be a high producing player for them moving forward.
2. Beyond the results, there is a strong argument to be made it was always a mistake to take this approach when the Lakers did not have enough money to pay more than one max free agent. Whether you think this is a new phenomenon or not — and I do not; stars have been asking out of bad situations to go to winning ones forever — the top players in the league want to go to situations where they have a good opportunity to win. This means having an infrastructure of good talent, a strong and clear upward trajectory. The Lakers, for all their brand power and cachet, are not this. By prioritizing stars, the Lakers’ front office seems to be missing this point.
3. To be honest, the Ed Davis to Portland signing is the one that has me most disappointed. I never truly thought guys like Jordan or Aldridge would sign with the Lakers, but I thought mid-tiered guys like Davis who could potentially be had for reasonable deals were realistic gets. When Davis said the Lakers did “all they could” (which I do not believe; if they did all they could, he’d likely be a Laker still) but he still went to the Blazers, it was the move that made me most upset.
4. Considering the approach to this point, one has to consider how much Jim Buss’ “timeline” to get the team back to being a “contender” has influenced how they’ve navigated free agency. After all, signing role players and building organically through the draft when there’s no clear top-10 player in the fold doesn’t jibe with making a conference finals appearance in the next couple of seasons.
5. Further evidence of points #1 and #4:
Surprisingly, the Lakers and Knicks did not reach out to Tobias Harris, according to source.
— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) July 4, 2015
Harris is the type of long term play a team who had money to spend and time to build a roster should at least seriously consider. If true the Lakers did not even contact Harris, I think that shows where their mindset was.
6. I am interested in seeing how Kobe reacts to this summer. After losing Dwight, Kobe responded with a picture of him and Pau, with an inference his long time championship partner would be enough to move forward with. After striking out on Melo and LeBron last summer, Kobe said he was fine with how the team clearly tried to improve the roster and seemed content with the major effort made. This summer, after striking out on the big names again, will he respond similarly to last year? Will his frustrations grow? Kobe has long said (and proven through his actions) he’s not the most patient person. As it stands now, the only players on the roster with more than two seasons of NBA experience will be Robert Sacre, Nick Young, and Ryan Kelly. Is he ready to give another season of his career to a team who will have a boatload of losses? Especially when he doesn’t have too many (any?) seasons left after this one?
7. The team’s only redemption to this summer will be how they decide to use their large chunk of cap space. If they decide to sign veteran players to one year deals worth good money (Jordan Hill, Amar’e, etc, etc), in order to just roll their cap space forward another year that is much worse than trying to get creative with trades for players with expiring contracts or deals with non-guaranteed years beyond next season in order to accumulate more assets. As we have discussed, if the Wizards want to dump Nene or the Pacers want to get rid of Hibbert and include some sweetners to facilitate a deal, the Lakers should be first in line to make a deal. The Warriors and David Lee is another situation worth monitoring. Use the cap space to do more than just rent a non-asset to try this whole thing again next year.
8. If there is any solace in rolling over the cap space to next year, though, it’s how the combination of Kobe’s contract coming off the books and the expected rise in the cap space will create a massive amount of spending power for the Lakers. If the team were also able to trade Nick Young’s contract with no money coming back, they could have up to $80 million in cap space. A 30% max salary on an estimated $90 million cap will be about $30 million. If the Lakers really did have $80 million in space, they could sign two 30% max guys (or even two 35% max guys) and still have room to chase another very good player. As mentioned earlier, having the ability to sign more than one of the top guys may shift the type of inroads they make in these meetings.
9. The counter to this argument, is, of course, if the team couldn’t close on deals the past three years you have to wonder if they can do so next year even with more money in tow. At this point, this is a reasonable stance to take.
10. Finally, despite some disappointment in how this has all gone, my enthusiasm to watch the team’s young players has not diminished at all. I remain very high on Russell’s prospects. I want to see how Clarkson expands his game. And I still love Randle’s potential to be a fantastic player in this league. I truly believe his skill set as a big forward is in line with what’s needed in the league now (and in the future) and that he’s going to show why the Lakers have been reluctant to include him in any trades for big name players this summer. I also want to see Larry Nance Jr. and Anthony Brown to see if they can make their way in this league as contributors. There is a lot to like about the young guys on this team and that is my buoy in the rough waters of free agency.