The Los Angeles Lakers have signed center Robert Upshaw to a multi-year contract, it was announced today by General Manager Mitch Kupchak. Per team policy, terms of the deal were not released.
The still unknown terms of the contract are important, but likely not a huge difference maker here. My assumption is that Upshaw’s deal is either fully non-guaranteed like Marcelo Huertas’ or has only small, partial guarantees like those given to Jonathan Holmes and Michael Frazier. In either case, Upshaw will have to prove his worth in training camp to crack the final 15 and earn a roster spot. (UPDATE: Baxter Holmes of ESPN is reporting Upshaw’s deal has a partial guarantee in the 1st year and is fully non-guaranteed in the 2nd year. While not outright stated, I am assuming his contract is for the minimum both years.)
(UPDATE II: Eric Pincus of the LA Times is reporting that $35K of Upshaw’s first year salary is guaranteed. The 2nd year, as Holmes also reported, is non-guaranteed. The totals for the contract are (roughly) $525K in year one and $875K in year 2.)
The fact that we’ve gotten to this point, though, should not be ignored. Yes, Upshaw said he’d be joining camp (while adding he thinks he’ll make the team), but the rhetoric coming out of the Lakers’ front office did not make any such assurances. Those statements were likely just the carrot the team was hanging out in front of the big man as motivation to do what was needed of him, but the chance he wouldn’t was always there.
Of course, just because he’s heading to camp with a contract in hand only means the real work begins. While fans might not think much of some of the players ahead of Upshaw on the depth chart (especially Robert Sacre), the Lakers front office does. Upshaw has a steep hill to climb in order to make this team, likely having to beat out more than one player who the team has already invested time and resources developing. Doing so will not only require leaving his personal issues in the past, but bringing his best game with him into the present and future.
Make no mistake, too, this kid does have talent and is worth this extended look. He is a massive man with an enormous wingspan who put up some eye popping numbers his final college season — especially defensively. He showed some promise in summer league too, before fading as the tournament progressed, likely dealing with fatigue and rust from not playing since his dismissal from the University of Washington.
Beyond his off-court dealings, whether he can get in the shape he’ll need to, have his defensive ability translate, and start to polish his offensive game enough are real questions that will determine his Lakers’ future. The team, though, is making a gamble that he can. If it turns out he actually does, they may have a steal on their hands. We’ve got a long way to go before we know if that’s the case, but that journey will start in two weeks in Hawaii.