It is rare that the signing of a journeyman, end-of-his-career player makes any sort of waves with an organization or their fanbase. When that player is on a non-guaranteed contract inked the week before training camp starts, this is even more the case. It’s also rare, however, that the player inked to this type of deal played a key role in helping the team win a championship in a previous stint with the organization. When that player earned somewhat of a cult following, it complicates matters more.
This is what the Lakers are dealing with after signing Metta World Peace. At Lakers.com, Mike Trudell touched on this dichotomy well when discussing the deal:
Metta is essentially being brought in as a veteran leader and locker room guy, looking to nab one of the final few roster spots that typically go either to young guys on a flier or to veterans who can play a few minutes, but are in some ways closer to assistant coaches on the floor. L.A. have plenty of young guys, so it does make some sense to add a veteran presence they think can be impactful for those young players.
Towards that end, a Yahoo! article detailed how impressed L.A.’s brass has been with MWP’s work with Julius Randle at the team’s facility. The No. 7 overall pick raved about MWP, and how much he’s already helped his development with his attention to detail, his work ethic, his knowledge of the game, his fitness…
The flip side to this is that by putting a veteran – Metta is 35 – that’s on the absolute tail end of his career on the end of the roster, it can take time away from a young, developing player. It’s a balance that every GM deals with, one of which Kupchak is very much aware.
“We have to be careful not to use a roster spot too early, because we have a lot of young kids that we’re going to bring to camp and we don’t want to put ourselves in a bind by (taking up roster spots) from talented (young players),” Kupchak explained. “He can still be very effective on the court, but these are scrimmages that last 15-20 minutes and not a full-court, NBA game. As a person, I’ve gotten to know him very well and I think he’d be great in the locker room with young players.”
Considering his history with the team, I have difficulty seeing MWP being cut. Similar to the inking of Marcelo Huertas, I just don’t think you add a player of this type, with the current roster construction, under the premise that he would easily be cut to make way for an additional younger, less experienced player where upside is the key consideration. That could happen, but the veteran would need to look completely washed up for it to be the case (which is certainly possible).
The more interesting thing to me, then, isn’t whether MWP is on the final roster, it is the ripple effect the signing could have on the final roster come opening night. As Trudell notes, Metta’s mostly being touted a guiding force for the young players who has an immense amount of knowledge to dispense — especially on the defensive side of the ball. Taking a look up and down the roster, then, one has to wonder if adding him specifically makes other decisions on who to cut easier.
We already know the back end of the roster is crowded and that competition will be tight for these final spots. But with Metta in the mix, I wonder if certain, specific players will be more likely to be cut than others. Metta, though likely more suited to being a small ball PF, will likely be listed as a SF on the depth chart. Being a “wing” even if in name only, might mean Jabari Brown or Michael Frazier are more at risk to get cut since it would allow Kobe, Nick Young, or Anthony Brown to play SG in lineups next to Metta. This type of slotting makes sense, since positional balance will always be a key variable in roster construction.
But there’s also the type of slotting that could come from his role as a mentor. For example, if choosing between Jonathan Holmes and Ryan Kelly, might Holmes’ game projecting more to a 3 and D hybrid forward (which is exactly what Metta is now) give him a leg up over the more pure stretch PF Kelly? When looking at Robert Upshaw, might Metta’s background as someone who has overcome personal adversity play a factor in keeping the talented big man who has had some issues in his past? The type of relatablility between the two could be a valuable resource that, were MWP not present, might not be a factor in the decision making process at all.
These are just hypotheticals, of course. But considering Mitch Kupchak noted in his Friday press conference that his goal is the most talented roster and that he would cut a guaranteed contract to make room for a non-guaranteed guy if the performance in camp merited it, there is an argument to be made that Metta’s presence could help give some of these young players a foothold they may not have had if here weren’t around.