It’s July 4th and while Lakers fans are waiting for their free agency fireworks, they might just settle for some sparklers at this point. The team has been fairly quiet since the market opened, making contact with Andre Iguodala (stayed in Golden State) and Ben McLemore (signed in Memphis), had multiple conversations with Rajon Rondo (still unsigned), and have met with Dion Waiters and George Hill — who are both still on the market.
Hill is the best name among this group for what the Lakers need. He’s a point guard in name, but more of a combo guard in skill set. He’s a fine lead ball handler who can initiate the offense, run P&R’s, and create shots for himself and teammates (though this is not his best strength, to be sure). He’s also a very good off-ball worker, someone who can make spot up jumpers, understands spacing, and knows how to attack a compromised defense when the ball rotates to him and the opposition is in scramble mode.
Defensively he’s also an excellent player. He offers good size and length, has a keen understanding of opposing team’s tactics and habits, tracks his man and gets to his help responsibilities fluidly, and competes hard on that end. Due to his size and smarts, he can guard either backcourt position and not be overwhelmed. He’s not an all-NBA level performer on that end, but everywhere he’s been he’s helped make his team’s defense a top third of the league unit and while that’s a team stat, I don’t think you can dismiss Hill’s role in making that happen.
In other words, Hill is exactly what the Lakers need on both ends of the floor. He complements Lonzo Ball wonderfully on the court, both in game and in his ability to shoulder some of the burden which would fall on the rookie’s shoulders. Off the court he can be a mentor and guide, someone who not only teaches, but serves as a sounding board for ideas and a partner in conversation about what works, what doesn’t, and how to turn mistakes into opportunities to be better the next time. These things have real value — especially since they come in the form of someone who is still very effective on the floor.
Hill offers something else too — he’s one of the last good options in free agency who actually makes sense for this team. Especially when you consider who I thought the Lakers would/could target in the first place and their strategy of chasing one-year deals in order to keep their 2018 cap space unbothered. Bargain bin/upside options like Justin Holiday, McLemore, and Michael Carter-Williams have been scooped up. Darren Collison signed with the Pacers. Shaun Livingston returned to the Warriors.
In other words, if the Lakers don’t sign Hill, I have to wonder what they’d really do to help fill the need they have in the backcourt. I’d imagine their choice will come down to either Rajon Rondo or Tyler Ennis (if free agency is the choice — they could still try to make a trade, but that is complicated). I won’t get into Rondo now, but let’s just say I hope I don’t really have to write that piece. We are familiar with Ennis and if he was the add, I’d read the news and go back to doing whatever I was doing the 10 seconds prior to that. So, yeah.
I don’t mean to frame this as the Lakers having to sign Hill. They can run the group they currently have now out there next year and call it a day. I don’t think that will be very successful, but the strategy the team is taking in terms of roster building and having (at least) a two year plan can lead to that. In the big picture, it may be better to be stagnant than to make an unnecessary addition. We only need to look at last summer’s signings for a reminder of how that goes.
Still, though, adding Hill would be a huge step forward — even if only a one year rental. The Lakers want to be better next year, they want their young players to grow, and they need players who can help cultivate the culture while contributing on the court in meaningful ways. Hill personifies that in more ways than any player left on the market. I’d love to have him.
Of course, this is a two way street and I’d be remiss if I didn’t give that more than a passing thought. I didn’t list Hill as someone who I thought the Lakers would target when I wrote my free agency primer because I did not think he’d be available or amenable to a one year deal. He is available now because the Jazz traded for Ricky Rubio. We still don’t know if he’ll sign a one year deal. At his age and with his injury history, it’d be wise of him to chase more long term security. And I’m sure that’s what he’s doing. If things work out for him on that path, then the Lakers lose out. It’s that simple.
Still, though, even these flirtations have my heart palpitating. So, here I am hoping the Lakers front office can do right by their leader’s name and pull a rabbit out of their hat.