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Can LA Lakers Afford to Keep Jordan Hill Next Season?

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Can LA Lakers Afford to Keep Jordan Hill Next Season?
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Jordan Hill of the LA Lakers

The Los Angeles Lakers are going to lose Jordan Hill because they will not be able to afford him.

Hill has played well enough to earn himself a role as a sporadic starter. He has done the job on the boards and also given his teammates some relief defensively by occasionally covering up some of their mistakes.

His size and length make him an attractive prospect for most teams, and more importantly, he is actually productive. Big men have always been incredibly attractive commodities in the NBA because they change the landscape of the basket area.

They are the difference between scoring and allowing easy baskets at the rim via second-chance opportunities or simple scores at the rim. Granted, big people all come with their sets of strengths and weaknesses.

 

Scouting Jordan Hill

Hill is one of the best rebounders in basketball, and that makes him a valuable piece. Indeed, he is in the top 10 in rebounding rate and averages a solid 13.7 rebounds per 36 minutes.

He is limited offensively, but he still contributes on that end by finishing around the basket and making at least two-thirds of his free throws.

In order to get a better feel for his offensive repertoire, we will turn to Bleacher Report’s Dan Favale, who provided a scouting report of the Lakers forward that detailed his strong suits:

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Jordan Hill around the basket area

According to NBA.com (subscription required), nearly 73 percent of all of Hill's converted baskets are coming within five feet. Last year, almost 68 percent of his made shots came within the same range. That's a slight uptick, not a dramatic shift in shot selection.

Hill is still shooting fewer than seven times a game, he's still scoring predominantly off second-chance opportunities, and he's still yet to hit his first career three-pointer.

The former Arizona Wildcat is not sophisticated on this side of the ball, but he has a firm grasp of his strengths. Hence, he avoids low-percentage plays and focuses instead on the things he does well.

Still, he does have some flaws, and they were the reason he failed to earn minutes early in the campaign.

Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report explained some of the deficiencies in the big man’s repertoire: He fell behind Shawne Williams and Chris Kaman in preseason by consistently missing mid-range jumpers and committing fouls while setting screens—two fundamental parts of Mike D’Antoni’s offense.

His mid-range jumper is not great, but it has been steady through the early portion of the schedule per Basketball-Reference.com. Furthermore, Hill is averaging 1.7 turnovers per 36 minutes, which is an excellent mark. Given that fouls called while setting screens are also registered as turnovers, it speaks to Hill’s ability to accept his limitations and work on them.

Essentially, the Lakers have a low-usage player who rebounds the heck out of the ball. What’s that worth on the open market?

 

Determining Jordan Hill’s value

Hill’s rebounding prowess could potentially turn a borderline great team into a squad with title aspirations. Securing the ball after misses is a key ingredient because it subtracts possessions from the opposition while creating additional looks for the rebounder’s team.

That is why Pat Riley once famously said: “No rebounds, no rings." The guys mostly tasked with collecting caroms off the rim are interior players, and consequently, they are handsomely compensated.

Have a look at the league’s top-10 rebounders and their salaries, per Sham Sports:

Player

Rebounds Per Game

2013-14 Salary ($million)

Kevin Love

13.6

$14.70

Dwight Howard

13.2

$20.50

DeAndre Jordan

12.7

$11.00

Andre Drummond*

12.6

$2.50

Nikola Vucevik*

11.4

$1.80

LaMarcus Aldridge

11.0

$14.90

DeMarcus Cousins*

11.0

$5.00

Blake Griffin

10.3

$16.40

Andrew Bogut

9.9

$14.00

Tristan Thompson*

9.9

$4.10

*The players are signed to rookie scale contracts, which typically do not reflect their market value.

The athletes who are not on rookie contracts all earn north of $10 million annually. Indeed, once DeMarcus Cousins’ extension kicks in next season, he will be collecting upward of $13 million per season.

Granted, the majority of the players listed above have multifaceted games, thus simply looking at their rebounding numbers is a bit misleading.

For instance, LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Love and Blake Griffin are all battling for the honor of best power forward in the league. Given that Hill is nowhere near their level of skill, we cannot exactly place him in the same demographic.

We are probably better off looking at players with fairly limited offensive games and decent defensive contributions to accompany the strong board work given that this profile mirrors Hill’s.

Noah Graham/Getty Images

So we have to look at rotation players who average a double-double per 36 minutes and who are also low-usage players (usage rate of 20 or less). In addition, because we want to determine actual market value, we will remove the players who are still under rookie contracts.

That leaves us with this list:

Player

Rebounds Per Game

2013-14 Salary ($million)

DeAndre Jordan

13.2

$11.0

DeJuan Blair

12.6

$0.9

Kevin Garnett

12.0

$12.4

Kosta Koufos

11.4

$3.0

Tiago Splitter

11.1

$10.0

Anderson Varejao

10.7

$9.0

Joakim Noah

10.5

$11.1

Samuel Dalembert

10.5

$3.7

Tyler Hansbrough

10.5

$3.2

Kris Humphries

10.5

$12.0

Serge Ibaka

10.4

$12.3

Robin Lopez

10.1

$5.9

Spencer Hawes

10.1

$6.5

Given that Hill will still be a 26-year-old forward by the time the 2014 offseason kicks in, one can realistically assume he will be looking for a contract that pays him approximately $26 million over a four-year span.

That gives Hill an annual income of $6.5 million. That figure represents roughly the middle ground between the highest and lowest salaries for the players listed above that offer similar contributions to the Lakers forward. Keep in mind, there is still a chance that he will request more dollars from his potential suitors, possibly something in the range of $9 million.

 

Los Angeles Lakers plans

The Los Angeles Lakers turned heads when they signed Kobe Bryant to a $48.5 million extension at the start of the 2013-14 campaign.

Many were hoping the superstar would take a larger pay cut and give the Purple and Gold a huge amount of salary-cap space heading into the 2014 offseason. Still, the Lakers will have $26 million in cap space if they renounce all of their free agents.

They could increase it to around $30 million if they waive Steve Nash and use the stretch provision on his contract. Given that we have no indication with respect to the franchise’s feeling about the two-time MVP, we will assume that he will be on the team when the summer hits.

The Lakers will have Bryant, Steve Nash and Robert Sacre under contract next season. That’s it.

Nick Young has a player option that allows him to rejoin the Lakers at $1.2 million, and also, Los Angeles can extend a $1 million qualifying offer to Ryan Kelly and have him play out the 2014-15 season.

In other words, the Lakers have three players under contract going into next season and might possibly have five in total depending on two contract clauses. The City of Angels is reportedly looking to add a high-level free agent next to Bryant and then fill out the roster with ancillary parts.

Noah Graham/Getty Images
Pau Gasol and Marc Gasol share a laugh.

Thus, Pau Gasol might very well be on his way out of Los Angeles despite helping the team collect two titles. The Spaniard is a skilled big man and he will probably require a hefty sum for his services.

Gasol hinted at a possible departure in favor of the Memphis Grizzlies in an interview with Scott Howard-Cooper of NBA.com:

It’s appealing. One of the best centers in the NBA, one of the best interior players, is my brother [Marc Gasol]. There’s a lot of attractive factors there. But who knows if that’s even a possibility or if that will ever happen. Right now, I’m just trying to focus on (the Lakers’ opponents) and staying healthy and playing a very successful year so this team and others will have the certainty and the confidence that I am a difference maker, that I am an elite player and I have a lot of years in me.

The Purple and Gold probably cannot afford him. The same is true in the case of Hill. His play throughout the early portion of the schedule has raised his stock, and the Lakers will not be able to retain him. The team will have needs all over, but Hill will likely secure a deal while Los Angeles is busy wooing high-caliber athletes.

Per Eric Pincus of the LA Times, the franchise wants to avoid the luxury tax and field a competitive team. Thus, the Lakers will have to acquire cheap talent to place alongside Bryant and the free agent du jour.

Granted, the Lakers might opt to sign two really good players and pit them next to Bryant, but the vision remains the same: Mitch Kupchak must sell the Lakers brand and hope that players sign below market value.

Provided that Kupchak is successful in this endeavor, Hill will remain a Laker. However, between his age and productivity, everything points to him signing a lucrative deal elsewhere.

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