It's well known that the Los Angeles Lakers only have three players currently under contract for the 2014-15 season, meaning basically everyone on the roster—aside from Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Robert Sacre—is a free agent this summer.
One of the guys that L.A. will have to make a decision on is Kent Bazemore.
But the second-year guard showed that he's got some game as well.
Bazemore averaged 13 points, three rebounds and three assists in 28 minutes a game for the Lakers, cracking the starting lineup in 15 of his 23 appearances.
So, should the Lakers hang on to Bazemore? Here are the cases for and against.
The Case For Bazemore
Bazemore has an intriguing skill set that can be put to good use if developed properly.
He's a slasher at heart, with a quick first step and the athleticism to finish around the rim.
In addition to his off-the-bounce attacks, Bazemore flashed a solid three-point stroke, connecting on 37 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc.
The Old Dominion product can make plays for others too. He began looking for his teammates more toward the end of the season, averaging 4.1 assists over his last nine games.
If he can refine his game and cut out the mistakes, he would be a great sixth-man type off the bench along the lines of Manu Ginobili—another lefty slasher who can shoot from deep and create for teammates.
For comparison's sake, here is how Ginobili and Bazemore stack up statistically in their second NBA seasons, respectively:
|Ginobili (2004):||29.4 MPG||12.8 PPG||4.5 RPG||3.8 APG||1.8 SPG||.536 TS%||18.5 PER|
|Bazemore (2014):||28.0 MPG||13.1 PPG||3.3 RPG||3.1 APG||1.3 SPG||.543 TS%||13.4 PER|
Note: Bazemore's stats with the Lakers only
Ginobili is still superior, but those numbers are fairly similar—certainly a lot closer than you would have thought.
Bazemore will never reach Ginobili's Hall-of-Fame level as a player, but if he can become a poor man's version of the Argentine—at a fraction of the cost—he can be an extremely valuable player.
Another point in his favor is that he plays both ends of the court.
Bazemore's length, quickness and effort make him a good defender. Bigger wings can shoot over him and bully him in the post, but he's proven to be a capable stopper against either backcourt spot.
His coaches sing his praises as well.
Mike D'Antoni told the Los Angeles Daily News' Mark Medina, regarding Bazemore, "He’s the best. He’s here every day and asks questions. His activity is off the charts."
His former boss, Golden State's Mark Jackson, relayed, "It’s easy for guys who are playing to be engaged and involved. It said a lot about who he is as a player and as a person for him to always be involved and supporting his teammates."
That sounds like a guy you'd want on your team, right?
The Case Against Bazemore
He makes a lot of mistakes.
That's to be expected from an inexperienced player who got the first extended run of his career after joining the Lakers, but it was frustrating to watch at times.
Bazemore's aggression is commendable, but too often he drives recklessly into trouble he can't get out of, resulting in wildly missed layups or turnovers that fuel opposition fast breaks.
There were several instances—like this one—where he miscommunicated on simple entry passes to Pau Gasol. If it was Kobe Bryant on the receiving end, Bazemore might not make it out of the locker room after halftime.
He played well with the Lakers, but he had never shown that ability before.
The Warriors groomed him this past summer to fill the void left by the outgoing Jarret Jack by handing Bazemore the reins of their summer league squad.
Though he led that outfit in minutes and scoring en route to a tournament championship, Coach Jackson wasn't convinced and never saw fit to give him a shot once the actual season began.
He averaged just six minutes a game for the Warriors, who felt the need to trade first for Jordan Crawford and eventually for Steve Blake in order to shore up the rotation spot they were hoping Bazemore could hold down.
His 23-game run with the Lakers is too small of a sample to be definitive.
Is he the 37 percent long-range shooter he was in L.A. or the 27-percenter he was in the Bay Area? Can he be as productive in games that actually mean something? Will he remain as effective on a team where he's not given the freedom to do whatever he wants with the ball in his hands?
There's also a potential redundancy between Bazemore and Xavier Henry.
The two play the same position with similar styles, but Henry has the greater upside, with the pedigree of being a top high-school recruit and a lottery pick.
He also has more NBA experience and was enjoying a breakout campaign that was derailed by injuries. Plus, Henry is nearly two years younger than Bazemore.
Los Angeles will only keep a few of their impending free agents in order to preserve as much cap space as possible for bigger moves. If it comes down to a choice between Henry and Bazemore, Henry is the better prospect.
Bazemore is not a top priority for the organization. What the Lakers end up doing with him will depend on other factors, such as which other key free agents re-sign with the team or choose to go elsewhere.
The Lakers can defer their decision even further by extending Bazemore a qualifying offer, thus making him a restricted free agent, per Mark Medina.
That way if he signs somewhere else, the Lakers will have the luxury of matching the deal.
If he accepts the qualifying offer, the reported $1.1 million price tag makes him good value.
But if another team signs him to an offer sheet for multiple years and multiple millions, L.A. should be comfortable enough in letting Bazemore walk.
After all, the Lakers' future does not hinge on this KB.
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