Why Los Angeles Lakers Should Gamble on Kyle Lowry During 2014 Free Agency

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Why Los Angeles Lakers Should Gamble on Kyle Lowry During 2014 Free Agency
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Kyle Lowry is just what the ulterior motive-addled Los Angeles Lakers need.

Hesitant to spend money on non-superstars, yet unlikely to sign LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony, the Lakers have been forced to explore alternative free-agent signings that won't sabotage future plans.

Contingency explorations have led them to the Toronto Raptors point guard, according to David Aldridge of NBA.com, who writes that while the "Raps have a decent shot at keeping" Lowry, there "will be suitors—and the Lakers are at the top of the list."

Whisking Lowry out of Toronto is a thorny endeavor that may end in failure. But the Lakers owe it to themselves and their hope of salvaging today without it coming at the expense of tomorrow to try.

 

Realistic Range of View

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If the Lakers are actually interested in Lowry, it means they're interested in making a free-agency splash. And if they're interested in making a free-agency splash, they have to be realistic.

One year ago, their sights were set on James and Anthony. Now it's time to turn attentions elsewhere.

Like, right now. 

On the heels of James and Anthony opting out of their contracts with the Miami Heat and New York Knicks respectively, ESPN.com's Marc Stein and Brian Windhorst say the Lakers are among the teams eyeing both superstars. Not just one of them. Both.

Opening up the necessary cap space to make this happen isn't impossible. The Lakers can use their No. 7 pick—the actual player, since they cannot trade the pick—to grease the wheels of a Steve Nash salary dump, leaving them with only two guaranteed contracts in Robert Sacre and Kobe Bryant.

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Lowry is a more realistic target than James or Melo.

Sacre and Bryant's pacts total less than $24.5 million. If the Lakers keep Kendall Marshall, Ryan Kelly and Kent Bazemore while renouncing every other free agent, they could have $32-plus million in cap space to split between James and Anthony after accounting for the required minimum cap holds.

Awesome, right? Absolutely.

Implausible, too.

Here's what is not going to happen: James and Anthony aren't going to accept millions of dollars below market value to play alongside an aging Bryant who appeared in just six games last season and didn't sacrifice nearly as much financially as they would. 

Signing Lowry isn't a pipe dream. He's a coveted free agent, but he's not a perennial All-Star who demands the Lakers unload draft picks and salary just to secure a face-to-face meeting.

He is the kind of free agent they need to be chasing, because they can actually chase him.

 

Staying the Course

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Dipping into this year's available cap space may incite rage among certain Lakers fans.

Next summer has become the focus over these last few months in light of an imminent free-agency coup being exceedingly difficult. The win-now-or-lose-limbs-trying Bryant isn't one for patience, but delaying offseason activity is something general manager Mitch Kupchak danced around during a conversation with Lakers.com's Mike Trudell:

One of the premier free agents this coming summer was going to be Kobe Bryant. He'll no longer be a free agent. We have acquired him. As we approach the summer, we will see who's available and weigh it against what we think is a sound and prudent basketball and business decision. And we'll decide whether to sign that player versus some other player this summer, or take somebody in a trade or make a trade, and weight it against the option of waiting another year.

Waiting is a valiant concept, though it's one the Lakers typically don't embrace. They're all about winning immediately. They wouldn't have extended the restless Black Mamba if that had changed.

At the same time, are the Lakers really supposed to jeopardize their spending power for summer 2015, costing themselves a shot at Kevin Love, Marc Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge, Rajon Rondo and any other stars who enter free agency? Of course not.

There aren't enough consolation prizes in this year's market to justify a spending spree. Once the Lakers move past James, Anthony and Chris Bosh, there isn't anyone left worth obliterating those visions for. That includes Luol Deng, Lance Stephenson and, yes, Lowry. 

Bleacher Report's D.J. Foster lobbied against the Lakers signing him for this exact reason:

It would seem to make more sense to spend the money elsewhere, particularly since Lowry will almost certainly need a deal that extends beyond two years, which is the life of Bryant's massive contract.

If the Lakers are truly gunning for the 2015 offseason, when players like Kevin Love and LaMarcus Aldridge could be available, then signing Lowry to a substantial deal both in terms of money and years could seriously jeopardize that.

The Raptors point man definitely should have been an All-Star this year, but he's not a star. He's squarely outside that tier. That won't change.

But signing him doesn't have to ruin Los Angeles' chances of landing an actual star next summer. Hope would still be alive. It's all about price.

Retired New York Post columnist Peter Vecsey clocked Lowry's offseason value back in May:

Nothing has changed since then. Lowry could still command $10-12 million annually. He's assured of earning eight figures through at least one year of his next deal.

What could devalue his new contract—and help Los Angeles in the process—is the loaded point guard position.

Most teams aren't in dire straights at the 1. Talented floor generals are the standard nowadays, so there won't be cabals of teams dangling max contracts or annual salaries eclipsing $12 million. There may be one or two, but they'll be outliers.

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Lowry won't cost the Lakers the chance to sign another star in 2015.

Let's set Lowry's value at $10 million annually—a fair price. Stephen Curry is earning $10.6 million with the Golden State Warriors and Rajon Rondo is being paid $12.9 million by the Boston Celtics. Lowry shouldn't command much more than that $10 million.

If the Lakers are able to keep their books clean and resist the urge to hand out more long-term deals, Lowry, Bryant and their No. 7 pick this year will be the only guaranteed contracts on their books next summer. If they decide to retain the non-guaranteed pacts of Sacre and Marshall, they'll have five players on the ledger.

After combining salaries—including Lowry's—the Lakers will have $40.2 million devoted to their five players. Throw in seven minimum cap holds to bring their roster to 12 players and that number climbs to $43.5 million.

Should this summer's projected $63.2 million salary cap hold steady, the Lakers will be left with just under $20 million to play around with. That's enough to go superstar shopping.

What's more, the Lakers will have preserved such flexibility while adding a fringe-All-Star, instantly elevating their 2014-15 ceiling.

If Bryant stays healthy, if Nash is fit for duty and if that No. 7 pick turns into someone special, this team is more than just a sacrificial lamb being thrown to the wolves for the sake of next summer.

 

Actual Fit

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This isn't solely about the Lakers acquiring an affordable, attainable name. They can use Lowry.

Nash and Marshall won't be enough at point guard. The former is a walking red flag and neither of them are skilled defenders. Lowry adds instant depth to the NBA's most important position.

He's also the rare combination of off and on-ball savvy. 

Point guards tend to thrive when dominating the ball, because duh. They're at their best when conducting the offense, attacking and deferring, controlling the ebb and flow of everything around them. 

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Lowry is no different. But he's an offensive chameleon who can work off the ball, using his sturdy frame to set screens and dragoon his way into the paint.

And, more importantly, he can shoot.

Standstill scorers are important when assembling a team around Bryant. He's going to dominate the ball a majority of the time himself, as will any other superstar the Lakers plan on snatching over the next year or two. They need someone who can capitalize on drive-and-kicks, pick-and-pops and all that good stuff.

Lowry converted 45.6 percent of his spot-up attempts last season overall, and 44.6 percent of his catch-and-shoot bombs, according to Synergy Sports (subscription required). Housing him adds flavor to what will still be a Bryant-centric offense, and it allows him to fit alongside other stars moving forward.

Getting him makes sense—if they can actually get him.

The Lakers are going to have competition. Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri has already professed his intent to lock Lowry up:

Toronto has the ability to blow Los Angeles' offer out of the water. Ujiri is notoriously conservative, but he and the city of Toronto have displayed a special, uncharacteristic fondness for Lowry, who helped end the Raptors' half-decade-long playoff drought.

Loyalty, as always, will be a factor. Lowry has been nothing but vocal about his desire to remain in Toronto.

"I love this place, it's as simple as that," he said, per The Toronto Star's Doug Smith.

Simple love the Lakers must try to complicate, if nothing else.

 

*Salary information via ShamSports

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