Report Card Grades for LA Lakers' 2014 Free-Agent Signings

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Report Card Grades for LA Lakers' 2014 Free-Agent Signings
USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Lakers' 2014 offseason hasn’t helped satiate a fan base obsessed with championship glory.

On the contrary, report card grades handed out to the free agents they did manage to sign are sure to leave fans wondering what the future holds.

Lakerland failed to reel in a big-name star like Carmelo Anthony. He will reportedly return to the New York Knicks, per the New York Daily News’ Frank Isola.

Since it couldn’t acquire an MVP-caliber talent to pair with Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles needed to set its sights on a second-tier free agent. The Lakers and point guard Isaiah Thomas, for instance, had mutual interest, according to Slam Magazine’s Brett Weisband.

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The Washington product was seen as one of the best floor generals available. He’s set to stay in the Pacific Division, but he’ll do so with the Phoenix Suns after a sign-and-trade was completed between the desert dwellers and the Sacramento Kings.

Even retaining four-time All-Star and two-time NBA champion Pau Gasol was an option that eluded general manager Mitch Kupchak—though not for lack of trying.

According to Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski, Gasol turned down a two-year deal from the Purple and Gold that would have paid him more than $20 million over a two-year span. Again, it’s not as if management didn’t pursue the veteran Spaniard with a noteworthy offer—he simply opted to decline it. Gasol’s poised to head for the Eastern Conference and sign with the Chicago Bulls, per ESPN.com’s Ramona Shelburne.

That manifestation speaks volumes about the current state of the Lakers. The appeal of a franchise with championship pedigree only goes so far. Especially when the two key players on the roster—Bryant and Steve Nash—have age and injury woes working against them.

The Lakers didn’t make any notable signings to shape the NBA landscape, but they did retain some of their own.

 

Nick Young

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After finishing his first year with the Lakers as the team’s leading scorer, swingman Nick Young will return.

It was clear the man otherwise known as "Swaggy P" was targeting a raise by opting out of his 2014-15 player option, which was set to pay him approximately $1.2 million. He certainly got one. The only question is whether he or the Lakers got the better end of the deal.

For a frame of reference, let’s compare Young’s new deal to former Lakers teammate Jodie Meeks—who inked a three-year, $19.5 million contract to join Stan Van Gundy’s Detroit Pistons.

2013-14 Player Comparison: Nick Young vs. Jodie Meeks
Player FG% At Rim FG% 3P% PPG RPG APG SPG
Nick Young 55.7% 43.5% 38.6% 17.9 2.6 1.5 0.7
Jodie Meeks 58.9% 46.3% 40.1% 15.7 2.5 1.8 1.4

NBA.com

Sure, Young led the Lakers in scoring by posting 17.9 points per contest (primarily off the bench), but Meeks was the more efficient shooter from just about everywhere. He also swiped more steals per game.

Considering that Young didn’t outperform Meeks in terms of rebounding or dishing out assists, is he really worth a longer commitment?

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Young may be seen as more favorable because of his size. At 6’7”, the USC product passes the eye test when playing small forward. Meeks’ 6’4” frame isn’t prototypical for that spot in the lineup.

Still, Meeks18.4 player efficiency rating per 48 minutes at the 3 was superior to Young’s PER at the same position of 17.3, per 82games.com.

Young carved a niche as a viable Sixth Man of the Year candidate due to his volume scoring, but Meeks was arguably the better player during the same campaign and will earn less money on his next deal in the long run. Those details don’t necessarily favor Lakers management.

Nevertheless, the Lakers needed to find a scoring threat to complement Bryant and incoming rookie Julius Randle. The California native fits the bill—especially since he's a fan favorite—but the price tag could have been more appealing.

Also, since Young is locked in for three years (possibly four), that leaves less maneuverability for the Lakers next summer. They have to fill the roster somehow, and Young proved he deserved a pay raise, but this signing was average at best.

Grade: C+

 

Jordan Hill

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Few players in the NBA have experienced a less ideal start to their respective careers than Jordan Hill.

The New York Knicks drafted the University of Arizona product in 2009 with the No. 8 pick. NY’s coach at the time was none other than Mike D’Antoni, whose up-tempo offensive schemes didn’t jell with Hill. The big man wound up in Mike D’s doghouse and was traded during his rookie campaign to the Houston Rockets.

Fast-forward to 2013-14, where Hill faced similar circumstances. D’Antoni allotted Hill a career-high 20.8 minutes per game, but his opportunities still didn’t give him a chance to break out.

Nevertheless, Hill averaged 9.7 points and 7.4 rebounds while shooting 54.9 percent from the floor (all career highs). Assuming he can build on that production moving forward, he could be a viable rotational piece (perhaps even starter) for the Lakers.

What was the better signing?

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According to Wojnarowski, the Lakers will retain Hill via a two-year, $18 million contract.

As CBS Sports’ James Herbert wrote, “It’s possible he’s now both overpaid and underrated.”

I couldn’t have put it better.

It’s difficult to gauge exactly where Hill’s career is headed. He just finished the best campaign of his young career and could blossom in a new system with more court time. However, it’s hard to justify him making more money annually than Isaiah Thomas and sharpshooting big man Channing Frye.

The Lakers are paying Hill based on potential. If they don’t bring in a new head coach capable of embracing that potential, they’ll undoubtedly be overpaying the 26-year-old.

On the bright side, the second year of the deal is a team option, per Wojnarowski. If Hill lives up to the contract, L.A. can choose to bring him back. If not, the front office can turn down the option and embrace cap space for 2015 free agency.

Grade: B-

 

Synopsis

After missing out on a blockbuster signing, these less-noteworthy moves feel as if Kupchak and Co. are simply trying to avoid bottoming out again. As currently constructed, the roster is going to have trouble making the playoffs, much less compete for a championship.

Retaining Young and Hill makes the roster better, but missing out on Kent Bazemore (Atlanta Hawks), Jordan Farmar (Los Angeles Clippers), Chris Kaman (Portland Trail Blazers) and Meeks (Pistons) doesn’t help in terms of depth.

Is Bryant going to tolerate another season treading water in the loaded Western Conference?

Let’s just say he won’t be thrilled.

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