The Los Angeles Lakers must have something resembling a long-term plan…hopefully.
I say hopefully because the small, short-term actions leave a little to be desired. Yes, the Purple and Gold may have gotten a steal in drafting Julius Randle with the No. 7 pick, but that’s the only transaction one should get excited about.
Randle helped the Kentucky Wildcats make it to the NCAA title game before bowing out to the Connecticut Huskies. During his freshman season, Randle was a load for opponents because he beat them with a combination of brute strength and quickness on the block.
Randle should be a solid player, which makes him the most interesting acquisition the Lakers have made in the offseason. Everything else is either worthy of a yawn or a possible sign that the Lakers are no longer an attractive destination.
Not Winning the “Now”
The Lakers haven’t done much to get better in the summer.
How did the Lakers bounce back? They re-signed Jordan Hill to a two-year, $18 million deal. The second season is a team option. Although it’s a short contract, Hill only played 20.8 minutes per game during the 2013-14 season. Basketball-Reference.com tells us that was a career high. That’s not to say that Hill won’t live up to his deal, but I’m skeptical.
Hill’s been a reserve throughout the majority of his career because he’s a hustle player lacking an offensive repertoire. And yet, the franchise felt he was an important piece.
Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski explains: “The Lakers greatly valued Hill, and held off a market that included the Dallas Mavericks and Houston Rockets, league sources said. He's a favorite of teammate Kobe Bryant, who has long been an advocate to re-signing him.”
The value attributed to Hill means Los Angeles now depends on him. Hill is now getting paid to produce like a starter, something he’s never done in his pro career. Yikes.
The rest of the Lakers' moves aren’t questionable in terms of cost, but the talent component is certainly suspect.
Again, the contract itself isn’t an issue considering that Jodie Meeks netted a three-year commitment worth nearly $20 million from the Detroit Pistons, per Yahoo Sports’ Wojnarowski. Young is better than Meeks by a hair, as depicted by Baskeball-Reference.com, but Meeks will make more on average per season.
Still, I wonder if Young will actually help the Lakers become a better ballclub going forward. He plays like Kobe Bryant, except he doesn’t have Kobe’s talent, which leads to more bricks than a construction site.
On the positive side, L.A. signed Ed Davis to a two-year deal worth $2 million, according to Wojnarowski. Davis is a good rebounder and decent finisher. He's a second-unit player, and the Lakers got him at a really good price.
The Lakers also added Jeremy Lin via trade, and he gives the team a boost. Instead of orchestrating the offense, which isn’t his strong suit, he plays well off the ball, attacking creases in the defense. Also, Lin is a good spot-up shooter, and that will make him a good complementary piece alongside Kobe.
This assumes Bryant is healthy and playing at a high level, but there is a risk that those days have come and gone.
L.A.’s moves this summer have been underwhelming, but it’s worth noting that they did nothing to compromise the franchise’s future. If anything, the Lakers are putting themselves in a position to be major players in the next two summers.
General manager Mitch Kupchak's offseason signings still empower the Lakers to go after big names during the next few years.
Lin’s deal expires at the conclusion of the 2014-15 campaign, and the same applies to Steve Nash’s contract. That’s roughly $18 million combined. Hill is on the books for $9 million per year, but the second year is a team option. Thus, the Lakers could get out of his deal next summer.
There’s a theme here, folks. Unless Los Angeles gives out one or two ridiculously large and long contracts to players, the Lakers will have flexibility in the summers of 2015 and 2016.
Remember, Bryant’s mammoth deal expires at the end of the 2015-16 season, and he will presumably retire then.
Thus, the Lakers will be in a position to add studs who can bring the franchise back to glory. Here’s a quick look at some of the impact players who could be available in 2015 (could change if they sign extensions or bypass player options):
|NBA 2015 Free Agents|
|LaMarcus Aldridge||Portland Trail Blazers||Unrestricted|
|Jimmy Butler||Chicago Bulls||Restricted|
|Tyson Chandler||Dallas Mavericks||Unrestricted|
|Goran Dragic||Phoenix Suns||Player option|
|Monta Ellis||Dallas Mavericks||Player option|
|Marc Gasol||Memphis Grizzlies||Unrestricted|
|Reggie Jackson||Oklahoma City Thunder||Restricted|
|LeBron James||Cleveland Cavaliers||Player option|
|Kevin Love||Minnesota Timberwolves||Player option|
|Wes Matthews||Portland Trail Blazers||Unrestricted|
|Paul Millsap||Atlanta Hawks||Unrestricted|
|Tony Parker||San Antonio Spurs||Unrestricted|
|Klay Thompson||Golden State Warriors||Restricted|
Now glance at the names of players who could hit the open market in the 2016 offseason:
|NBA 2016 Free Agents|
|Joe Johnson||Brooklyn Nets||Unrestricted|
|Deron Williams||Brooklyn Nets||Player option|
|DeMar DeRozan||Toronto Raptors||Player option|
|Kevin Durant||Oklahoma City Thunder||Unrestricted|
|Al Horford||Atlanta Hawks||Unrestricted|
|Dwight Howard||Houston Rockets||Unrestricted|
Just for argument's sake, imagine if the Lakers got their hands on Kevin Love and Marc Gasol. Depending on the salary structures, the Purple and Gold might be able to convince Kevin Durant to abandon the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Obviously, that’s the best-case scenario, which might be a bit of a long shot. All three players have to be in a position where they want to jump ship, which is hardly a given.
A more reasonable permutation could be signing Tony Parker and Love in the 2015 offseason. It’s probably fair to assume Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili will retire that summer, and Parker will have to determine if the San Antonio Spurs can still compete for titles. If they can’t, maybe he leaves the Spurs for arguably the most glamorous franchise in basketball.
Parker and Bryant could be a potent backcourt depending on Kobe’s level of play. The tandem could nudge Love to join the Lakers given his willingness to join a contender, per ESPN.com’s report from Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne in May.
Maybe these transactions convince Durant to leave OKC, but in the event they do not, there’s still Dwight Howard.
Yes, Howard unceremoniously left the Lakers after the 2012-13 season, but that was because he couldn’t see himself playing next to Kobe again, according to Bleacher Report’s Ric Bucher.
With Bryant gone, it would open the way for Howard to opt out of his contract and potentially join Parker and Love in L.A.
That trio could be good enough to compete for a title in a conference where the roads no longer go through San Antonio. As fascinating as all of these scenarios are, they come with a major obstacle: No star wants to play for the Lakers.
That’s an incredibly important challenge.
Howard swiftly left the Lakers in favor of the Houston Rockets after one season in Los Angeles. Carmelo Anthony entertained the idea of joining Kobe but ultimately passed. We’re only talking about a two-year sample size, but this might speak to the fact that the Lakers just don’t do “it” for stars anymore.
If that’s the case, the Lakers could be in a situation where they are forced to operate like a small-market team and overpay for talent. Want to bring in Parker? It’ll cost you the max. Want Gasol? Same thing.
If that is the new reality, Los Angeles will have to recalibrate its plans. Granted, with a new TV deal looming, it’s quite likely the salary cap will increase.
How much the NBA attains for its TV rights directly affects player salaries. Under the league’s collective bargaining agreement with the union, the players receive 50 percent of all league revenue.
A TV-rights deal in the neighborhood of $15 billion would in turn greatly increase the league’s overall salary cap, the amount each team is allowed to spend on its players.
That could make it possible for the Lakers to overpay for two stars and then bring in a superstar to complete the puzzle. However, the television contract will only get renegotiated in 2016, which means the Lakers won’t know during the 2015 summer if they can afford to overspend on talent.
That’s certainly an obstacle, but a smart front office might figure out ways around that. Instead of going after Parker, maybe the Lakers go after a bigger domino. For instance, the Lakers can try to bring in LaMarcus Aldridge of the Portland Trail Blazers.
Aldridge will be 29 years old when the 2014-15 campaign ends, and he is one of the best power forwards in the league. The Lakers could give him a max contract and pair him with Kobe. The following year, Kupchak might be able to convince Durant or Howard to join the franchise. Heck, maybe both depending on the outcome of the television deal.
If you really want to go crazy with it, theoretically, the Lakers could end up with LeBron James, Gasol and Durant in a really wacky world (hopefully I didn't crash all the Lakers message boards here).
These examples might seem ludicrous at first glance, but these moving parts are likely on L.A.’s board. The short-term commitments the Lakers have made this summer allow them to contemplate all of these scenarios.
Los Angeles has struck out in free agency this year and even made some questionable signings. In the same breath, it hasn’t compromised its most important asset going forward: flexibility.
Expect the Lakers to be players in a year or two.