Even though it may appear to be confusing on the surface, the Los Angeles Lakers claiming former Chicago Bulls forward Carlos Boozer off amnesty waivers was another example of the Lakers intelligently using their cap space to upgrade the talent of the roster without assuming any risk.
ESPN sources say that Lakers won Carlos Boozer auction with a high bid of $3.25 million— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) July 17, 2014
Although Boozer seems like a shaky fit as a veteran player joining a fringe playoff contender, you can read between the lines and analyze what his addition means for the Lakers and what it is signaling to other free agents and current Lakers players.
One of the reasons this acquisition stands out is because the Lakers have already focused so heavily on the frontcourt this offseason. After using their first-round pick on Julius Randle, they re-signed Jordan Hill and picked up Ed Davis, seemingly solidifying the power forward position.
While Carlos Boozer is clearly a 4, he does offer up a different skill set than the players currently on the roster. Boozer is the most accomplished post scorer of the trio by a large margin, and his ability to face up and knock in mid-range jumpers will be valuable next to both Hill and Davis.
Boozer isn't a good defender, but over the years, he's been useful (like everyone else) in Tom Thibodeau's defensive system. You'd like to think he picked up some knowledge there, and, while every system is different, and the Lakers still don't have a coach, he might not be as bad as he's painted.
For what it's worth, Bulls general manager Gar Forman was very appreciative of what Boozer brought to the organization, as he explained in a statement:
Carlos epitomized professionalism in everything he did for the Bulls both on the court, and in the community, during his time here in Chicago. Over the last four seasons, Carlos’ productivity helped elevate our team to another level. I have nothing but respect for Carlos, and certainly wish him the best as he moves forward.
The positive here is that both Davis and Hill are solid shot-blockers, so they protect Boozer when they play together. While we'll likely never see Randle and Boozer paired up, the other frontcourt options actually complement Boozer quite well.
It's also important to note that, while Davis has plenty of potential, there's probably a reason why he can never fully crack a rotation and earn consistent playing time. He might not be someone you want to count on for significant minutes, and that's the spot the Lakers would have been in without another frontcourt player to add to the rotation.
Boozer is a veteran presence if nothing else, and while he can't be traded this season, he's still a good player to acquire on such a steep discount. Much of his previous perception was tied to his contract, but he's still valuable offensively, particularly to a team that may need that given the health issues of both Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash.
Bleacher Report's Howard Beck brought about an interesting question in regards to the Boozer acquisition.
Source strongly suggested a few days ago that LAL planned to tank, to avoid sending pick to Phx. Not sure if Boozer claim proves/disproves— Howard Beck (@HowardBeck) July 17, 2014
If the Lakers did have the intention to tank and not cough up next year's first-round pick, this is certainly an interesting way to do it. Boozer, despite his less-than-stellar reputation, has a real offensive game at the 4 and can serve as a bailout option late in the clock.
Here's Kurt Helin at ProBasketballTalk with more on Boozer:
Boozer averaged 13.7 points and 8.7 rebounds a game last season. His game has deteriorated in recent years, last season he wasn’t efficient (.489 true shooting percentage) nor does he play much defense. That said, he’s more solid than his critics give him credit for — he’s still okay — and he’ll make a decent backup big man for what the Lakers are paying.
He’ll help the Lakers win more now as opposed to bringing in a big man to develop for the future. That said he’s not going to help them win much.
The perception of a franchise heading into free agency can matter quite a bit, and having an unhappy Bryant and a losing, sad-sack team might not be the best idea if the Lakers really want to draw the biggest stars. Boozer can pitch in and help in that regard.
This is essentially an audition for Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak to show that he can build a competitive team even with limited assets, and the Boozer signing is just a way to demonstrate that he's aggressive and always looking for values. The Jeremy Lin trade earlier this offseason, in which he was acquired along with a future first-round pick just to take his salary on board, was another perfect example.
Are Lin and Boozer perfect? Of course not, but they can provide quality, starter-level production and help sell tickets and keep fans engaged. When you have the largest fanbase in the NBA, it's important to provide that kind of familiarity and placate them, even if it's not nearly the top priority.
Adding Boozer also creates competition. Hill, Davis and Randle won't simply be handed minutes. They'll have to fight for them now, and that should theoretically improve the quality of play from each player. If for some reason, Boozer doesn't accept his role, or if he's unhappy, there's really nothing lost if the Lakers simply pay him to go away.
It's basically a bet that the Lakers come out hot and are in the thick of it for a playoff spot early on. Boozer will be a steal at that point, however unlikely that scenario is. It's a fine gamble on an expiring contract for a franchise with deep pockets.
Essentially, this is a nearly risk-free acquisition for a strong offensive player with a history of reliable production. He can be useful in a reduced role, and at that price, that's all he has to be to justify the Lakers picking him up.
Put aside the previous perception of Boozer that was largely attached to his ridiculous contract and re-calibrate the expectations, and it's easier to appreciate this as a nice value signing.