Are Nick Young and Jordan Hill More Than Placeholders for LA Lakers Now?

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Are Nick Young and Jordan Hill More Than Placeholders for LA Lakers Now?
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Nick Young and Jordan Hill matter for the Los Angeles Lakers...kind of.

They will likely be starters next season in Los Angeles, but I can’t shake the feeling that both might only be stopgap players. Heck, you could make the argument that such was the case last season, and the front office is only prolonging the experiment.

 

What Last Season Told Us

The 2013-14 campaign gave us an idea of what to expect from Young and Hill as members of the Lakers.

In a sixth-man role, Young demonstrated his knack for scoring by posting a career-high 17.9 points per game. Also, Young’s solid ball-handling gave the Lakers some creativity on the perimeter, which they desperately needed with Steve Nash (nerve in back) and Kobe Bryant (Achilles tear and knee fracture) essentially sitting out the year.

Young picked up the slack and posted his highest PER (16) as a pro, but the Lakers only won 27 games. In other words, Young’s best barely mattered. Ouch.

To be fair, I’m not sure any team could bounce back after losing its starting backcourt during the majority of the 82-game grind, but Young’s production gave the Lakers nothing.

General manager Mitch Kupchak needed to see whether Young could fit alongside Kobe, and the question still lingers. If anything, Young played the front office. He posted solid numbers and “forced” the hand of the Lakers into re-signing him to a four-year, $21.5 million deal with a player option for the final season.

Noah Graham/Getty Images

It seems pertinent to mention that Young’s second-most productive campaign (2010-11) helped the Washington Wizards win 23 games. There is a correlation here: Young gets minutes on bad teams.

He isn’t the type of 2-guard that would get a heavy dose of playing time because he lacks discipline offensively (probably an understatement) and doesn’t always challenge opponents when defending them.

Although this was on full display during the 2013-14 campaign, the Lakers are likely hoping Young can replicate what he did last season. If such is the case, he could morph into the second coming of the Los Angeles Clippers’ Jamal Crawford.

Crawford is a reserve player who seemingly scores even when seated on the bench. He gets his shots up and looks great while doing it thanks in large part to his superb ball-handling skills.

With Young doing his best Crawford impersonation, Kobe could have a wing player to remove some of the scoring burden. In the same breath, a productive Young could become a good tradable asset.

As it pertains to Hill, he presents a similar dynamic. He had his best statistical campaign last season on a team that went nowhere.

D. Clarke Evans/Getty Images

He averaged a career-best 20.8 minutes to go along with his 9.7 points and 7.4 rebounds. Those modest numbers earned him a two-year, $18 million contract this summer. The second year is a team option.

The Lakers gave him a short-term deal in an effort to maintain their flexibility in the next two seasons. Kupchak indirectly addressed that point when asked by InsideSoCal.com’s Mark Medina about the 2015 and 2016 free-agent classes:

It’s a good class. But in terms of today of who might be at the very top, it might not be as large as next year and the year after. Keeping that in mind, we structured our salary knowing you might not get two or three guys. But we have enough room to get at least one. If we don’t have one and choose to, we can go down the road and have flexibility the year after that.

It’s important that the Lakers maintain their cap space in order to be players on the free-agent market in the next two summers.

That’s why Hill was given a contract with a big annual figure despite the fact the coaching staff never truly figured out what to do with him last season. A look at his game logs reveals that there were nights when the team barely played him.

To his credit, Hill took it in stride. “It’s what you can expect, though,” Hill said, per InsideSocal.com’s Medina in April. “It’s not a surprise. I can’t do nothing, but stay humble and continue to keep my head high and support my team.”

Perhaps the positive outlook made it easier to bring him back, albeit in a different role. His salary coupled with the departures of Pau Gasol and Chris Kaman appears to indicate he will be a starter during the 2014-15 campaign.

Thus, Los Angeles has given two reserves what appear to be prominent roles on the team. However, their salary structures make it easy to include them in trade packages. That’s probably not by accident.

 

Bridge Players

Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

Hill and Young are likely players that will help the Lakers transition into a better team.

It’s not so much that their contributions will elevate the Lakers back to glory, but rather that they are holding spots for future players who will be cogs in L.A.’s turnaround.

Interestingly enough, the Lakers may have already begun to explore possibilities to upgrade the roster with these said prospective moving parts. Phoenix Suns radio broadcaster Jon Bloom offered this nugget:

If the Lakers are indeed contemplating this transaction, it further validates that the roster is malleable. Acquiring Eric Bledsoe would be a big coup for the Lakers.

He averaged 19.4 points and six assists per 36 minutes last season. Also, Bledsoe’s athleticism allows him to make impact plays that provide tremendous shock factor. 

He will only be 24 years old when the 2014-15 season tips off, which means he’d likely be the point guard of the future.

Bledsoe is looking for a max contract, according to Yahoo Sports’ Marc J. Spears. Phoenix doesn’t seem inclined to give it to him considering it already has Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas on the roster. Shelling out big money to three point guards might not be the most prudent move for the Suns, which would explain the rationale behind a trade with the Lakers.

Young isn’t included in the prospective swap, but he too could net the Lakers an asset in the future. One might be tempted to believe he will outlast Bryant as a Laker by virtue of his longer contract (Kobe’s deal expires in the 2016 summer), but I wouldn’t put much stock in that thought.

Remember, Young plays the same position as Bryant but will earn roughly 20 percent of what Kobe makes annually over the next two years, per ShamSports.com. Young is clearly the easier piece to trade in terms of salary and sentimental reasons. Bryant is the face of the Lakers, and Young is not.

Thus, it should be easy to cut ties with him, and there’s a realistic scenario where the Lakers might be able to do it.

A playoff contender seeking to fortify its bench scoring might be willing to give up a first-round pick for Young. Remember, because he’s signed for four years, the team acquiring him would benefit from his services for a few seasons.

Think of squads like the Oklahoma City Thunder or Indiana Pacers. Both teams could benefit from a scoring guard, and Young certainly fits the bill. The notion that these ideas seem extremely plausible highlights that the pair won’t be Lakers for the long haul.

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