The Los Angeles Lakers entered the summer with a skeleton crew, hoping for a significant makeover. But after missing out on the LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony sweepstakes, the "Plan B" roster looks a lot like the one that lost 55 of its last 82 games.
Similar to last season, this will be another campaign with mostly temporary hires. Is it a case of the Lakers looking forward to the future or part of a league-wide trend?
Eight members of last season’s injury-decimated, underachieving team are now back, but only five of 13 current players have contracts guaranteed beyond the upcoming season.
The Lakers’ No. 7 draft pick, Julius Randle, has a two-year deal with a team option for year three. As reported by Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times, Ed Davis was brought on board with a two-year contract. Ryan Kelly and Nick Young have been re-signed to two- and four-year deals, respectively.
Steve Nash, Carlos Boozer, Jeremy Lin, Jordan Hill, Wesley Johnson, Xavier Henry, Robert Sacre and Jordan Clarkson will all be under an assortment of one-year deals, some with a team option for a second year and most without.
To a large degree, this is part of the new NBA landscape under the current collective bargaining agreement, which makes it harder for teams to keep rosters together for extended periods of time.
In the upcoming update to his book 11 Rings: The Soul of Success, per the New York Daily News, Phil Jackson describes the way the CBA is affecting the Lakers and other teams:
Sadly, what inevitably is getting lost in this shift is a sense of continuity over time. Not only will the new agreement make it virtually impossible for teams — no matter how fat their wallets — to assemble lineups with more than two or three bona fide stars, it will also significantly reduce the number of players who can play the bulk of their careers on the same team.
Forget the type of long-term continuity suggested by “the bulk of their careers.” This one-and-done model that the Lakers have been employing essentially causes players to treat each season as an audition for the league as a whole, looking to put up career-high stats in order to get that next contract rather than investing in their teammates.
But is there no worth in maintaining financial flexibility moving forward? Isn’t this the only practical way to guarantee having enough salary cap to pursue a major free agent next summer?
Perhaps, but something is also lost with an annual game of kicking the can down the line. After making unsuccessful pushes for James and Anthony, Lakers executives Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak will look ahead and try it again next year, hoping to land Kevin Love or whoever else may or may not be available.
And the availability of these potential gold mines is always a thing of chance—players heading into free agency are often traded before they get there.
You can also add the transience of head coaches to the mix. Having burned through Mike Brown and Mike D’Antoni over the course of three seasons, Lakers management has gone through the draft, free agency and summer league without a sideline head honcho in place.
In other words, free agents have been asked to commit to a rudderless ship. Some have taken the plunge and some haven’t.
Perhaps this is simply the new world order in the NBA: a polarization of classes that is decimating the league’s middle class and putting the emphasis on maximum and minimum contracts. It also includes an ever-increasing reliance on temporary help.
Is there no better way to manage a team’s affairs in this emerging landscape? One only has to look toward the current world champions for an answer.
With five NBA titles since 1999, the San Antonio Spurs have presented a model of consistent leadership and frugal management, using an international road map that includes developing players overseas until they’re ready to fill a role.
Even the Spurs’ most expensive contracts are relatively modest. Tony Parker is their highest-paid player at $12.5 million, a pittance compared to Kobe Bryant’s $23.5 million. Tim Duncan at $10.4 million will earn less this year than Jeremy Lin’s $14.8 million.
To the credit of the Lakers, they have enjoyed immense success over time, not only winning rings by the handful but consistently increasing the value of their franchise. And management did take a couple of big swings this year, hoping to provide Bryant with the firepower to go out the right way.
But if you can’t land the really big fish, is filling up on one-year deals really the next-best option? Is this how you build and develop for the long run? That tactic didn’t work last season—perhaps this year’s temporary help will do better.
* All salary info per Spotrac.