Report Card Grades for LA Lakers 2016 Free-Agent Signings

David Murphy@@davem234Featured ColumnistJuly 11, 2016

Report Card Grades for LA Lakers 2016 Free-Agent Signings

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    The Los Angeles Lakers had a boatload of loot to spend entering NBA free agency, but no cream-of-the-crop star players stepped up to take that money.

    Nonetheless, the Los Angeles front office didn’t waste time acting like wallflowers. They handed out sizable salaries to veterans who will complement a mostly young roster.

    While experienced players were added at positions of need, there are questions about fit—especially considering the anticipated open-court style under new head coach Luke Walton. However, L.A. hasn’t used up all of its resources yet, and it’s possible that more moves could occur before training camp. The Lakers also dipped freely into the piggy bank to re-sign key restricted free agents.

    We won’t know how the mixture of old and new meshes until the 2016-17 season begins, but L.A. did itself no major harm, even if the premiums paid were often high.

    It is also quite possible that this evolving Lakers team will show enough improvement to attract elite free agents next summer.

Timofey Mozgov (C)

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    Free agency was barely underway when the Lakers busted a move to land Timofey Mozgov for $64 million over a lengthy four-year term.

    The big man officially signed the contract once the NBA moratorium had passed. And per ESPN’s James Quintong, Mozgov inked said deal “while wearing a shirt featuring Lil' Kev, the social media phenomenon that became the Cavs' mascot during their run to the NBA title this spring.”

    But Mozgov is with L.A. now, not the champion Cleveland Cavaliers. According to Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News, the Russian—who turns 30 later this month—was sold on the promise of more playing time during a conversation with Walton.

    “He said I’m going to play a lot,” Mozgov said. “I really like it. The only thing in the world I want to do is be with my family and play basketball.”

    The question is: how effective will a hulking 7’1” center be with a young team destined to run and gun? Further complicating the picture is a knee injury that limited Mozgov this past season.

    When healthy, the veteran can be fairly mobile for his size, and he’s a defensive intimidator in the paint. He also scores effectively in the pick-and-roll, has a soft touch with mid-range jumpers and sets a mighty big screen.

    It’s hard to envision Mozgov getting as much floor time as he mentioned, however. He’s never been a big minutes guy, and the Lakers will likely experiment liberally with small-ball lineups as well as developing this year's No. 32 pick, 7'1" Ivica Zubac.

    But at least he’s an upgrade over former Lakers center Roy Hibbert.

    GRADE: C

Luol Deng (SF/PF)

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    The Lakers may have their small forward of the future in Brandon Ingram, but he’s still an 18-year-old rookie. Hence the team’s search for a player with strong starting credentials who can also provide a bridge to Ingram’s budding stardom.

    Management made a solid choice signing Luol Deng, a two-time All-Star with some gas left in the tank. Deng’s four-year, $72 million agreement was first reported by The Vertical’s Shams Charania.

    A 12-year veteran, Deng saw his productivity surge in Miami this past season, when he shifted from small forward to power forward in Chris Bosh’s absence.

    “Luol is a versatile defender as well as offensively talented and is a high-character individual who will be invaluable mentoring our young players on the court and in the locker room,” Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak relayed in a statement, per Joey Ramirez of Lakers.com.

    It’s not yet clear whether the 31-year-old will start or come off the bench. However, his ability to defend multiple positions will afford Walton a lot of flexibility, especially if he is playing alongside Mozgov and/or Julius Randle—neither of whom is known for being especially quick laterally.

    This wasn’t a splashy free-agency move, but it certainly wasn’t a dumb one. 

    GRADE: B

Jordan Clarkson (SG)

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    The decision about restricted free agent Jordan Clarkson was a no-brainer for the Lakers.

    The combo guard made the NBA All-Rookie First Team in 2015 and delivered a solid follow-up campaign last season, leading L.A. in total field goals made, while ranking second only to Kobe Bryant for average points per contest at 15.5.

    Management didn’t wait long, retaining Clarkson on the first day of free agency with a four-year, $50 million deal, per Shams Charania of The Vertical.

    The Orange County Register’s Bill Oram spoke with the 24-year-old about his motivation for rapid contract negotiations, reporting that conversation in a series of tweets from the Las Vegas Summer League.

    “I want to be part of this process,” Clarkson said. “I don’t want to be the guy that leaves this city when stuff’s going bad and stuff like that. I want to be here when we start winning and really putting it all together.”

    Clarkson was in Vegas as a spectator, but when D’Angelo Russell sank a buzzer-beater Saturday night to beat the Philadelphia 76ers, he dashed out onto the floor to congratulate his teammate.

    This is a player who has exceptional speed and slashing abilities to go along with his positive attitude. He still needs to improve on the defensive end, but has the tools to accomplish the task.

    GRADE: B+

Tarik Black (C/PF)

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    Tarik Black didn’t get much burn under Byron Scott this past season, appearing in just 39 games and averaging 3.4 points and four rebounds. But bringing him back was a smart move nonetheless.

    The 6’9” backup center is a mobile hustle player who will fit small-ball scenarios in a way that twin 7-footers Mozgov and rookie Zubac will not.

    Black played his college ball at Memphis and Kansas before signing with the Houston Rockets as an undrafted rookie in 2014; He was waived later that season and picked up by the Lakers. 

    The Lakers retained the restricted free agent for $12.85 million over two years, according to The Vertical’s Shams Charania. The second year is a team option, per Mike Bresnahan of TWC SportsNet.

    Black has terrific pick-and-roll instincts, often finishing strong on drives to the basket, and is the epitome of a glue guy, always ready to contribute and lending a tough, physical presence on the floor.

    Lakers beat reporters took to Twitter after the signing, expressing support for a positive locker room presence.

    “Black is a smart guy and a joy to cover in the locker room/off the court,” Shahan Ahmed of NBC Los Angeles tweeted in response to Charania’s news of the signing. “Happy he'll get a chance on the court.”

    Walton will still have to figure out how Black fits in a crowded rotation. Larry Nance Jr. is also well-suited to play the 5 in small lineups. But this was a good decision by the L.A. front office.

    GRADE: B+

Jose Calderon (PG)

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    One of the Lakers’ summer acquisitions was through a trade, not as a free-agent signing. Veteran point guard Jose Calderon arrived from the Chicago Bulls along with two future second-round draft picks, according to Mike Bresnahan, writing for the Los Angeles Times. Calderon had been dealt to the Bulls from the New York Knicks in late June as part of the Derrick Rose transaction.

    Los Angeles will absorb the final year of Calderon’s existing contract at $7.7 million.

    While this wasn’t an expected move, it’s still one that makes some sense. The summer free-agency market was already pretty played out, and L.A. gives up nothing but salary cap and rights to Ater Majok, the 58th pick in 2011 (per Lakers beat reporter Mike Trudell). Majok has been playing overseas since then.

    How does Calderon fit into the picture? The 34-year-old started 72 games for the New York Knicks last season, averaging 7.6 points and 4.2 assists while shooting 41.4 percent from beyond the arc. He has never been known as a defender, but has good court vision and an uncanny instinct for finding the open man.

    That said, this feels like more of a smart housekeeping deal than anything else. The Lakers still have cap space to sign more players if they wish, and Calderon’s expiring deal will be easy to flip this season. In the meantime, he’s still an NBA-ready point guard who can deliver quality minutes in support of Russell.

    GRADE: B-

Marcelo Huertas (PG)

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    Once Calderon was acquired, it would have been reasonable to assume Marcelo Huertas wouldn't be back. After all, how many pass-first European veteran point guards does one team need behind star sophomore Russell?

    But the Lakers inked the restricted free agent to a two-year deal, as revealed by the player himself, per his Instagram account.

    The NBA’s oldest rookie last season will once again be dishing his signature dimes—if there are any minutes to spare. Forum Blue and Gold’s Darius Soriano offered an interesting perspective on a potentially overcrowded backcourt:

    With this many guards, it would seem Huertas would only be an emergency guard who might only see minutes in a blowout or if there were injuries. On the other hand, having Huertas on the roster would also serve as insurance for a trade. Remember, the Calderon trade fell into the Lakers’ lap and came with two 2nd round draft picks. Calderon could be the type of player a playoff team might look for should they need additional depth at PG due to injury or ineffectiveness.

    Financial terms have not yet been made available for the Huertas deal, but it feels like a reasonable move that isn’t likely to hamper the team, and could even have some potential benefit.

    Once again, the former Euroleague star could be firing lobs off the bench for favorite targets like Tarik Black and Larry Nance Jr.

    GRADE: C+

     

    Statistics throughout this article are courtesy of Basketball-Reference.