What's the Right Price to Keep Each LA Lakers Free Agent?

Ehran Khan@@ekhansworldContributor IIIMay 29, 2014

What's the Right Price to Keep Each LA Lakers Free Agent?

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    How many members of last year's Lakers team will be back next season?
    How many members of last year's Lakers team will be back next season?Noah Graham/Getty Images

    The Los Angeles Lakers have a complex puzzle to solve in free agency this summer. A large piece of that puzzle is deciding what to do with all of their own impending free agents.

    Nine Lakers are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents—nine when Nick Young opts out of his contract—and two more will be restricted.

    Obviously, not all of those players will be brought back. The Lakers are in rebuilding mode and need to preserve as much cap space as possible for superstar free agents. Thus, each in-house free agent has a price threshold past which the organization will be content to let them go.

    Our job is to zero in on where that inflection point lies.

    Of course, there are a couple of guys whom the Lakers will move on from without ever negotiating a new deal with them—Chris Kaman, MarShon Brooks—because they simply do not fit what the franchise is trying to accomplish at this stage.

    We're leaving those players off the list.

    Also absent are the two restricted free agents—Kent Bazemore and Ryan Kelly—because their prices are contingent on offer sheets extended to them by other teams.

    That leaves seven impending free agents. At what cost would L.A. be willing to retain them? 

    Let's go through each case in descending order of their 2013-14 salary.

    Note: All salary information obtained from Sham Sports.

Pau Gasol

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    USA TODAY Sports

    The biggest decision the Lakers have to make is on Pau Gasol.

    Gasol is due a substantial pay cut after making $19.3 million last season, but just how big of a cut must it be for the Lakers to want to retain him?

    He is still a really good player—at least on the offensive end—who averaged 17 points, 10 rebounds and over three assists a game in 2014.

    Pau will be 34 at the start of next season, so L.A. would definitely want to keep his contract short. Anything more than two years would be too long, and timing it so that Gasol's contract comes off the books at the same time as Kobe Bryant's deal would open up a ton of cap space in 2016.

    A big man as gifted as Gasol still will likely command an eight-figure salary on the open market.

    Los Angeles will walk right up to that line, but not over it. If Gasol won't accept a two-year, $20 million contract to remain a Laker, the team should leave the negotiating table.

Jordan Hill

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Jordan Hill is an interesting case.

    Every season it feels like he's about to break out, but for one reason or another (injuries, Mike D'Antoni) it hasn't happened yet.

    He's not as young as you might think either, turning 27 this offseason.

    A raise from his $3.5 million salary seems in order, but how much should the Lakers be willing to spend on a guy with a checkered injury history who's never played more than 1,500 minutes in a season?

    Hill is in his prime, so locking him up long-term is no issue. He also showed vast improvement in his skills last year, suggesting that he could still marginally improve in the short-term.

    Other teams will be calling with offers, so if L.A. wants to keep him, they're going to have to at least double his paycheck.

    A four-year, $32 million deal for one the league's very best rebounders seems fair.

Jodie Meeks

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Jodie Meeks was L.A.'s most consistent player in 2014.

    He enjoyed the best season of his career, pairing career-best efficiency with career-best usage.

    That will definitely get him an offer way bigger than the $1.6 million he played for last year.

    Although Meeks has proved to be a good player, he's never going to be a star. At this point, the Lakers can't afford to overpay role players.

    Meeks would look great on a contender, and if the Lakers were one it might be worth it to pay extra for his services.

    But the Lakers are not contenders. 

    That said, Meeks is still valuable if he can be kept at a reasonable price and on a short-term deal which can be easily traded.

    If he'll take a two-year, $8 million contract, the Lakers should be pleased. If not—and if you were Meeks you would probably feel you deserve more—L.A. should move on and find a cheap shooter off the scrap heap.

Nick Young

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    Noah Graham/Getty Images

    Nick Young is another player who really boosted his value thanks to the perpetual green light Mike D'Antoni gave him.

    He led the team in scoring and did it stylishly with a vast array of difficult and eye-catching shots.

    That's why he is going to opt out of his $1.2 million contract for 2015 and hit the open market, where he can get paid like other leading Sixth Man of the Year candidates.

    The soon-to-be 29 year old still has a lot left in the tank, and having an offensive weapon like him is valuable as long as you can rein him in when need be.

    Like Meeks, Young also posted his highest-ever efficiency marks while using more possessions than ever before, which is a sign that he might finally get it.

    A three-year, $15 million deal is in order, but anything more than that and the Lakers should be prepared to walk away.

Jordan Farmar

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    Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

    In a weird way, the Lakers might be lucky that Jordan Farmar was plagued by injuries last season, because it should depress his market value this summer.

    When Farmar was on the court, he far outplayed his minimum salary price tag.

    Per 36 minutes, Farmar averaged 16 points, four rebounds and eight assists while ranking fifth in the league in three-point accuracy among players with at least 150 attempts. Only an uncharacteristically low two-point percentage—along with all the injuries, of course—held him back from a truly spectacular return to L.A.

    That's why, in this instance, the Lakers should aggressively seek to keep Farmar around. He would be one of the best backup point guards in the league who could also play major minutes in dual point guard lineups and be an adequate starter if needed.

    And he can be had at a discounted rate.

    A three-year, $9 million seems reasonable, and L.A. could ratchet that offer up to $12 or 13 million if needed. Anything more though, and the excess value disappears.

Xavier Henry

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    Bart Young/Getty Images

    Similar to the last player on this list, the Lakers should be able to extract a lot of value from re-signing Xavier Henry this offseason.

    Like Jordan Farmar, Henry was on his way to a big breakout before injuries derailed his season.

    Henry is teeming with upside, and his failure to find a home in the league will keep his cost low.

    He showed improvement across the board last year, hinting at a serviceable three-point shot and slowly blossoming playmaking skills to go along with his outstanding penchant for getting to the foul line.

    Henry is someone in whom the Lakers should feel comfortable making a long-term investment in, especially given the fact that it won't cost them much to find out whether they have an above-average starting wing or not. 

    If he pans out, it's a home run, and if he doesn't, then no harm done on the cap sheet.

    Offer him a four-year, $12 million contract, and don't be afraid to get haggled up to $16-17 million range.

Wesley Johnson

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    Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

    Wesley Johnson played the second-most minutes on the Lakers last season, but they weren't very memorable. He was below average in just about every department, and L.A. was better on both ends of the court when Johnson was off the floor than when he was on it, per NBA Wowy.

    Johnson did have a couple of hot stretches, but they were little more than a mirage and made his overall numbers look better than they were.

    The No. 4 overall pick just four years ago, you'd think that Johnson possesses greater—or at least the same—upside as Xavier Henry, but he does not.

    Johnson is just a few months younger than Jordan Farmar and hasn't shown significant improvement over his career.

    There is still a slight chance that Johnson becomes a decent rotation player down the road, but his one-year audition with the Lakers doesn't necessitate a call-back.

    If another one-year, minimum salary offer cannot be agreed upon, L.A. shouldn't hesitate to let Johnson go.


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