Why Carlos Boozer Is a Necessary Addition for Los Angeles Lakers

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistJuly 18, 2014

Mar 19, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Chicago Bulls forward Carlos Boozer (5) during the third quarter against the Philadelphia 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center. The Bulls defeated the Sixers 102-94. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

It read like a punchline.

That was how a big chunk of the basketball world received it, at least. The Los Angeles Lakers, as ESPN.com's Marc Stein put it, "won" the auction for amnesty casualty Carlos Boozer:

While technically correct, not everyone agreed with Stein's word choice. After all, it doesn't seem easy to celebrate the arrival of a player who will collect an eight-figure salary to not suit up for the Chicago Bulls next season.

Yet, the big man adds a necessary piece to LA's complicated puzzle.

The franchise is being pulled in opposite directions by the desire to give Kobe Bryant something to work with now and the need to maintain financial flexibility going forward. By making a one-year investment in Boozer, the Lakers appear to have done both.

He Can Still Play

Alex Brandon/Associated Press

Boozer's All-Star past is nothing more than a distant memory.

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At one point, he was a centerpiece for the Utah Jazz. Starting with the 2004-05 campaign, he enjoyed a wildly productive six-year run that saw him average 19.3 points on 54.4 percent shooting and 10.5 rebounds.

The Lakers aren't getting that player. But they aren't wasting a roster spot by bringing the 32-year-old aboard, either.

"Carlos is an established veteran and a proven all-star, who will be a welcome addition to our team,” general manager Mitch Kupchak said in a statement.

Boozer's 2013-14 season was the worst since his rookie year, but he still managed to put up 13.7 points and 8.3 rebounds in 28.2 minutes a night. He was one of 25 players to post at least 13-plus points and eight-plus rebounds and one of only four to hit those marks while playing fewer than 30 minutes per game.

His glass work in particular ranked among the NBA's best. He finished 12th in defensive rebounding percentage (25.9) and 20th in total rebounding percentage (16.8), via Basketball-Reference.com.

Both were major problem areas for the Lakers last season.

LA ranked dead last in all three rebounding categories, with 1.5 points separating it from the 29th team in total rebounding percentage (45.6 compared to the Brooklyn Nets' 47.1), via NBA.com. That was a larger gap than the one between the league's top-ranked team on the glass (Oklahoma City Thunder, 52.2) and the 12th-ranked team (Cleveland Cavaliers, 50.9).

Boozer's low-post scoring will help lighten the load on the 35-year-old Bryant. His mid-range shooting touch (career 42.3 percent shooting from 10 to 16 feet away from the basket) will make him a serviceable pick-and-pop partner for new point guard Jeremy Lin.

Add his rebounding prowess to the mix, and you start to see the immediate contributions he'll make for the Lakers.

They'll need each and every one of them, too, because the rest of this young frontcourt can't match what he brings.

EL SEGUNDO, CA - JUNE 30:  Julius Randle #30 of the Los Angeles Lakers poses for a photo with Los Angeles Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak during his introductory press conference on June 30, 2014 at the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, California.
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

"Boozer gives the Lakers the kind a proven big-man scoring option that they don't have among the group of Jordan Hill, Julius Randle, Ed Davis, Robert Sacre and probably Ryan Kelly," Bleacher Report's Kevin Ding noted. "Boozer's defensive shortcomings could also be muted if he plays next to a shot-blocker in Hill or Davis at all times."

Boozer might limit the exposure of Randle and Davis, but that could be a good thing.

Randle won't turn 20 until late November, and he hasn't exactly lit up the Las Vegas Summer League (12 points on 44.8 percent shooting, four rebounds in 23 minutes per game). Davis has never handled a big role (career 20.8 minutes a night), and his minimum contract suggests he won't be getting one now.

Boozer will make the Lakers more competitive, and that's big for a franchise that has tied so much of its short-term future into Bryant.

More importantly, this won't impact the organization's long-term plans.

The Risk Is Minuscule

Nov 30, 2013; Cleveland, OH, USA; Chicago Bulls power forward Carlos Boozer sits on the bench prior to a game against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Stopgap signings can prove to be quite costly for clubs eyeing the horizon.

Look no further than what the Lakers spent to keep Hill and his career 6.7 points-per-game scoring average around. They'll be paying the former lottery pick $9 million for next season, plus another $9 million should they exercise his team option for 2015-16.

In the NBA, it costs money to save. By sacrificing the security of a lengthy contract, players will look to collect major money up front.

Teams will pay it, too. The Golden State Warriors gave former draft bust Kwame Brown $7 million to spend the 2011-12 season in the Bay Area. That was more money overall than he collected on the two-year deal he signed with the Philadelphia 76ers the following summer. 

Boozer's situation is different, though. As an amnesty victim, the Lakers only had to put up $3.25 million to cast the winning bid, as Stein reported:

That reduced rate is a major reason the Lakers declined to take him on through a sign-and-trade for outgoing big man Pau Gasol

"The Lakers opted to pick Boozer up this way instead of including him in a sign-and-trade to facilitate Pau Gasol’s defection to Chicago because of the obvious price difference," Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News noted.

LA really has nothing to lose here.

Douglas C. Pizac/Associated Press

Bryant picks up a known teammate, and one that should provide steady on-court assistance. Randle and Davis get a possible mentor that once mastered the art they are trying to learn. Boozer shouldn't block their development, either. If it's obvious that one or both are ready for the bright lights, the Lakers should be more than willing to give them significant playing time.

The Lakers add a motivated player who is obviously skilled and needs to rebuild his reputation. Boozer doesn't have many paydays left in his future, but he might find one last substantial one if he seizes this opportunity.

There is no real incentive for the Lakers to bottom out. Their 2015 first-round pick belongs to the Phoenix Suns unless it falls inside the top five. LA could have a hard time tanking to that extent, particularly if the NBA adopts a new system that more evenly distributes draft lottery odds, which sources told Grantland's Zach Lowe is under consideration.

If it doesn't pay to be bad, why not try to be more competitive?

It's not as if Boozer's addition impacts the Lakers' odds in the 2015 and 2016 free-agent markets one iota. His contract will be wiped off the books long before the franchise fires up its next round of recruiting pitches.

The reward isn't great with Boozer, but the risk is far lower—if it even exists.

Stein wasn't joking in his tweet. The Lakers really emerged from that auction victorious.

Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.


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