Earlier this summer, the Los Angeles Lakers, spurned by every major player on the free-agent market, dipped their toes into the buy-low pool by trading an undisclosed future second-round pick for center Roy Hibbert.
In practice, I still don't understand the move for the Lakers. Their need for a rim protector was palpable, but Hibbert isn't taking this roster from bottom five to playoff contention; at best, he increases the likelihood of the Lakers shipping their top-three protected pick the Philadelphia 76ers' way. It was a move by a desperate team trying to avoid the proverbial whiff for the third straight offseason.
In a vacuum, though, the Hibbert move was among the best of the summer. The Golden State Warriors' blueprint has the other 29 NBA teams racing to rid themselves of slow, plodding centers, but Hibbert is not without value. We're less than two years removed from him being arguably the biggest reason the Indiana Pacers gave the LeBron Heat the fight of their lives. Hell, you might as well name verticality the Roy Hibbert rule.
After more than a year of being beaten down by fans, the press and the Indiana front office, Hibbert was the poster child of the Change of Scenery All-Stars. The Lakers trading for Hibbert is the type of move smart front offices make all the time; the timing was just off.
As it turns out, general manager Mitch Kupchak and Co. apparently weren't done trying to buy low. ESPN's Marc Stein reported the Lakers were a "determined bidder" for point guard Ty Lawson, whom the Denver Nuggets traded to Houston on Monday.
At first, that news sounds mildly amusing. The Lakers couldn't have been that determined if their offer was bested by the Rockets. Houston gave one asset of semi-significance (a protected future first-round pick) and a whole heaping pile of nothing otherwise.
The Nuggets waived Pablo Prigioni the second he arrived; Kostas Papanikolaou might share the same fate before his October guarantee date; Nick Johnson was a second-round pick who didn't show much as a rookie; Joey Dorsey is a 31-year-old who was out of the NBA almost a half-decade before last season.
The Lakers don't have much flexibility with their draft picks, but the Rockets put out a pretty beatable offer there. Refusing to move any of the D'Angelo Russell-Jordan Clarkson-Julius Randle trio is smart, but there are enough pieces that they could have come up with a feasible offer.
On the other hand: What on earth were the Lakers even doing in the Lawson chase to begin with? The logic in a vacuum is the same in the Hibbert trade—Lawson's a good player at the absolute nadir of his value—but without any of the basketball positives. In fact, adding Lawson arguably would have hurt the long-term trajectory of the franchise, even if it provided a short-term boost.
One look at the Lakers roster exposes their overabundance of players who need the ball to be effective. Clarkson, Russell, Kobe Bryant, Lou Williams and Nick Young are all high-usage ball-handlers. Adding Williams in free agency when the other four were already on the roster remains borderline inexplicable; he's a fine volume scorer but is going to take a ton of shots away from young players who need them.
|Too Many Cooks?|
|Player||USG Rate||NBA Rank|
|D'Angelo Russell (college)||30.2||3rd (in Big Ten)|
Trading for Lawson would have only exacerbated the problem. Even if you remove one of those players from the equation (Young), Lawson will still command 30 minutes per night and has no positional flexibility. It's one of the reasons some are skeptical about whether Lawson and James Harden, ostensibly Houston's point guard, can coexist.
The risk is one Houston had to take given its status as a Western Conference contender. The Lakers with Lawson are still probably a lottery team, and they would have been actively taking floor time away from Clarkson and Russell.
Clarkson, who emerged as an All-Rookie talent down the stretch of last season, is overrated by the general Lakers fan populous. He is already 23 years old, has work to do if he ever wants to become a league-average shooter and was a mess most of the season defensively (a trait shared by most rookies). Opponents shot 4.5 percent better than their regular-season average when defended by Clarkson, per NBA.com.
But even if he isn't a foundational star, Clarkson could wind up being a league-average NBA starter—a big-time win for a guy taken No. 46.
Russell, for all my raving about him before the draft as a lefty Brandon Roy, has warts to his game. They were apparent in Las Vegas Summer League. He turned the ball over a ton, needs to work on his shot selection and isn't a plus defender. (Side note: Don't worry about his summer league performance overall, Lakers fans; Russell is still the near-perfect offensive amalgam you were sold.)
And Randle, last year's first-round pick, might as well be a rookie. He lasted all of 12 minutes before a broken leg ended his 2014-15 campaign. Though talented in the post, Randle needs to work on his outside shot and prove he can viably defend 4s at the next level.
The Lakers, for some reason, appeared willing to risk that development so Lawson, Kobe and Hibbert could chase 38 wins. It would have been a nonsensical move, one born out of desperation to a) appease Bryant as he nears the end, b) appease a fanbase that's grown increasingly disgruntled or c) artificially juice the win column to save jobs.
That Denver ultimately liked Houston's offer better saved the Lakers from themselves.
Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter.