Lakers in Limbo: Part 2

Lakers in Limbo: Part 2

Postby unpossibl1 on Tue Jul 29, 2014 7:21 am

Here's the second part of my piece on the Lakers offseason moves, focusing in on the signings of Carlos Boozer, Wesley Johnson, Xavier Henry, Ryan Kelly, and Ed Davis.

Last time we took an in-depth look at the acquisitions of Jeremy Lin, Nick Young, and Jordan Hill, and made the determination that while these may be good pick ups in a vacuum (especially Lin) there is a lot of risk involved for the Lakers. They brought back the majority of last season's historically bad squad in the hopes that some consistency, health, and a coaching change (welcome Byron Scott) will lead to better results. However, the biggest let down comes from the opportunity cost of not signing relatively cheap, young players such as Isaiah Thomas and Lance Stephenson in order to secure the likes of Hill and Young.

While the Lakers whiffed on their big-money players (Carmelo Anthony and Pau Gasol) and may have made a few questionable choices on their mid-range signings (Young and Hill), they did very well with their bargain bin guys.

Let's take a look at the guys Mitch Kupchak nabbed to round out the Lakers talent-starved lineup.

Carlos Boozer (1 year $3.25 million)- To the Lakers surprise they managed to win the Carlos Boozer waiver auction with a bid of just $3.25 million, which seems like a small price to pay for a two-time All-Star. However, there's another way to look at this: in deciding to amnesty Boozer's contract Chicago made the decision to pay him over $16 million to play against them, and for good reason.

Make no mistake about it, using just about any metric Carlos Boozer is simply not a great basketball player anymore. He's a power forward who lives on the mid-range jumper but his ability to actually make that shot has declined dramatically. In the past 2 seasons Boozer has shot just 47% and then 45% on 2-point attempts (after only dropping below that mark only once before in his entire career), which is terrible for a post-player.

To make matters worse Boozer has become a matador on defense, consistently allowing his opponent to score whenever they want. He was never known for his defensive abilities but in his latter years it's gotten so bad that Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau opted to sit him during the second and fourth quarter of games in favor of defensive stalwart Taj Gibson. As scary a thought as it is, Pau Gasol is actually a better post defender than Boozer is. Yeah, let that one sink in for a bit.

As a 32 year old former All-Star Boozer will also be looking to play well enough to secure another contract after this season ends (hence his comments about feeling so great he might play another 7 years). While the positive side of that is that he should be extremely motivated all season, the negative is that if the Lakers start losing his not likely to stick to the game plan. Being on a winning squad gets players paid, but putting up numbers on a bad team will too (exhibit A: Jodie Meeks). With the Lakers looking like lottery locks it's a sure bet that once the hope of being a Cinderella team gets extinguished Carlos will be looking to get his, team performance be damned.

So what's to like about Boozer (besides a last name that guarantees jersey sales)? Well for one thing he excels at running the pick and pop on offense, something that Chicago hasn't really been able to do with Derek Rose sidelined with knee injuries. It's no coincidence that Boozer's field goal percentage dropped when Rose went down, as he no longer had a creator to get him open looks from 15 feet anymore. Fortunately for him Jeremy Lin is a fantastic pick and roll point guard, and his ability to finish at the rim should draw defenses in and provide Boozer the space he needs to do damage.

He's also still a solid rebounder even if he isn't the beast on the boards that he used to be. Having Boozer combined with Jordan Hill and Julius Randle should at the very least provide the Lakers with a team that will have a rebounding edge on most nights.

Perhaps the most important thing that the Lakers got for their $3.25 million was the experience that Boozer brings as a 12 year veteran. Building around youth is great, but every young team needs a few veterans on the floor who can help relay the message from the coaching staff to the players. With Nash and Kobe both being injury concerns Boozer is one more voice of experience that will be needed over the course of a long season. This wisdom could really pay dividends in the growth of young post players like Ryan Kelly and Julius Randle.

Fans who are expecting to see the Carlos Boozer who the Lakers nearly traded Caron Butler for in 2005 will be sorely disappointed. However, for the price he is still an excellent signing. There is the risk that he will attempt to inflate his numbers and won't adapt well to being a role player, but just about every team in the league would take jump on the chance to have him on their roster for just $3.25 million.

Xavier Henry (1 year/minimum)- In his first year in LA last season Xavier Henry quickly grew into a fan favorite. His hustle on both ends of the floor and willingness to attack the rim were a nice addition to a team that was often in need of energy. While Henry wasn't an All-Star level player by any means he was certainly worth more than a minimum deal.

Check out his per-36 minute stats:
2013-14 22 SF 5.7 13.7 .417 1.1 3.2 .346 4.6 10.5 .439 4.6 7.0 .655 1.0 3.5 4.5 2.0 1.7 0.3 2.3 3.1 17.1
Provided by

Not too shabby. The 1.7 steals stands out as does the 7 free throws attempted (although he needs to shoot better than 65% from the line). The other number that should jump out is his age. At just 22 Henry has plenty of time to grow and could very well turn into the wing defender that the Lakers sorely need.

It's not out of the question to think that Henry may even win the starting small forward spot considering Nick Young has historically performed better as a 6th man and the Lakers will need someone who can help make up for Kobe's defensive struggles on the perimeter. If he can prove himself as a starter he will be in line for a nice raise next summer.

While Henry received a minimum deal largely due to his offseason knee and wrist surgery, consider that Kent Bazemore put up similar numbers and also had offseason knee surgery but received double the amount of money and years. Bazemore is also 2 years older than Henry, and as such a solid argument can be made that X actually has the higher ceiling. All things considered the Lakers really got a steal.

Wesley Johnson (1 year/minimum)- This contract is the one mistake I think the Lakers made with their lower-level guys. Johnson is long, athletic, and can shoot the three-exactly the kind of the player that should thrive in Mike D'Antoni's offense (just ask Shawn Marion). However, Johnson was largely non-existent last season despite receiving plenty of minutes (24.7 average) and playing in an offense that should have been a perfect fit.

His three-point shooting wasn't quite as good as advertised with only a 35% average and his scoring left a lot to be desired. He also wasn't a great defender in spite of his considerable athleticism, often appearing to coast through games.

While the risk is certainly small on a minimal contract Wesley Johnson is 27, which means there is little room left for upside. He is what he is: a phenomenal leaper and decent outside shooter but that's about it. In order to truly make it in the NBA players either need at least one elite skill or be extremely good across the board. Wesley Johnson fits neither description.

The signing of Johnson is a minor complaint because he likely won't be a rotation player but I would have preferred to see his spot go to Al-Farouq Aminu, who is just 23 and is already a terrific defender and rebounder. If he can lock himself in a gym all summer and start to nail the corner three at a higher rate he will be the perfect 3-and-D wing that so many teams covet.

Ryan Kelly (2 years, $3.3 million)- While there wasn't much to cheer about last season the development of rookie Ryan Kelly was one of the rare bright spots. He's a Nowitzki-style power forward who has the ability to step all the way out to the three point line which fits the way that NBA offenses are going these days. The Lakers drafted Kelly assuming that his ability to shoot would fit nicely in Mike D'Antoni's offense, but were pleasantly surprised when he also showed the ability to put the ball on the floor and attack the basket as well.

While Kelly isn't the most athletic player around he does play the game with intelligence and keeps his turnovers down, which coaches love. He also move the ball well and finds cutting teammates better than most post players, and as last season wore on he showed a surprising ability to block shots, using his length at 6'11" to get to perimeter shooters.
2013-14 22 4.3 10.2 .423 1.3 3.9 .338 3.0 6.3 .476 3.0 3.7 .815 1.2 4.9 6.0 2.6 0.9 1.2 1.3 4.0 13.0
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Kelly's per 36-minute stats show just why the Lakers are so high on him. His minutes and role on the team bounced around like crazy last year but through it all Kelly stayed productive and showed the versatility that could make him a solid asset off the bench. He doesn't have any one thing that he truly excels at but he's good at just about everything. It's this kind of versatility that teams need more and more in the modern NBA in order to adapt to the myriad of offenses and defenses they will be faced with.

In some ways he's essentially a taller Luke Walton, so Lakers fans do need to be thankful that 7-year deals don't exist anymore. Kelly will have to prove his worth over the next two season in order to get a longer deal in the future.

By locking up Ryan Kelly for the next two seasons at a relatively low price Mitch is giving his young power forward plenty of room to grow into a solid contributor. Ideally the Lakers have their 4s of the future in place with Julius Randle and Ryan Kelly on board, and an on-the-job tutor in place with Carlos Boozer.

Ed Davis (2 years/$2 million, 2nd year player option)- I saved the best for last. The Ed Davis theft had fans around the league perplexed and cursing the Lakers good luck in landing a solid big for such a cheap price. At just 25 Davis still has plenty of upside but also has enough seasoning to help the team win now.

He spent time as a backup in Memphis but wasn't getting the minutes he was hoping for, so a jump to the Lakers made plenty of sense. The idea from Davis' camp was to make him this season's Nick Young and have him increase his value by getting plenty of minutes in the Lakers sparse frontcourt, then opt out of the second year of the deal and cash in as a free agent.

Well, that was the plan before the addition of Carlos Boozer and the signing of Ryan Kelly anyway. Now the Lakers are looking at something of a log jam with their power positions, with Boozer, Randle, and Kelly all competing for minutes at power forward while Hill, Davis, and Robert Sacre will battle it out for minutes at center.

However, even with the sudden depth of the Lakers front court Davis no longer has to compete with set-in-stone starters like Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. If he shows up in shape, rebounds, and plays defense Davis will find minutes in Byron Scott's rotation. He's the favorite to beat out Robert Sacre and back up Jordan Hill at the center spot and could even steal some minutes at the 4 as well if Boozer declines or Randle struggles.

Again looking at per 36-minute stats it's apparent that the Lakers have found themselves another solid post player who excels as a rebounder.

2010-11 21 TOR 4.8 8.4 .576 0.0 0.0 4.8 8.4 .576 1.6 2.9 .555 3.8 6.6 10.4 0.9 0.9 1.5 1.1 4.1 11.3
2011-12 22 TOR 4.0 7.9 .513 0.0 0.0 .000 4.0 7.8 .515 1.7 2.5 .670 3.1 7.1 10.3 1.4 0.9 1.5 1.6 3.7 9.7
2012-13 23 TOT 5.7 10.6 .539 0.0 0.0 5.7 10.6 .539 2.3 3.7 .617 3.4 6.8 10.2 1.4 0.8 1.9 1.4 4.2 13.8
2012-13 23 TOR 6.2 11.2 .549 0.0 0.0 6.2 11.2 .549 2.2 3.4 .647 3.1 6.8 9.9 1.8 0.8 1.3 1.5 3.7 14.5
2012-13 23 MEM 4.9 9.5 .517 0.0 0.0 4.9 9.5 .517 2.4 4.3 .569 3.8 6.8 10.6 0.5 0.9 3.1 1.2 5.3 12.2
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If nothing else Davis' inclusion in the mix is going to make Byron Scott's job extremely hard when it comes time to determine his front court rotation. Given the horrendous number of injuries the team suffered through last year the Lakers have to be feeling more confident knowing they now have 5 (6 if Sacre makes a leap) frontcourt players who can at least be productive. If two of them can rise above the rest and prove themselves as starting-quality players the Lakers will be in great shape to compete night-in and night-out on the inside, which couldn't be said last year.

All in all the Lakers offseason was a disappointment. Missed on Carmelo. Missed on Pau. Passed on Bledsoe, Monroe, Thomas, and Stephenson. Still, Lakers fans can take solace in knowing that while the big moves didn't go down the team hit it out of the park with the little ones.

No they won't contend for a title this season, but getting Boozer, Henry, Kelly, and Davis for less than $10 million combined will at least give fans a team that they can get behind and cheer for. At this point in the rebuild that's really all we can ask for. Brighter days still lie ahead, and these dark days will only make the future in the sun that much more fulfilling for the Lakers faithful.

For more Lakers news and analysis follow me on twitter @16ringsNBA

You can check out the piece in full here:

The formatting is much better, especially for the stats and pictures. You can also check out my other work on the site.
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