I wrote this right as free agency was about to start to go over the free agents the Lakers needed to steer clear of for a variety of reasons. The full article is here: http://www.16rings.com/2014/06/run-far-away-from-these-free-agents.html
Check it out and the rest of my work!
With free agency only a few hours away Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak has promised to “go all out” in his efforts to add talent to the Lakers. With a skeleton roster desperately in need of youth and athleticism Kupchak will certainly be a busy man. Earlier this week we discussed which free agents he should target as well as which of the Lakers own free agents he should consider bringing back. However there is a 3rd group that must be addressed: the free agents to stay away from.
Under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement are there much stiffer penalties for exceeding the luxury tax limit than there were previously, particularly for teams that go over year after year. The Lakers, not coincidentally, should drop below the tax line this year and will likely stay there until they are ready to contend for a title. Avoiding the luxury tax was something that never concerned them under the old, less restrictive agreement, but this is a brand new world under this CBA.
These harsher penalties haven’t just impacted the Lakers though. Indeed, they have had a ripple effect across the entire league. Teams are now extremely cautious about taking on long-term salary and the value of 1st round picks (because of their low salaries compared to talent level) has never been higher. Due to this the Lakers have less realistic trade options available to them, as simply absorbing the bloated salaries of overpaid players is not quite as appealing as it used to be. With luxury tax penalties the Lakers could end up paying as much as 4 times a player’s salary in taxes should they consistently exceed the line.
This also means that teams like the Lakers are more likely to hang on to their expiring contracts in order to reap the benefit of the cap space they can free up. In 2007 the Lakers were able to turn Kwame Brown’s large expiring contract (and other spare parts, like a guy named Marc Gasol) into Pau Gasol in a deal with the Memphis Grizzlies. Pau helped lead the Lakers to 3 straight finals appearances and 2 consecutive titles, making the trade a steal for LA.
This year the Lakers have Steve Nash’s similarly large expiring deal but due to the new rules they don’t expect to trade him in a Gasol-style deal. Instead Nash’s nearly 10 million dollar contract will likely only serve to clog cap space and prevent more players from being added to LA’s depleted squad via free agency, while the team will look forward to the cap space that his expiring contract will provide next summer.
***To this day Steve Nash is the best asset that the Suns have (well ok, maybe third best behind Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe). Not only does his contract prevent the Lakers from adding talent (thus allowing the Suns to have less competition for free agents) but the Suns also own the Lakers 2015 draft pick, which will likely be a valuable one thanks to the Lakers struggles caused partially by Nash’s inability to either A. Stay healthy or B. Face reality and accept medical retirement, thus clearing his contract from the Lakers cap.
At this point it’s completely reasonable to assume that Nash is in fact a double agent. I bet if we checked his bank account there would be a number of checks coming in from Suns owner Robert Sarver with “ LOL they will never figure it out!” written in the memo line.
As strict as the new CBA is any mistakes made by a GM can be compounded very quickly. The most valuable players in the NBA under the new system are rookies on their first contracts and superstars who can lead their teams deep into the playoffs, thus providing more value than even a max contract can adequately compensate (currently there are two such players: LeBron James and Kevin Durant). Having either group under contract is a relatively safe gamble to make. Outside of those two groups though things get a bit tricky.
Where GMs can really get in trouble is by giving max or near-max money to guys who aren’t superstars but are actually a level or two below them. For example, Pau Gasol is a fantastic player who has been a big part of the Lakers for the past 7 years. The Lakers rewarded him for his play with a contract paying him $20 million per year, and this summer he is a free agent. Technically a max contract for him would be even more than the $20+ million that he made last year. Again, Pau is a great player but at his age a max contract for him would nearly ensure that his team would not have the requisite cap space remaining to build a contender.
Under the new CBA one could even argue that a prime Gasol wouldn’t be worth that contract. While it isn’t likely that a GM will throw that kind of money at him he is still a big name and you never know what will happen when a team feeling the pressure to make a move will do something foolish. This is precisely the kind of mistake that the Lakers cannot make. There will be pressure on them to make something happen but they don’t have the luxury of overpaying for talent anymore.
***They are already eating up half their cap overpaying still-recovering Kobe and secret Sun Steve Nash. When Kobe was given $24 million per year the simultaneous facepalms from Lakers fans could be heard world-wide.
With all that said let’s take a look at the players who Mitch Kupchak needs to pass on in free agency:
Kyle Lowry- Kyle Lowry had himself one hell of a season last year. He posted career highs in nearly every category, led an over-achieving Toronto team to the playoffs, and proved once and for all that he’s a starting-caliber point guard in the NBA. He should have been an All Star.
So that’s the problem? Well first of all he averaged more minutes than any other season before, which means all of his numbers should be expected to go up. By averaging all of his stats on a per 40 minute basis we can compare apples to apples and see that while Lowry still had a very nice season he didn’t really make that big of a leap aside from his scoring, turnovers, and usage rate. That’s not to knock Lowry, he still had a great year and his efficiency was the biggest complaint about his game, so for him to raise his field goal percentage (while being a bigger part of the Raptors offense) and lower his turnovers is a big deal.
Where things get tricky though is that Lowry will reportedly be looking for a long-term contract in the $12 million per year range. While his salary last season at just over $6 million was something of a bargain he would move into the overpaid category at $12 million. He’s also 28 years old, which means that by the end of his contract he will be well into his 30s, which is typically when point guards see their impact takes a nose dive. This also seems to happen when star point guards sign with the Lakers (see Nash, Steve and Payton, Gary).
When "The Glove" became "The Mitten"
Put it all together and you have yourself a guy that is a fantastic player but just not the kind that the Lakers need right now. They need bargains with room to grow, not guys near the end of their prime that just put up big numbers in a contract year.
Greg Monroe- Now here’s a guy who would make sense for the Lakers, right? He’s a young and extremely skilled big man who is tough to stop in the post. Monroe has moves and counter-moves that allow him to get his shot off easily against just about anyone. Even though he hasn’t blown up the way some predicted following his rookie season he still has some serious value as a potential All-Star based on his scoring ability alone.
However, the reason why Mitch needs to put Greg Monroe on his “Do Not Call” list has nothing to do with his ability on offense and everything to do with his defense. Monroe is a decent enough defender but it’s become clear that his most effective position on the court is Center, which is a huge problem for the Lakers because he isn’t a shot blocker.
Some teams can get away with having a center who isn’t great at protecting the rim by making up for it with a power forward who does, like Oklahoma City with their combo of Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka. The Lakers, however, just drafted their power forward of the future in Julius Randle, who like Monroe is not a shot blocker. When Randle is out backup power forward Ryan Kelly comes in, but he isn’t great at being the last line of defense either.
The coup de grace comes from the fact that Monroe is a restricted free agent, meaning that unless he is being seriously overpaid Detroit will simply match the offer after taking the full 3 days to twiddle their thumbs and laugh while the Lakers miss out on other free agents because their money is tied up with Monroe. As I mentioned in my free agent targets piece if the Lakers are going after any restricted free agent this summer it needs to be Eric Bledsoe. Let someone else overpay Greg Monroe.
Paul Pierce- Paul Pierce may have grown up a Laker fan but he spent the majority of his lengthy career playing for the hated Celtics. Seeing him in a Lakers jersey would be as infuriating as, oh I don’t know, Shaq ending his career as a Celtic or something…what? That really happened? I had hoped it was one of those Newhart-esque situations where I dreamt the whole thing.
Anyway, the Lakers need young, athletic, cheap players who have plenty of room to grow as professionals. Pierce is the exact opposite of all of those things. He’s still a big name that will make the casual fans ears perk up but he’s a terrible fit otherwise. Pass.
Channing Frye- Channing Frye inexplicably opted out of a nearly $7 million pay day with the Suns to become a free agent and is going to make an excellent addition to whatever team lands him. He’s a stretch 4 who overcame a heart condition to reclaim his position as one of the best three point shooting bigs in the league and a class act. The Lakers have money to spend on free agents but unfortunately for Channing they are no longer employing Mike D’Antoni as their coach, which means that his shooting and spacing contributions would be significantly less valuable in the standard 2 post offense that we can assume the Lakers will run.
When you add in that the Lakers already have a young, up –and-coming stretch 4 in Ryan Kelly it becomes clear that while Frye is a classy veteran and a locker room leader there just isn’t a place for him in the Golden Armor.
Luol Deng- In “Raiders of the Lost Ark” Indiana Jones was introduced to audiences somewhere in the middle of his career as an Archaelogist/Treasure Hunter/Nazi face melter. To describe just how many scrapes Indy has been through and how badly his body is beat Harrison Ford utters the immortal line, “It’s not the years, it’s the mileage”, indicating that while he is still relatively young his body is breaking down. Unfortunately for Luol Deng it’s the years AND the mileage, which makes him less like “Raiders” Indy and more like the version we saw in “The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”…you know, the one that can never be unseen no matter how hard you scrub your eyes (I tried).
To his credit Deng is a solid player that plays hard every night and has been considered a fringe All-Star for much of his career. He just isn’t a guy that really moves the needle in terms of wins and losses (but he does expect to be paid as one). He’s turning 30 next year and has played 11 years in the league already with several of them under the command of Coach Tom Thibodeau, who would play his starters for 50 minutes a game if it wasn’t for the fact that NBA games only last 48.
His odometer, age and likely too-high salary scream “let someone else pay me”, and hopefully the Lakers hear this message loud and clear.
The Lakers have no interest in wallowing in mediocrity or wasting the final bit of brilliance in Kobe Bryant’s amazing career. However, motivation must not turn to desperation. Mitch Kupchak needs to weigh his free agent decisions carefully as any more mistakes will simply lengthen the Lakers stay in the league’s cellar. Let’s hope that he is up to the task. If not then Jeanie Buss needs to grab a ruler and slap Mitch’s wrist with it every time he reaches for the phone and says “Hey Paul Pierce still has something left, right?”. He will learn eventually.
The NBA free agent frenzy starts at midnight ET on July 1st, follow me on twitter @16ringsNBA for updates on the Lakers and what moves they are making.