Saying that the Lakers offseason has been disappointment would be an understatement. Plan A was to bring back Pau Gasol and sign Carmelo Anthony, then roll with a Melo/Kobe/Pau trio for a couple of seasons in the hopes that they would develop chemistry and earn a shot at a title. That didn't happen, so Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak moved on to a Plan B, which from the outside appeared to be the equivalent of giving an "oh well" shrug and then handing out handing out contracts of random value and lengths as though they were dealing cards in a poker game.
Not surprisingly fans were not amused. While most understand that the team is in a tough spot and that it will likely take a few years to dig their way out there still was fairly little real progress in the effort to rebuild the team. In modern times where information is available online and twitter is a thing fans are acutely aware of the actions of their team's front office, for better or worse. The curtain has been peeled back a little, and for the most part Lakers fans didn't like what they saw.
It wasn’t all bad, there was simply a lack of sizzle that we typically expect from the Lakers, as well as no clear direction that the team is headed. It's difficult for the rabid fans of the purple and gold to truly get behind a team that appears to be so lost.
Perhaps the scattered, meandering appearance is appropriate though, as the right now the franchise is being pulled in two different directions: Aging star Kobe Bryant needs a team that can win now in order to maximize his last few years left in the league while the roster needs to be rebuilt on young talent that can lead the franchise into the future. It's a power struggle between two sides that can't both win, like the Patriots vs. the British, Edison vs. Tesla, or LeBron James vs. his hairline.
As a result the Lakers moves thus far have been somewhat bi-polar, with some being smart, savvy decisions and others reeking of desperation and foolishness . To dig a little deeper let’s take a look at a few of the moves Mitch Kupchak has made thus far:
*Traded rights to Sergei Lishchuk to Houston for Jeremy Lin (1 year, $8,374,646), and Houston’s 2015 1st and 2nd round picks :
There’s no debate here, this is a fantastic deal for the Lakers. Houston was looking for a trade for Jeremy Lin that didn’t involve them taking any salary back, and essentially paid the Lakers with the picks in order to get them to absorb Lin into their salary cap space.
However, Lin is much more than just a guy who eats up cap space. He should start for the Lakers at point guard and will be a solid upgrade from the revolving door of players who manned the position last year. While his “Linsanity” days are behind him if there was ever a time and place for him to recapture that magic it’s now in Los Angeles. It’s true that Lin’s contract technically pays him just under $15 million this season, but his cap hit is only about $8.3 million. For a Lakers franchise that was by far the most profitable team in the league last season in spite of their struggles paying the extra money is far less important than Lin’s cap number, so no biggie there.
From a statistics standpoint, Lin hasn't been able to touch the numbers he put up during his "Linsanity" days but in Houston he also had a much lower usage rate than he did in New York, which means he has had fewer opportunities to get stats. He's also had to play alongside James "We talking'bout defense?" Harden, who essentially runs the point on most of Houston's possessions. Lin's greatest skill is his ability to get into the paint and either create for others or finish at the rim, so Harden's strategy of dribbling out the clock and then either chucking up a three or flopping took away much of what made Jeremy so...umm...Linsane, I suppose.
That's not to say that Kobe won't have the ball in his hands a lot too, but not having to share the ball with Harden, Parsons, Beverly, or Dwight Howard certainly won't hurt.
The icing on the cake is that after the Rockets opened up cap space by completing this trade they failed to land their target, Chris Bosh. They followed that miss by deciding not to match the Maverick’s offer for Chandler Parsons, which means that on paper the Rockets lost two key pieces from last season. Houston did replace Parsons with Trevor Ariza, but at 29 years old and coming off a contract year which saw him shoot far better than he has historically (red flag!) the likelihood of him living up to the 4 year, $32 million deal the Rockets gave him is slim.
For the Lakers this means that the 1st round pick obtained from Houston may be better than they initially thought, as the Rockets unquestionably took a step back this year, although the possibility of them eventually getting a third star remains, although it's easier said than done. So a starting-quality point guard and two picks that are looking better every day in exchange for just a bit of cap space? Yes please. All day, every day.
***If nothing else the Rockets offseason should give Lakers fans a reason to smile just a little. While no one expects the Lakers to win next year Lakers fans also don't want to see Dwight Howard win either. His defection last summer was seen as cowardly and proof that he couldn't handle the responsiblity of being a superstar in LA. So for now enjoy that the Rockets fumbled on the goal line. And enjoy this as well:
*Resigned Nick Young for 4 years, $21.5 million (4th year player option)
Compared to what guys like Jodie Meeks and Avery Bradley got Young’s deal is something of a bargain. However, it’s also an indicator of how mixed-up the Laker’s offseason has been. Young had a fantastic season last year to be sure (he would have been a contender for 6th man of the year if the Lakers made the playoffs), but he’s also on the older end of the spectrum having just turned 29.
The Lakers drew a line in the sand this year and refused to offer any deals longer than two years to anyone other than superstars, which makes sense. The Lakers plan is to have as much cap space available as possible to chase stars, and then once that player(s) has signed on they will fill in a roster around them (more on the wisdom of that strategy on a later date). So then, why did Nick Young, a one-dimensional scorer off the bench, get a 4-year deal (with a player option for the final year no less)?
***Player-options are absolutely terrible for teams. If a player has a great year and produces above his value then the player will simply opt out and demand more money and a longer deal. If the incumbent team doesn't give it to them someone else will. Nick Young did this last year, as it was clear that he had more value than the just over $1 million he made off his own deal. He opted out and got a nice new contract that included a big jump in salary. Ed Davis hopes he can follow suite this season after signing essentially the same deal Young did last year.
On the flip side players who completely fall off the cliff production-wise almost always pick up their option, leaving the team overpaying the player for another season. It’s a no-win situation for teams to be in, like being in a room with Hitler, Bieber, and a just one bullet. You can get out of dealing with one of them (and save humanity from their evil) but the other one is still going to get you.
Team options are essentially the exact opposite and allows teams to hang on to a player at their current pay rate even if they are producing above that level or let them go if they aren't living up to their deal. Using the Hitler/Bieber analogy, the team option is the equivalent of simply not entering the room at all, rather continuing on your merry way while dodging the aforementioned monsters completely.
Yes, Laker fans love Nick Young, and for good reason. In a dark and depressing era “Swaggy P” brings life and energy to the fan base. He loves being in LA and LA loves him. People will show up to watch him play. So in that sense the Lakers did the right thing by resigning Young. However, that doesn't explain why the Lakers would decide to sign him to such a long-term deal knowing that it will negatively impact the amount of money they have available to chase stars at a later date.
Furthrmore, if they decided to break their "2 year or shorter" contract mandate for non-stars then why do it for Nick Young and not Isaiah Thomas? Thomas, like Young, is a lifelong Lakers fan from Los Angeles. He was practically begging the Lakers to make him an offer before eventually agreeing to join the Suns on a 4 year, $27 million deal, which averages out to just $1.3 million per year more than Young. $1.3 million is a sum that is hardly prohibitive of chasing after superstars, and in fact Thomas' deal will almost guarantee that he will have positive trade value for the next 4 seasons. Should Young go into one of his infamous shooting slumps or his role change under a new coach his contract could quickly turn toxic. Also, given how badly Thomas wanted to be a Laker it's not unrealistic to think he may have taken a little less to close the gap and come to LA.
To further demonstrate this point, check out the stats for these 3 players (to compare apples to apples these are per 36-minute numbers):
Age FG FGA FG% 3P 3PA 3P% 2P 2PA 2P% FTA FT% TRB AST STL TOV PTS
22 7.7 17.8 .430 1.8 5.0 .358 5.9 12.9 .458 4.9 .861 3.7 6.2 1.6 2.7 21.3
25 7.2 15.8 .453 1.8 5.2 .349 5.3 10.6 .504 5.9 .850 3.0 6.5 1.3 3.1 21.1
29 7.7 17.7 .435 2.7 7.0 .386 5.0 10.7 .468 5.7 .825 3.3 1.9 0.9 1.9 22.8
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com
Now also consider that Player 3 on that list played on a team whose pace was much faster than Player 1 or Player 2's, which means that person had more possessions per game and thus more opportunities to score points, rebound, get steals, assists, etc. Which player would you want to sign to the Lakers? Either Player 1 or Player 2, right? Their stats are considerably better than Player 3 and they are also quite a bit younger as well.
Digging even further, advanced stats suggest that Player 1 and 2 are far superior to Player 3, as their PERs and Win Shares break down like this:
Player 1: Per: 20.1 Win Share: .128
Player 2: 20.5 Win Share: .149
Player 3: 16.0 Win Share: .067
Seems like it is a no-brainer. Player 3 is not a bad player by any means but Player 1 and 2 are simply better. Well guess what? Player 3, the guy the Lakers signed, is Nick Young. Player 2 is Isaiah Thomas, who would have cost them, again, and average of merely $1.3 million per season more than Young and projects to be a much better player.
It's also striking how similar the production was between Player 1 and Isaiah Thomas. Across the board their numbers were nearly mirror images of each other. So just who is Player 1, the guy who is the statistical clone of Isaiah Thomas?
It's Kyrie Irving. The same Kyrie Irving who so far is a 2-time All Star, Rookie of the Year, 3 point shootout winner, and All Star game MVP. Uncle Drew! The guy who was just given a 5 year, $90 million dollar contract. The Lakers could have had similar production from Isaiah Thomas for 4 years, $27 million OR LESS.
There are some arguments for going with Young over Thomas. For example the Lakers need Small Forwards in the worst way, and Nick Young can fill that role. There are also concerns that Thomas will not be nearly as effective in an offense where the ball isn't in his hands, and in LA with Lin, Kobe, and the the guy who used to be Steve Nash it's unlikely that he wouldn't be able to run the show the way he did in Sacramento.
However, more than anything else the Lakers need young talent. The axiom heard during the NBA Draft is that teams should take the best player available and sort out the "fit" later. With the Lakers so depleted of talent they needed to do the same thing here and take Thomas' production and potential over Young's.....well, swag.
Besides, many teams today are running lineups with essentially two point guard on the floor at the same time, so who is to say that a Thomas/Lin/Kobe/Randle/Hill lineup wouldn't be successful? Or that Lin and Thomas couldn't split time at the point guard spot with 24 minutes each and then get the rest of their minutes as backup 2 guards, since Kobe isn't likely to play more than 30 minutes per game this season anyway.
The point is that minutes and fit can be tweaked but the talent the Lakers missed out on can't. Don't get me wrong, I love Nick Young. I'm glad he's a Laker and his passion for the city and the team are a definite plus. However, Isaiah Thomas would have brought that same LA passion but as a younger player with considerably more production and future potential.
Also consider this: next offseason, when the Lakers are again pursuing superstar free agents, who is going to be more attractive to play with, a 26 year old Thomas or 30 year old Young? Superstars today don't want a team built around them, they want to join a team with talent already in place.
In a vacuum the Young deal was a solid one. Looking at the big picture though the opportunity cost was immense. This is exactly the kind of mistake that the Lakers could not afford to make this offseason. Nick Young will be a lot of fun to watch but passing on Thomas could very well haunt the Lakers for years to come.
*Resigned Jordan Hill for 2 years, $18 million (2nd year team option)
While Plan A was certainly to resign Pau Gasol it was clear that if they couldn't land the big Spaniard the Lakers absolutely had to have Jordan Hill back. With a serious lack of talented bigs on the free agent market there really was no one better than Hill left, so the fact that the Lakers managed to snag him was a plus.
The downside is that the Lakers had to overpay in order to keep him (no one expected him to get $9 million a year) but Mitch was able to minimize the damage by making the second year of the deal a team options. As a result Hill will now be chasing the proverbial carrot all year, knowing that he has to have an impact on the court equal to his contract if he wants the second year to be picked up.
While most around the league shouted from the mountaintops that this deal was evidence of the Lakers desperation and how far the franchise has fallen there is actually some method to the madness. Most assume that the second year of this deal will not be picked up, but I beg to differ. Let's dig a little deeper and compare the production of the three big men who received big deals this summer: Pau Gasol (3 years, $27 million), Jordan Hill (2 years, $18 million, 2nd year team option), Marcin Gortat (5 years, $60 million).
Rk Player Age G GS FG FGA FG% 2P 2PA 2P% FT FTA FT% ORB DRB TRB AST STL BLK TOV PTS
1 Pau Gasol 33 60 60 8.1 16.9 .480 8.0 16.6 .483 3.6 4.9 .736 2.4 8.7 11.1 3.8 0.5 1.8 2.7 19.9
2 Marcin Gortat 29 81 80 6.2 11.4 .542 6.2 11.4 .541 2.1 3.1 .686 2.7 7.7 10.4 1.9 0.6 1.6 1.7 14.5
3 Jordan Hill 26 72 32 6.9 12.5 .549 6.9 12.5 .550 3.0 4.3 .685 4.7 8.2 12.8 1.3 0.7 1.5 1.8 16.7
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com
Once again these are per-36 minute stats, which helps us get a more accurate comparison because Hill spent parts of the season in the D'Antoni dog house and averaged considerably less minutes than Gortat or Gasol. When looking at these numbers Hill's deal doesn't look so bad anymore, does it?
Consider these facts: Hill is the youngest of the bunch by far and is receiving his first real chance to be a full-time starting Center from day 1 of training camp. He's never had that before in his career. If he's ever going to make the leap it's now.
Hill is also the youngest of the bunch by far. Considering Father Time's status as the all-time, undisputed champion of everything it isn't outrageous to think that Jordan will be a better player than Pau Gasol next season. A solid argument could even be made that he was better last year.
Hill is the best offensive rebounder by far. Offensive boards often catch defenses by surprise and get them out of proper defensive position, so there's a lot of value there. He also leads the pack in total rebounds by a solid margin. Partnering Hill with a similar rebounding monster like Julius Randle is intriguing since someone is going to have to grab all those Nick Young misses.
While Jordan will never be the defender that Gortat is or the passer that Gasol is his advantages in rebounding (particularly offensively) projects out to make him at the very least on par with both of those players, but Gasol and particularly Gortat received much more lucrative and long-term deals than what Hill did.
There is a reason for this of course, as Hill has yet to prove that he can play a full season with the responsibilities of being a starter on his shoulders. He posted most of his stats last year against the second unit of other teams, so we have to temper our expectations a little.
Still, when you add everything up the Jordan Hill deal doesn't look bad at all. In fact, here's one last set of stats just to make Laker fans feel a little better about the deal:
In 9 games (admittedly a small sample size) as the starting Center last season, Hill put up an average of 16.8 points, 10.4 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks in just 28 minutes of playing time. If he can get around 33 minutes of playing time next year and produce at a similar level and you project those stats out...well let's just say Lakers fans will be very happy that Jordan Hill is in purple and gold.
I'll be back soon with an in-depth look at Mitch's other moves, such as waiving Kendall Marshall and signing guys like Xavier Henry, Carlos Boozer, Ryan Kelly, and others. Until then follow me on twitter @16ringsNBA for all the up-to-date Laker news!
Check out the complete article including pictures, proper formatting, and asides (as well as my other work) here:http://www.16rings.com/2014/07/lakers-in-limbo-offseason-of-confusion_20.html