Hey guys here's a small part of my latest piece on the Lakers Plan B. Please check out the entire article at
Of course, this begs the question: what is Plan B exactly? Most had assumed that Plan B this season would essentially be the same as it was last season: sign young, bargain players to primarily 1-year deals in order to ensure that space would be available to chase stars when they hit the market. However, this plan led to the worst season in Laker history last year and it’s doubtful that management wants to go down that road again.
It’s also unlikely that even a saintly Kobe would support such a plan, as it would all but guarantee another trip to the lottery (only this time, should the Lakers pick anything worse than 5th the Suns would get the pick thanks to the Nash trade). With only two years remaining on his deal (and likely his career) Kobe needs a roster that can help him compete now, and wouldn't be satisfied if Plan B was to once again pick through the scraps.
So then, if this year’s plan B isn't the same as last year’s, what is it? Well, typically in the NBA there are a number of different ways that teams are put together:, but the two extremes are : 1. Add veterans in order to attempt to win now or 2. Add high-potential young players in the hopes of developing them for the future. Based on the free agents that the Lakers have been interested in thus far it appears that they are going to attempt to combine those two ideologies, hoping that the right mix of veterans and youth will lead to something special.
This isn't an unheard of strategy by any means. Last season we saw a few teams at the far ends of the spectrum, such as Philadelphia’s built-to-lose roster filled with youngsters like Michael Carter-Williams, where ironically-named Thaddeus Young was the elder statesman at 26 years old. On the flip side, teams like Miami rounded out their roster with aging vets like Rashard Lewis, Ray Allen, Shane Battier, Chris “Birdman” Anderson, and even added 57 year-old Greg Oden. Philly didn't have enough veterans while Miami had too many.
However, most look for something of a combination of youth and veterans, such as Oklahoma City, who were helmed by Kevin Durant and Russel Westbrook but surrounded them with veterans like Derek Fisher, Caron Butler, Nick Collison, and Kendrick “Scowl” Perkins. The idea is that if you can have the right mix of veterans and young talent the vets can lead the way in the present and show the young guys how to play so that in the future the young guys can do the same. At the same time, the younger players have to do the heavy lifting which allows the veterans to pick and choose their spots wisely to maintain their aging bodies.
This is where the Lakers failed last year, as their aging vets like Nash, Gasol, and Kobe were expected to carry the team on the court and off. When they went down with injuries the younger players were left with no leader to follow and no experience to fall back on. Not surprisingly, the results were ugly.
The difficult part of this is that young, talented players typically get paid very well (and are rarely available) and the best veterans generally only want to play on championship contenders, so it’s a very delicate balance that has to be struck with a myriad of factors, from cap space, team chemistry, coaching staff, even the weather in your city. It isn’t easy to be a GM
San Antonio is the model for this strategy, as Kawhi Leonard is absorbing all the info he can from Manu Ginobili, Tim Duncan, and Tony Parker for when it’s his turn to run the show. Meanwhile the triumvirate of agings stars let's Leonard, Tiago Splitter, Patty Mills, etc. take some of the weight off their shoulders. The Spurs are constantly adding both younger and older players to their system and finding ways to mesh their talents together, and clearly it’s worked well for them.
***Getting the right mix of players together at the right time allows the team to become more than the sum of its parts, like forming Voltron. Last season the Spurs formed Voltron and then some. It was truly amazing basketball. That Robeast from Miami didn't stand a chance.
The Lakers will face some difficulties in pursuing this strategy. First and foremost, if they aren’t scraping the bottom of the barrel for all their young talent anymore and are instead signing younger guys with a lot of potential it’s going to cost them, both in the total value of the contract and the total number of years. Due to this expect to see the Lakers focus in on no more than two high potential young guys, as the long-term goal is still to land a superstar and the Lakers will need cap space for that. Eating up some of the future cap space with a longer deal for young, high -potential players isn't too big of a problem, as their contracts can always be traded fairly easily as long as they maintain positive value in terms of production vs. salary.
The rest of the young legs will have to come from those who were largely passed over by the rest of the league (like Kendall Marshall, Wesley Johnson, and Xavier Henry were last year) or the Lakers own free agents.
Secondly, veterans are going to be tough to convince to come to LA if a second superstar isn't in place alongside Kobe. Mitch won’t offer anything longer than 1 or 2 years to a veteran player so he may need to compensate for the lack of championship opportunity and length of contract by paying more per year. In that scenario we could very well see the Lakers “overpay” for veterans on short-term deals, but remember that certain vets carry more value than just what their production on the court would suggest by being leaders in the locker room (Derek Fisher is a perfect example of this).
With last season’s depressing campaign finally starting to drift from our memories the last thing the Lakers want to do is develop a losing culture or mentality. Having the right veteran leadership on the court and in the locker room can go a long way towards keeping the ship pointed in the right direction.
Expect Nash and Kobe to lead the veteran group, but without any other vets to support them those two alone can’t provide the leadership needed by all 12-15 players on the roster, especially considering both have struggled to stay on the court over the past few seasons. So the Lakers will look for a few other vets who can help carry the message from the coach (whoever that may be...ok let's not kid ourselves, everyone knows it's Byron Scott) to the players on the court.
Specifically, who will the Lakers be looking at? Here’s a brief, incomplete list:
High-potential (3-4 year deals): Isaiah Thomas, Lance Stephenson, Greg Monroe, Eric Bledsoe, Ryan Kelly
Veterans (1-2 year deals): Trevor Ariza, Pau Gasol, Mario Chalmers, Andrew Bynum (just kidding), Jordan Crawford, Luol Deng, Francisco Garcia, Ryan Hollins, Kris Humphries, Mike Miller, Anthony Morrow, Jermaine O’Neal, Emeka Okafor, Jason Smith, Rodney Stuckey, PJ Tucker, Caron Butler, Nick Young, Jordan Hill, Andray Blatche, etc.
Filling out the roster (1 year deals): Al-Farouq Aminu, James Anderson, Xavier Henry, Kent Bazemore, Wesley Johnson, Kevin Seraphin, Evan Turner, Ekpe Udoh, etc.
Obviously there are many other players who the Lakers could potentially look at, and not everyone on that list fits squarely into a group. For example, Ryan Kelly doesn't have the same potential as say Eric Bledsoe, but he is still in the high-potential group because he will likely get a Chandler Parsons-style contract (low money per year for a longer deal). As such the contracts that players in those groups receive will fluctuate quite a bit, but that at the very least gives us an idea of which types of players the Lakers will be considering.
Also keep in mind that the Lakers are likely to bring Jordan Clarkson onto the regular-season roster after spending $1.8 million for a second-round pick to draft him. They also have some intriguing players on their summer league roster who could conceivably make the squad next season, such as Roddy Beaubois and DeAndre Kane. The Lakers do need to fill a lot of roster spots but there are still a wide-range of players for them to pursue.
As soon as the Carmelo and LeBron decisions become official expect a flurry of activity from the Lakers as they “go all out” with Plan B. If they can pull it off Plan B will attempt to both help Kobe win now and build for the future. It's going to be extremely difficult but if it works the Lakers could find themselves back in the playoffs and with a brighter future. Kobe is on board with the plan and trusts in the vision of Mitch and the Buss children, which is a good sign that the organization is finally starting to recover from the tragic loss of the great Dr. Jerry Buss.
It's been an offseason of a lot of talk but no action thus far from LA, but expect that to change very, very soon. Hang in there Laker fans, good things are coming.
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