It might be a bit early to post a thread like this, but we're nearly halfway through the season, and we can start to see some trends that are starting to stabilize for our impending free agents.
I think I'm going to make some very obvious assumptions for next season--Nick Young has outplayed his player option money for next season and is going to test the market, and Steve Nash will be waived via the stretch provision (if he doesn't retire first) because frankly, there's no way he's going to be any help for us anymore, with bottom three point guard defense in particular but also invisible offense. Nash makes roughly $9.7 million next season; if waive before June 30th, for next season, we only pay him about $3.2 million, and then $3.2 million for the next two.
Ryan Kelly simply isn't playing well enough to get more than his qualifying offer amount ($1.0mil) and really, we're not even sure if the Lakers will tender a qualifying offer because he's just too passive on the court on offense. If it were me, after seeing how he's played so far, I would pass, even with it is $1 million, but with so many roster spots to fill, maybe the Lakers want familiarity.
It's pretty obvious Kendall Marshall will come back, at $915K. And the Lakers have their first round pick this year, which according to Hollinger's power rankings will likely fall either third or fourth, and that draft pick for their first year will count about $4.2mil against their cap.
Under contract for next season, the definites are the newly resigned Kobe ($23.5mil), Rob Sacre ($915K), high draft pick ($4.2mil) and the informed assumptions are Steve Nash's stretch hold ($3.2million), and Kendall Marshall ($915K) and perhaps Ryan Kelly ($1mil) will come back. That's about $33mil for next year, under this obvious strategy.
This year, the threshold is about $66million. Assuming that threshold stays the same, we have about $33mil for next season to spend, for 8 to 10 players. We can sign up to two max free agents in this deal, as according to Larry Coon's salary cap FAQ, players with 0-6 years in the league (likely coming off their rookie contracts) can make a maximum of $13.7mil in their first season, barring incentives. 7-9 years $16.4mil, and 10+ $19.2mil. The Lakers might want to save some of that space however for the max free agents of 2015 and stagger it accordingly.
But before we discuss non-bird free agent options, this season has unearthed a lot of Laker contributions, and the Lakers will have to make tough choices, as excluding Ryan Kelly's restricted free agency status (and likelihood he'll be forced to take the qualifying), the Lakers have nine (!!!) free agents to deal with this offseason. A lot of issues will have to be added to the calculus: (a) can a player who is "contributing" to this awful record actually put up the same sort of stats in a winning team, (b) how much will that player demand? and will other teams be after him? Let's deal, and start with the obvious non-returnees:
1) Chris Kaman (this season: $3.1mil): In retrospect, it is is absolutely hilarious how the Lakers used their mid-level exception on Kaman while Xavier Henry, Jordan Farmar and Nick Young all took the veteran's minimum. Not wasted necessarily, because Kaman is still Kaman and quasi-effective, but he's had his minutes wrangled about and has clearly been alienated by D'Antoni's smallball style. He's on the older side, has overrated offense, awful defense and zero athleticism. There's a reason why besides being a misfit his minutes have really taken a downturn over the past few years. He's as good as gone.
2) Steve Blake ($4mil): For as awesome as Steve Blake has looked under D'Antoni's offense as starting PG, age might make him the odd man out, especially with Kendall Marshall on deck and the Lakers' possible desire to sign Jordan Farmar instead. It's a little unfortunate, because Blake's intangibles, particularly his resourcefulness, are somewhat undervalued. He's not a great defender, but he's a very reliable one, while Farmar and Marshall might be more question marks on that end (even if Farmar has looked decent so far this season). At the same time, he's going to be 34, his PER has always by and large hovered at the 10 range, and outside of D'Antoni's offense he'll definitely go back to normal. But still, he's tall PG who can pass, limit turnovers, hit threes, and defend ably, so his very defined role will be coveted by upper tiers. It's just unfortunate because a contender like Indiana, San Antonio or Miami can all use someone like him, and you don't want to lose players to contenders. He might still be in the Lakers' price range and might earn something in the neighborhood of $3-4mil still, but minutes allocation will likely exclude him from this team. And it will suck.
3) Pau Gasol* ($19.3mil): The * refers to whether we trade him by the deadline, or not. Under the assumption he stays until the season's conclusion, he might have a puncher's chance of staying, but it's very clear that the Lakers aren't buying at his current price tag, and have put him on the trade block many times (nearly for Chris Paul, and very recently with those heavy Cavs talks). Clearly from those recent talks, his value has really, really eroded around the league, and he's really in line for a huge paycut. I sense that Pau is extremely loyal to LA and he's said all the right things, especially after winning two championships here, so I do think there's a chance of him staying assuming he's willing to be in line with the reduced pay the Lakers might offer. At the same time, though, I don't sense the Lakers are indebted to him, because while he stuffs stats he's completely reworked his shot distribution for the worse, his defense has fallen, he's noticeably soft and lazy in key spurts, etc. I'd say his value suggests something in the $7-8mil range to balance out the steepness of the paycut, and he's still stuffing stats. 7 footers who can pass the rock and hit mid-range J's like has done in the past are undervalued, and face it, without him this season, the Lakers are a 25-rebounds-per-game team. But he needs to be the third or even fourth option if he returns, otherwise the Lakers are not winning anything. I can still see him going, though, if the Lakers just want to get younger or more reliable for their primary options.
4) Xavier Henry ($884K)--Xavier's in line for a raise, probably in the mini mid-level $3.1mil territory, with his play this year. The Lakers can pay that, but I get the feeling that among their wing players, Nick Young, Jodie Meeks and Wes Johnson are higher in their totem pole. I like Henry's Corey Maggette-esque Eurostepping foul drawing style of offense, and defensively he's been surprisingly underrated this year. His lack of passing and reliable shot might prevent more $$$ from coming his way, but hey, Earl Clark earned $4.2mil this year, so who knows. But Corey Maggette-esque in hitting free throws he is not, and that might ultimately swing the decision against him. He's a good locker room presence, has two way appeal, and likely teams will undercut the Lakers on this one while they're negotiating with their other FAs. The Lakers probably feel that Meeks or Young can manufacture their free throws well enough and more importantly, hit them.
5) Jodie Meeks ($1.6mil)--Meeks has well outplayed his valuation for this year, and truthfully, he might get the non taxpayer mid level exception ($5mil) from teams this offseason, for many years. I think the stigma of him being a 6'4" non-athlete who can't pass, plus the fact that he's doing this on an awful team, will prevent more dollars from coming, but he's a hard working three point shooter who can draw fouls and has finished far better this season, and while his defense is overrated, he's decent man to man. I really like his game and effort and hope he remains a Laker, not to mention he'll be 27 entering this offseason, in his prime. The Lakers can certainly spend non taxpayer type money on him. He could be undercut if the Lakers spend too much time negotiating with Young in particular. The Lakers haven't given any hints either way, but Mitch might value him enough, even with possible bidding wars.
6) Jordan Hill ($3.5mil)--Hill is a really underrated player who is yet another player who has been alienated in D'Antoni's up-tempo offense, with very sporadic minutes even after by and large excellent play (he leads the Lakers in PER this season, and has always put up good ones for his career). D'Antoni just appears to loathe bigs who cannot stretch the floor. Hill isn't a shotblocker or even a plus defender, but rebounding bigs on both ends, especially at 6'10" and not at Reggie Evans height, are valuable, and Hill's still only going to be 27 next year and can finish around the basket, whether with dunks, layups, tips or hooks. He's active every game an when your team is slacking, he's just the proper energizer. Everyone needs that. There's a case to be made that being alienated by D'Antoni won't lead the Lakers to resign him, but among their free agent bigs, he's the highest in their totem pole (I think he's more valued than Kaman and Gasol), so for that reason I think he'll have a good chance. I think smart teams will swipe for him, and really his valuation might be like Jodie's (he might make $5mil non tax mid level type money). The Lakers should be able to pay that raise.
7) Wes Johnson ($884K)--I'm of the belief that Wes won't command too much $$ in the open market. He's had a few moments, but too often he's just invisible and his complete inability to handle the ball or dribble is a red herring, not to mention for an athlete he doesn't rebound or hit free throws. Plus, his defense is overrated. He's a fun-loving guy, but it never really seems like he imposes his will on either end; he needs more killer instinct. As a point of reference, James Johnson (the Johnson I wanted instead of Wes to join the Lakers) was picked up off the scrap heap midseason by Memphis and immediately starts imposing his will on defense--he brings Wes's steals and blocks but has the oomph on defense, and while he shoots worse, he passes the rock better and can manage the SF-PF switch far better can Wes can. That 3's-D thing could work and some contender could take a gamble, but I don't think Wes has the gameface to really let that flourish. I think the Lakers can bring him back at a $2mil valuation for next season, even, and I do get the sense that D'Antoni really likes the concept of him (hell, he was said to the best player in training camp, whatever that means; just like Sasha, it's a bunch of hot air). He should be able to come back, but it's a whatever move, and will fill a slot at cheap money.
8) Jordan Farmar ($884K)--I'm not super enthusiastic about Farmar, as he's a 6'1" skinny guard who will turn 28 this year, and I don't think he has the consistent game frame (notably lack of finishing ability or more importantly, ability to draw fouls) to take it to the next level on offense, not to mention at age 28 PGs just don't make that leap. He quasi-penetrates but his hotspot this year was his mid-range jumpers with sides of threes, but he smartly used it to create passing angles. In D'Antoni's offense (and I think we'll keep D'Antoni, just to give him another chance) he'll look good. Defensively, he's too slight and really just eh. I just wish he'd go for a PG with potential to bring it up to top ten-fifteen territory, though. But, I have a feeling the Lakers will designate him as a top priority over Blake and easily Nash, especially since he brings the native LA blood, and they need to fill the PG slot. With his injuries, I'd think mini mid level will get it done, but hopefully the Lakers don't big against themselves, like they definitely did with Kobe, just for the loyalty factor.
9) Nick Young ($1.1mil)--Young will easily decline his player option next year. Really, he's the only Laker who makes "loud" plays and is fun to watch, which earns him looks nationally even with the Lakers being an awful team. He's still by and large doing the same things he's done in Washington, with what's perceived as chucking with little assists or steals, but he's improved his defense some and has really drawn fouls particularly with his twos and even threes. He was derided as being a gunner when he was younger but now he's saying the right things, showing competitiveness, bleeding Laker purple and gold, and frankly, with so few shot creators on this team, what he's doing looks even more special in comparison. He'll be 29 this year so you really have to be careful, especially for a player who really just excels in the scoring side of things and not too much elsewhere. But this is the NBA, and teams don't really think (hence we get toxic contracts), and he might get $5-7mil offers just for the 16-17 points a game. I think Young really wants to stay with the Lakers, wants a re-start and will give them a discount within a certain range, which is why he's first in this list, and I think the Lakers admire the homegrown talent and his competitiveness and will give him such an offer.
It depends on which way we want to go:
1) The bench depth way: Young gets a $6mil base contract, Farmar goes for $3.5mil or so, Hill goes for $5mil, Meeks $5mil, Johnson $2mil. Core players kept. We lose Gasol (or not--see later in paragraph), Henry, Blake and Kaman. If we sign all of them, $21mil or so for five more players, so far $54mil for 10 players. So we have less than the max to offer (about $12mil), which we can parlay into maybe Luol Deng and a mini mid-level type, or split that money between the Paul Pierce, Spencer Hawes, Danny Granger, Trevor Ariza types. But in this arrangement, losing Pau really means the Lakers need bigs, and the market beyond Hawes is really, really dry there. We can theoretically keep Pau in the split situation for $5mil or so and get another $6mil type (hopefully Hawes, but it will be a paycut), but this is basically a similar team to what we have this year, so it's hard to see the wins add up. This team has a lot of depth, but with Kobe's uncertainty and the uncertainty of how good our draft pick will be, it might lack the top shelf player to really win. But based on contract arrangements, unfortunately this will take the Lakers out of the big fish type players, for now and for the future, and the Lakers are about top shelf players. So if that's the route they want, that means that there will have to be sacrifices:
2) We want Carmelo way: I happen to think Carmelo is super overrated on offense and awful on defense and he will turn 30 this year, so giving him that huge contract will be a bad move. Not to mention he's lost a ton of athleticism. In this scenario we will lose Young, since frankly, no one needs Melo, Kobe and Young on the same team. Then, it will likely be either Meeks/Johnson or Hill/Johnson or Pau to keep, and that could be tough. Or, we can just alienate all of our players from this year and saw money earmarked for Meeks, Hill, and Pau for our next big fish in 2015 (Kevin Love, anyone? to get Kobe/Melo/Love/our first rounder) and get the rest on minimum type deals or the mini mid. Henry, Kaman and Blake are as usual gone from this arrangement. It's hard to see this team win anything.
3) We want RFAs (Bledsoe/Hayward) way: I happen to like both of these guys as they are very young and multifaceted (Bledsoe as a 2-way athlete, and Hayward as a slashing passer with high basketball IQ). For a max deal of $13.6mil (because likely that's the going rate for Hayward at least; with Bledsoe, due to his injury, it might be less) we will need to create that space, but as RFAs, there are no guarantees. If we go for Bledsoe, Farmar will be gone, but it's a dangerous game to play if Utah matches and we alienate Farmar, although Darren Collison and Kyle Lowry are on the market. In this arrangement, we could keep Young, Hill, Meeks and Johnson, or Young, Hill and Gasol, or Young, Meeks and Gasol, and fill it out with minimum types. Or, we can just alienate all of our players from this year and saw money earmarked for Meeks, Hill, and Pau for our next big fish in 2015 (Kobe/Hayward or Bledsoe/Kevin Love?) and get the rest on minimum type deals or the mini mid.
These are likely the three possible options, since I can't see Dirk not returning to the Mavs, or Tim Duncan not returning to the Spurs, or LeBron/Wade for the Heat, this offseason. Chris Bosh could be available from Miami if he wants a bigger role (player option). Next year, there's Brook Lopez (who Mitch reportedly dangled Pau for) and Kevin Love, provided they both opt out. It's a guessing game and the Lakers can alienate all of their players this year, load up on more minimums alongside their definites and wait for that class, but it's probably not worth it.
The Lakers will have sacrifices if they want to form a big three, because with three max types they will have to get virtually all minimum type contract type players. Likely it's a big two staggered with a few decent roleplayers they are after, because bench depth (option 1) might not provide the long term gratification.