All Quiet on the Lakers’ Front

by Spencer Suk

Magic.  Kareem.  Shaq.  Kobe.  Jeremy Lin?

As the days pass, the free agent market is slowly drying up.  James, Anthony, Bosh, and Nowitzki have already figured out their plans for the 2014-15 season, Wade looks ready to re-up in Miami, and Gasol looks like he’s headed to Chi-Town.

But where are the Los Angeles Lakers?  Well, they made some moves after the King announced he was going home, but these aren’t the marquee moves you Lakers fans are used to seeing (though from LA, I’m a Clippers fan).  Rather, they made an array of smaller moves that seem to reveal the front office’s strategy going forward: a patient rebuild.

With only Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, and Robert Sacre still under contract for the upcoming season, the Lakers have a lot of work to do.  So let’s break down the recent deals made by Mitch Kupchak, Jim Buss & Co.:

Jordan Hill, 2 years for $18 million (team option after 1st year)

From the murmurs I've heard, the common reaction to this deal was, “Wow! That’s way too much money to be giving to a substitute on one of last year’s worst teams!”

Well, you’re right, but only to an extent.  Hill is getting overpaid, but that’s the price a team must pay when locking up a player on a shorter deal.  At the prime age of 26, Hill probably could have garnered deals that might have ranged from 3-4 years, paying him a total of $20-25 million.  Don’t believe me?  While Hill only averaged 9.7 points and 7.4 rebounds per game last year, he was doing this all in less than 21 minutes a game.  Take a look at his stats per 36 minutes compared to that of Zach Randolph (who just sign a 2-year, $20 million extension with the Grizzlies):

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On paper, Hill looks like the slightly better player.  However, keep in mind that Hill’s numbers and efficiency would likely drop if he played a full 36 minutes per game.  That being said, Hill is 26 and entering his prime, while Randolph is 32 and on the decline.

But the best part of this deal is unquestionably the team option after the 1st year.  This gives the Lakers the flexibility to reevaluate their options next year.  For instance, Rajon Rondo, Kevin Love, Marc Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Tony Parker all become unrestricted free agents next year.  So if the Lakers decide they want to pursue a couple of all-stars next off-season, they can simply decline Hill’s team option and open up a lot of cap space.  As of now, the Lakers only have about $30,000,000 locked in for the 2015-16 season (just Kobe Bryant and Nick Young are signed through 2015-16 at the moment).

Jeremy Lin, 1 year for $14.9 million

The Lakers acquired Lin and a future first-round pick from the Rockets in exchange for cash considerations and the rights to an undisclosed international player.  The Rockets have been scrambling to unload Lin’s back-loaded contract in order to free up cap space to sign Chris Bosh, a plan that clearly back-fired as Bosh re-upped with the Heat on a max deal.

The Lakers made a solid move here.  While Lin is really, really, really overpaid this year, only $8.37 million of the $14.9 million counts against the Lakers’ cap.  And let’s face the facts: the Lakers are going to struggle in the frightening Western Conference again this year, so they might as well just try to be entertaining as hell.  Linsanity will probably sweep over LA’s Asian population, growing the Lakers enormous fan base even more, not to mention the attention Lin draws internationally.

From an asset standpoint, the Lakers picked up a first-round pick they desperately needed, especially after losing their 2015 and 2017 first-round picks in the process of acquiring Dwight Howard and Steve Nash.

But once again, the best part of this deal is the length of Lin’s deal.  Lin is completely off the books after this season, and the Lakers can reassess their position in a year.

Swaggy P (or the artist formerly known as Nick Young), 4 years for $21.5 million

Swaggy P might have been the best thing that happened to the Lakers last year.  In a miserable season for a franchise too familiar with championship rings and Larry O’Brien trophies, Swaggy P’s antics definitely kept everyone entertained, both on and off the court.

Want to know another shooting guard who entertains me both on and off the court?

J.R. Smith.

Smith earned himself a 3-year, $18 million contract after winning the Sixth Man of the Year Award in 2013.  We’re one year into that deal, and the Knicks don’t seem too thrilled to have Smith around anymore.  Something tells me the same will happen with Swaggy P.

While Swaggy P is basically a much friendlier version of Smith, both players have volatile personalities and playing styles; Swaggy and Smith are both volume scorers who have little regard for anyone on the court but themselves.  I would hate to see Swaggy leave LA (he’s just way too much fun), but the Lakers are giving him too much security with a four-year deal.  They should have tried to work out a deal that mirrored Jordan Hill’s in terms of length.  Oh well, here’s to four more years of Swag!!!

Going Forward…

The Lakers lost Pau Gasol and failed to bring in the superstars Hollywood has grown so accustomed to seeing.  However, the Lakers have made mostly smart signings that will give them financial flexibility in the next couple of years.  Julius Randle has come to town and should develop into a very solid player, while Kobe looks for a healthier return this season.  Lakers fans might be disappointed over the roster that has been assembled for next year, but just be patient (it always ends up working out for you damn Lakers fans).