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Free Agency

Why the Lakers Will Be Quiet in Free Agency

By: Joe Rudin

On July 1, 2016, the Los Angeles Lakers, led by Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss, offered Timofey Mozgov an offer he could not refuse – a 4-year, $64 million contract.

On June 20, 2017, the Los Angeles Lakers, led by Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka, decided that Mozgov’s contract was one they could not accept.

Johnson and Pelinka traded Mozgov and his absurd contract, along with D’Angelo Russell and his icy veins, to the Brooklyn Nets in exchange for former All-Star Center Brook Lopez and the #27 pick in this year’s draft, which they used to select Kyle Kuzma, a forward out of Utah.

On July 1, 2017, Johnson and Pelinka take the next step toward implementing their vision.

Player Age 2017-18 2018-19
Brook Lopez 28 $22,642,350 $0
Luol Deng 31 $17,190,000 $18,000,000
Jordan Clarkson 24 $11,562,500 $12,500,000
Corey Brewer 30 $7,600,000 $0
Tarik Black 25 $6,655,325 $0
Brandon Ingram 19 $5,519,400 $5,757,120
Lonzo Ball 19 $5,238,800 $6,218,300
Julius Randle 22 $4,149,242 $5,564,134
Larry Nance Jr. 24 $1,471,382 $2,272,391
Ivica Zubac 19 $1,312,611 $1,544,951
David Nwaba 24 $1,312,611 $1,744,951
Kyle Kuzma 21 $1,186,300 $1,408,200
Josh Hart 22 $1,162,100 $1,379,300
Thomas Bryant 19 $815,615* $0
P.J. Dozier 20 $815,615* $0
TOTAL GUARANTEED $80,347,296 $39,505,800
Salary Cap $99,000,000 $102,000,000
Cap Room $18,652,704 $62,494,200**
Red = Team Option Purple = Non-guaranteed Orange = Qualifying Offer Green = Projected
*Bryant & Dozier projected at 0-year minimum salary

**Note: The Lakers will likely exercise their Team Options on Brandon Ingram and Larry Nance Jr. for the 2018-19 season. Accounting for that, the cap holds for having fewer than 12 guaranteed players (each empty space, 5 in this case, creates a cap hold equal to a 0-years-of-experience minimum salary), and Julius Randle’s cap hold as a Restricted Free Agent, the real amount of cap room projects to be $37,898,107.

The Lakers currently have about $18.6 million in cap room, with 3 roster spots to fill:

PG: Lonzo Ball / Jordan Clarkson / EMPTY

SG: EMPTY / David Nwaba / Josh Hart

SF: Brandon Ingram / Luol Deng / Corey Brewer

PF: Julius Randle / Larry Nance Jr. / Kyle Kuzma

C: Brook Lopez / Ivica Zubac / EMPTY

The Lakers really only have one rotation spot up for grabs – that starting SG spot – and will be looking to fill the other two spots with injury insurance, veteran leadership, and guys who will compete in practice.

The Lakers can also use 2 Two-Way contracts, which don’t count against the salary cap and allow a player no more than 45 days with their NBA team during the Regular Season. The Lakers use one on 2nd Round pick Thomas Bryant, and the other on P.J. Dozier, who they offered a non-guaranteed contract on draft night.

The Lakers will likely only offer 1-year contracts to prospective Free Agents. These contracts might have 2nd-year Team Options attached to them, but since the Lakers will be treating their cap space as “sacred,” they will almost certainly be committing to only 1 year of guaranteed money.

The Lakers also have some Exceptions at their disposal, namely the Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception and the Bi-Annual Exception, which will allow them to go over the Salary cap if they choose to use them. However, since they probably won’t be going over the cap by signing contracts that are more than a minimum salary, they won’t need a special exception for minimum contracts.

What the Lakers Can Do

Option #1: The Lakers offer all their cap space on a 1+1 deal to whomever they think is the best Unrestricted Free Agent 2-guard out there.

  • If they get their target, they’re done! That’s it! The other two spots will remain open for competition through Summer League and training camp.
  • If they don’t get their target, move to step 2

Option #2: The Lakers guarantee Tarik Black’s $6,655,325 by July 4th and offer the remainder of their cap space to whomever they think is the best 2-guard out there. That leaves the 3rd string PG spot open, which again will remain open through Summer League and training camp.

A couple of notes:

  • The Lakers can offer all their cap space to one player because the remaining spots will almost certainly be filled by players on minimum contracts; it is always permitted to sign players to minimum deals, no matter how far above the Salary Cap a team is.
  • The Lakers should be smart, though, and not use ALL of their cap space; flexibility is key and a little cap space could go a long way when it comes to a mid-season trade
  • The Lakers could use the Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception to fill the 3rd string spots with above-minimum contracts if they need to. They can use up to $8,406,000 in this way.

Some players they can target are: JJ Redick, Patty Mills, Dion Waiters, C.J. Miles, Jodie Meeks

Joe Ingles and Otto Porter would be great fits, but they’re both Restricted Free Agents, so you can’t offer them deals that only have 1 year guaranteed (unless their teams decide not to extend a Qualifying Offer, thereby making them Unrestricted Free Agents).

The Free Agent market for shooting guards is pretty bleak this year. And as Pete Zayas and Darius Soriano mentioned on the latest episode of the Laker Film Room Podcast, it’s highly unlikely that the Lakers will be able to find someone who is both 1) capable of significantly helping the Lakers win games and 2) willing to take only 1 year of guaranteed money. To really get a worthwhile Free Agent, the Lakers will have to offer far more money in that one guaranteed year than what is available to them in each year of a multi-year deal elsewhere.

This is why the Lakers should explore their trade options, where they don’t have to convince a quality player to take a 1-year deal, since they’re already on one.

Here are some players whose contracts can or will expire after the 2017-18 season that the Lakers might target, listed in order of 2017-18 salary:

Player Age 2016-17 2017-18 2018-19
Dwyane Wade 29 $23,200,000 $23,800,000 $0
Arron Afflalo 31 $12,500,000 $12,500,000 $0
Danny Green 29 $10,000,000 $10,000,000 $10,000,000
Cory Joseph 25 $7,330,000 $7,660,000 $7,945,000
Trevor Ariza 31 $7,806,971 $7,420,912 $0
Devin Harris 34 $4,228,000 $4,403,000 $0
Seth Curry 26 $2,898,000 $3,028,410 $0
Doug McDermott 25 $2,483,040 $3,294,994 $4,510,847

*Blue = Player Option                                             **Green = Qualifying Offer

There’s no clear home run here, either. Danny Green would be a great fit, but his $10 Million player option in 2018-19 could be detrimental to the Lakers’ 2018 Free Agency plans. Cory Joseph has a similarly problematic Player Option for 2018-19 as well.

The drawback of a trade, of course, is that you have to give up assets in the process. But if the Lakers are already planning to give up assets next summer in order to make room for 2 max-salary Free Agents (they’ll have to give up something), it makes sense to use those assets to acquire a high-quality starting 2-guard for this year.

Given that the Lakers only have one significant roster spot to fill and need to preserve their cap space for next summer, they will most likely sign one player to a 1-year deal and sit the rest of Free Agency out.  They may try to execute a trade, but it will take good timing and a willing partner to do so. The real fireworks will happen at this time next year.

LFR Roundtable 2/5/17 – Rest of the Season & Beyond

 

D’Angelo Russell & Julius Randle have recently been criticized for their inconsistent effort level. Is this a long term concern, or just immaturity that they’ll likely grow out of?

 

Pete Zayas (@LakerFilmRoom): I’m more concerned about Randle than I am about Russell. With Randle, he has a very distinct on/off switch that is heavily tied to whether or not he has the ball, or defending it. Once he moves into an off ball scenario on either end, he tends to disconnect from the action, and I think that’s difficult to correct. In Russell’s case, he certainly has nights where he’s in an overall malaise, but his level of engagement tends to be either good across the board or bad across the board. That said, the frequency with which both of them decide to not show is alarming, but they’re not old enough for them to be fatal flaws in either case. If you listen to fans around the league, this is a fairly common criticism of young players.

Tom Zayas (@LFRTommy): I’d prefer to describe it as a lack of consistent engagement on the court, as Randle and Russell are both guilty of sleepwalking at times. Russell has a bad habit of keeping his arms by his sides on defense, un-crouched and out of position. Randle’s bad habit is to wait for the penetrating ball handler to come at him in the paint, when by that point he’s already lost the defensive chess game. I have some long term concerns, but I think it’s too early to say whether or not this will be a problem 3 years down the line. 

Michael Taylor (@LFRMBT): I’m not one to question a player’s effort usually, but I do have concerns, although I think they’ll eventually grow out of it. Currently, I think the two have hit a wall, like young players tend to do. For Randle, it’s just about building consistency. With Russell, I worry that his overall effort level is related to how much fun he’s having. I’m worried that he tries too much to keep his teammates happy at his own expense, instead of just playing the game. Hopefully, he’ll figure out the right combination of the two.

VP Sinha (@shaqpropagation): They might grow out of it, but I’m concerned with both. With Randle, I suspect it comes down to conditioning and mentality: there’s only so much energy to expend, and right now that’s usually only when he’s on ball. So reasonably you hope as he gets in better shape and realizes the off ball impact he can have, he’ll stop taking plays off ball, but that’s obviously no guarantee. As for Russell, I think offensively he’ll be alright down the line, but he doesn’t seem to get offended if someone scores on him. The lack of fire there concerns me on his long term defensive potential. 

Chuck Lee (@FiendishOC): It’s basically youth more than anything. There’s some angst coming from the fanbase and media after this current losing stretch, but if you read between the lines at what Luke is actually saying about them, it’s just basic coaching stuff trying to get young players to form good habits. 

Between the two, I do have a bit more concern about Randle having that on/off switch in terms of engagement on the defensive end because that’s more mental than physical – but even that I believe may be due to lack of emphasis in this area from previous coaches. 


If you could change one thing about the Front Office’s approach, what would it be?

 

CL: Remember when the Lakers were getting flack for not sending anyone to the MIT conference and being late on SportVU? Consider that they made their first SportVU hire in 2013 when the Raptors already had a system that could interpret data, log defensive breakdowns and make informed suggestion on optimal defensive positioning (they had been working with SportVU since at least 2011).

The entire league is shifting over to Second Spectrum soon, which is basically SportVU on steroids with the amount of detail and context their system can pull from the on-court action through machine learning techniques. A few teams have been on board with that since 2013, including the Clippers. The past two NBA champions, the Cavs and Warriors, are also early adopters. Similarly to what happened with SportVU, 15 teams have since gotten the jump on the rest of the league in this service / technology. Teams like the Spurs and 76ers are hiring specialists in working with spatial data. There have been a few in-depth articles on the Lakers’ newfound commitment to analytics over the past few seasons. We can’t know for sure, but none of those pieces gave me any confidence that the Lakers have been one of those first few teams or are making strides in anything innovative. 

The Lakers used to be on the cutting edge of the strategy side of basketball (Bill Bertka was basically the first video coordinator and advance scout). It would be nice if they could get back out in front again. 

TZ: Once the summer rolls around, the Lakers’ Front Office is like a 17 year-old with disposable income (looking at you LFRMBT) — you know they aren’t spending that money well. While I appreciate they’re trying to improve each summer through free agency, I wish they had realized how to spend that money in a way that wasn’t so shortsighted. They’ll throw some more money around this summer, but if a big fish doesn’t bite, they shouldn’t settle for long contracts with aging role players (i.e. last summer’s deals). 

MT: Overall, I think that the FO has done a reasonable job given the circumstances (+ on drafting, – on FA). I do, however, believe that the FO needs to be 150% all in on developing the young core. L.A. is not going to poach a superstar – thank you, new CBA. The Lakers should devote all the resources at their expense to develop Russell, Randle, and Ingram. L.A. has the power to get a HOF like Magic or Nash to help give Russell invaluable insight, or bringing in Worthy to help Randle. If none of the kids hit, the FO & Company could sleep at night knowing they did everything within their power to develop the young talent on the roster. 

PZ: I’d like them to flex their financial muscle in ways that aren’t governed by the salary cap. They’re extremely profitable, and as such they should be throwing big money at the best assistant coaches, the best player development coaches, the best scouts, the best video coordinators, the best halftime entertainment, the best hot dog vendors, etc. These are all reinvestments into the team that help them grow as an organization, and I don’t think they’ve leveraged this as much as they should.

VS: I was a vocal proponent of making cheap deals like Lou Williams before the cap spike, and they should keep trying to make those kinds of deals. And not tying up money on bloated contracts in a summer where everyone has cap space and free agents have all the leverage. It’s a little late for that. Looking at the new CBA, we need to continue drafting well first and foremost. Beyond that, they should do a better job of trying to find undervalued, fairly young players like Isaiah Thomas, Hassan Whiteside, or Kyle Lowry… rather than wasting roster slots on guys like Huertas and MWP. 


 

Now that we’ve gotten a good look at this roster, who should the Lakers realistically look to pursue this offseason?

 

TZ: I wouldn’t mind seeing how much it takes to pry Ian Clark away from the Warriors (assuming Swaggy doesn’t pick up his option). He’s a good shooter with a nice first step, and he’s drastically reduced his turnovers this year. It’s not exactly an elite FA class, and I doubt the Lakers have a chance at any of the top tier FA’s, which is fine because I don’t think any of them would fit perfectly within the young core. The Lakers’ MO this summer should be to look for young players like Clark that can grow into their prime as the young guys are still developing. 

MT: I’d move on from Lou Will, and let Nick Young walk. Barring L.A. finds lottery luck once more, they will need a back-up point guard, and Patty Mills leads the list for me. He’s an underrated defender and a 40% three-point shooter who could share the floor with DAR. If Mills is off the market, Shaun Livingston is someone to look at, in my opinion. Another veteran PG that would be familiar to Luke’s system, able to facilitate and give 20 solid minutes off the bench.

PZ: The Lakers are deficient in two critical areas: passing & defense. I like Jrue Holiday quite a bit, but he’s likely a moot point of the Lakers keep their pick, and has a worrisome injury history. Serge Ibaka would project as a fantastic fit next to Julius Randle, with his rim protection and outside shooting, but also strikes me as someone we’d regret signing by Year 3, at the latest. 

To be honest, I don’t like this year’s Free Agent class at all, even amongst the bargains. If the Lakers strike out on the bigger free agents, as they likely will, I could be talking into throwing high-priced, 1-year deals at both Andre Igoudala & Shaun Livingston to help facilitate the style of play that we would like to see from the young players going forward. Although I suspect that there will be a market for Livingston beyond one year. I also wouldn’t mind throwing a similar 1-year deal at Nick Young, as the Lakers already lack outside shooting, even as he’s having a career year from distance.

CL: Seeing as how they’ll still be a season or two away from the top tier of free agents looking their way. I hope that they can pick up an athletic defensive wing at a reasonable price (and age). A guy who can ramp up the intensity level and be disruptive on defense without making mistakes could plug a lot of holes in the team defense. The Lakers are also in the bottom half of the league in transition scoring efficiency, with a lot of their young core putting up bad numbers in this area, so someone who can also get out and finish could help fill this gap.

VS: The new CBA means starts are likely to stay where they are and get paid a lot more. With that in mind, keeping salary flexibility for Paul George or DeMarcus Cousins in 2018 doesn’t make that much sense. Obviously, Hayward would be perfect, but that’s a pipe dream. It depends a lot on our draft situation: if we get Fultz or Ball, no thanks to George Hill. I’d have to look for specific suggestions, though. 

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Buss Fare

In this episode of the Laker Film Room Podcast, Pete & Darius discuss the implications of the Magic Johnson hiring and the future of the Lakers’ Front Office, the looming trade deadline, and what types of players the Lakers need to acquire to take the next step.