How do you appease a fan base that’s unaccustomed to losing, keep a Black Mamba from annihilating any front office official within striking distance and at the same time, keep a 2014 draft choice in the high lottery?
You take a lesson from Mitch Kupchak and Jimmy Buss. A master course, even. Class is in session.
The Lakers have just finished a wild 12-day span in which they saw all three players from last August’s mega-deal depart in one way or another (Chris Duhon, Earl Clark and some other guy), one post-season hero (and amazing post-Finals press conference giver) being waived for luxury tax reasons (Metta World Peace, née Ron Artest), while adding three veterans for less than $7 million (Chris Kaman, Nick Young and possibly Jordan Farmar).
With a 27-year-old franchise center leaving more money, an extra contract year and the lure of Southern California for a younger team with greater immediate promise in Houston, there have been calls–with loud, booming echoes–for the Lakers to completely rebuild. The reasons are multifaceted:
The team’s three primary pieces, Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash, are all 33 years old and up, with each of them undergoing different surgeries over the past year. The asset cupboard besides them looks barren, as the Lakers will not have their 2015 first round draft selection (given up to the Phoenix Suns to acquire Nash), and the team doesn’t have a single blue chip prospect on board. The new collective bargaining agreement has almost completely restricted the team’s ability to find more help through sign-and-trade agreements or free agency, leaving several massive holes with cheap half-measure solutions. Even the small personnel maneuvers the Lakers can make come with the consequences of massive luxury tax penalties that affect the team exponentially if they remain over the limit three out of the next four seasons. The most resounding reason to rebuild may be revolving around the help that could be coming in just 11 months: the Lakers have their first round pick in seemingly decades (it’s been decades, right?) in the loaded 2014 draft.
As our own Ben Rosales has pointed out time and time again, next year’s draft could contain up to seven All-Star caliber prospects, including Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle, Marcus Smart and Jabari Parker. All of these players should be available to teams in the lottery, which the Lakers could easily be a part of…if they should decide to strip the team and rebuild. But at the moment, it doesn’t seem that that’s in the cards.
On first glance, you’ve got to laud Buss and Kupchak for grabbing so much experience with so little assets. All four recently signed free agents are still effective players to varying degrees, with skill sets all over the map. Young is just 27 years old with the ability to score 28 on any given night. He’s just two years removed from averaging 17 ppg for the Wizards on a .441/.387/.816 shooting slash line. His production has tapered off in the past two seasons (14 ppg and 10.4 ppg respectively) along with his three-point accuracy (.365 to .357 last year), though he should be able to play well off of Pau Gasol’s post game and Steve Nash’s on-ball wizardry. Kaman is 31, an All-Star just three seasons ago in 2010 and played well in 66 games for the Mavs last year, averaging 10 points and over 5 boards a game. Farmar played in Israel and Turkey the last two seasons, though he was last seen in New Jersey after bolting the Lakers in July 2010. Still, he’s a change of pace guard who’s remarkably just 26 years old, can play a bit of defense and at his peak, was a solid three-point marksman (.367 career average). Wesley Johnson has been a massive bust since being drafted with the fourth overall pick in 2010, and though he looks like the prototypical three point shooting defensive wing the Lakers need, he hasn’t proved to be consistently capable doing either in his three seasons in the league. Largely, he’s been a zero value add player that fans should consider more of a pedigree-based flyer than anything else.
The Lakers made these moves at the expense of 2010 Finals savior World Peace, whose waived $7.7 million dollar expiring deal will save the Lakers somewhere in the neighborhood of $14 million. It simply didn’t make sense to keep a 33-year-old even with no natural SF on the roster, as his athleticism is rapidly declining and affecting his once vaunted defensive presence. MWP has been floating closer and closer to a replacement-level player the past couple seasons, and with his body finally breaking down late last year (with a torn meniscus), it was simply time to make the change. The surprise of the ’12-’13 season, Earl Clark, could have been a pre-packaged replacement if he weren’t priced out of the Lakers’ bidding range with a somewhat irresponsible (only somewhat) two year, $9 million dollar deal given to him by the Cleveland Cavaliers. LA was right to let Clark go, even as they were planning to amnesty World Peace and thus creating a giant hole at the 3. The solution appears to be Young (certainly not Johnson), whose performance (I suspect) will be wholly representative of what this off-season leaves the team lacking.
(Read on at Silver Screen and Roll)