The Los Angeles Lakers went into the offseason determined to make changes to their struggling team after winning a franchise-worst 17 games during the 2016-2017 NBA season. With the salary cap exploding, the second overall pick in hand, and new coach Luke Walton in the fold, optimism was high that the team was finally pointed in the right direction.
Now, with the draft behind us and the free agent frenzy dying out, the consensus opinion seems to be a bit more mixed. It’s time to take stock of what happened in a roller-coaster Lakers offseason, and pass out our annual offseason grades.
Drafted Brandon Ingram with the 2nd overall pick
It’s just about impossible to complain about Ingram’s selection with the second overall pick. He was the consensus choice, and as one of the youngest players in the draft, there is plenty of room for growth. Ingram’s slim frame is a concern, but it’s a minor one considering his freakish wingspan, shooting ability, and defensive potential. Patience will be required, but the Lakers may have found a major piece to their rebuild.
Drafted Ivica Zubac with the 32nd overall pick
The Lakers have a history of finding talent late in the draft, and it appears that they have done it again with Zubac. He was projected to be selected in the first round, but teams that were hoping to draft-and-stash him passed when they found out he wanted to come to the NBA immediately. Los Angeles had Zubac as the 16th-best prospect on their draft board, so they were happy to scoop him up with the 32nd pick. He wowed fans in Summer League, and with a game that reminds of a young Marc Gasol, the Lakers may have found their center of the future.
Signed Timofey Mozgov to a four-year, $64 million deal
When word broke that the Lakers were pursuing Mozgov at the opening bell of free agency, my initial thought was that the Lakers had learned their lesson from years of chasing whales and were instead pursuing a realistic target they could sign a team-friendly deal. Then the deal was announced, and many around the league were left scratching their heads. Based purely on what he provides on the basketball court, Mozgov makes a lot of sense IF he can return to his pre-knee surgery, 2015 form. He sets massive screens, is surprisingly nimble, and can protect the rim. However, the contract he was awarded is a huge overpay in both money and years, and it seems likely to be one that the Lakers will regret before Mozgov comes off the books.
Re-Signed Jordan Clarkson to a four-year, $50 million deal
The Lakers were helped out by the Gilbert Arenas rule, which limits the amount of money free agents with two years or less can make. As a result, Clarkson’s deal is one of the absolute best of the summer, and the Lakers now have a dynamic player locked up on a very team-friendly contract for the next four years. He and D’Angelo Russell will now have every opportunity to prove that they can become the next great Lakers’ backcourt.
Signed Luol Deng to a four-year, $72 million deal
The Lakers followed up the Mozgov and Clarkson deals by signing Deng, a veteran swingman who found new life in the NBA as a power forward last season with the Miami Heat. However, with Julius Randle and Larry Nance Jr. on the Lakers, Deng will likely have to spend a good amount of time at small forward. At 31 and with a lot of miles on his odometer, it’s a good bet that he won’t be the lock-down wing defender that he was earlier in his career, but he has proven that he can still be productive. His presence provides the benefit of taking pressure off of Ingram to produce immediately. Deng is a great locker room guy, and should be an excellent mentor for the young players, but like the Mozgov deal it appears that the Lakers were a bit too generous with the number of years that they gave out. They needed veterans, but for some time the Lakers have meticulously maintained their future cap flexibility, and to abandon that endeavor in order to land Deng and Mozgov is questionable.
Re-Signed Tarik Black to a two-year, $12.85 million deal
Last season Black found himself in coach Byron Scott’s doghouse, limiting his impact and minutes on the floor. However, his ability to play the pick and roll and explosiveness at the rim makes him precisely the type of player that projects to be a great fit with D’Angelo Russell. The Lakers saw that potential and decided to bring the reserve center back to see if he can blossom under new coach Luke Walton, who has promised to give him a fair opportunity to earn minutes. The second year of Black’s deal is reportedly not guaranteed, which makes this a low-risk, medium-reward move if the fan favorite can prove himself to be a capable backup to Mozgov.
Traded the rights to Ater Majok to the Chicago Bulls for Jose Calderon, a 2018 2nd round pick (via Denver), and the Bulls’ 2019 2nd round pick
This isn’t a trade that will move the needle much in terms of wins or losses next season, but it’s still a home run. Majok’s rights are only in the deal because something has to go to Chicago; this deal really is the Bulls using two 2nds to pay the Lakers to take Calderon’s deal into their cap space. From the Lakers end, that money was going to be spent anyway thanks to the rising salary cap floor, so they didn’t lose anything here. Given the Lakers’ ability to find talent in the 2nd round those picks could end up being valuable. While Calderon was reviled as a starter for the New York Knicks last season, his shooting ability and veteran savvy should make him a solid backup for Russell, and his expiring contract could be valuable trade chip at the deadline. It’s a good day whenever you can get assets essentially for free, even if they are minor ones.
Signed Marcelo Huertas to a two year, $3.3 million deal
It was a bit of a surprise to see the Lakers bring Huertas back after adding Calderon, but it may be worth it for the entertainment value alone. The crafty Huertas is the only known player to pick up a steal by hiding behind an opposing coach, and his passes can be absolutely jaw-dropping. He doesn’t hit threes or defend, but this signing essentially gives Walton the option of bringing either Calderon’s shooting or Huertas’ passing off the bench. Like Black, Huertas’ deal isn’t fully guaranteed for the second year, making him another low-risk option, even if he is a bit superfluous.
The Lakers still have one roster spot available (two if they waive Nick Young) and just over $13 million in cap space to play with, but it’s doubtful that they make any other major additions. Most likely, they will attempt to bring in a few young players to training camp, and if anyone is especially impressive they may elect to sign them for the regular season.
All things considered, this summer was a mixed bag for the Lakers, with some questionable moves sprinkled in with a few excellent ones. The team is clearly being handed over to the young core, and their development will determine just how quickly the Lakers can get back to being contenders.
Final Offseason Grade: C+