Heading into the off-season, the Los Angeles Lakers fans had high expectations. The team was under the salary cap going into the free agency period for the first time since 1996 — the year Jerry West was able to lure Shaquille O’Neal away from the Orlando Magic.
Back then, the Lakers had to make a series of moves to clear cap space to even pursue the big man. One of those moves was trading then-starting-center Vlade Divac for a 17-year-old kid out of Lower Merion High School in Pennsylvania. That kid of course was Kobe Bryant and I think we all know how well that deal paid off for the Lakers in the end.
This year, the Lakers didn’t have to make any moves in order to create cap space. With the majority of the roster coming off the books after last season, the team had just enough room to either offer a max contract to superstars such as LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony, or add at least one young core piece to provide some structure to the roster moving forward.
General manager Mitch Kupchak and the Buss family elected to swing for the fences and struck out in the process.
The Lakers offered Anthony a max contract before Kupchak met with James’ agent, Rich Paul, to make his pitch as to why the four-time MVP should bring his talents to the City of Angels. James narrowed his choices down to the Miami Heat and Cleveland Cavaliers before deciding to return home where his career started in Ohio. Anthony took his sweet time to make his choice, forcing Los Angeles to move on once the James domino triggered a series of signings throughout the league.
Second-tier free agents such as Lance Stephenson, Isaiah Thomas, and Kyle Lowry were available and on the Lakers’ radar, but Kupchak decided to go with an unexpected route.
The first move made in free agency for the team was a trade with the Houston Rockets that landed the Lakers Jeremy Lin along with a future first and second round draft pick in exchange for the rights to Sergei Lishchuk — the 49th pick in the 2004 NBA Draft. It’s unlikely that the Lakers end up with the second round pick from Houston that they acquired previously from the Clippers. If the pick falls between the 51st and 55th selections in next year’s draft, the Lakers will get to keep it.
However, the first round pick from Houston is a different story. It is a lottery protected pick in 2015 and 2016, meaning if the Rockets miss the playoffs, they will retain it. If they are a playoff team next season, the Lakers will receive the pick. In the off chance that Houston misses the playoffs the next two seasons, the pick is top-10 protected in 2017 and top-five protected in 2018. Basically, it would be a miracle if the Lakers don’t end up with the future pick in the next four years.
The Rockets simply made the trade to dump Lin’s salary which has a cap hit of $8.3 million next season before it comes off the books in the summer of 2015. Houston cleared cap space in an effort to sign free agent big man Chris Bosh to a four-year max contract worth approximately $88 million. Instead, Bosh re-signed with the Heat for a full five-year maximum deal. In the process, they replaced Chandler Parsons with former Laker Trevor Ariza — a player notorious for saving his best for contract years.
Shortly after the trade was agreed upon, Los Angeles and Nick Young, aka Swaggy P, reached an agreement on a four-year, $21.5 million deal with a player option after the third year. Young, a fan favorite, was retained at a discount in a market that saw restricted free agents Gordon Hayward and the aforementioned Parsons receive max contracts. He could have easily found more lucrative offers elsewhere, but wanted to return to the Lakers.
The team also agreed to re-sign Jordan Hill to a two-year, $18 million dollar deal with a team option after the first year. Paying Hill $9 million per season is clearly above his market value, but having a team option next summer means that the Lakers could decline it and have that money come off the books after just one season.
Since then, the Lakers have signed cheap, short term contracts to fill out the roster, which makes their plan for the future quite obvious: Save money for more star power.
They brought back Wesley Johnson and Xavier Henry on one-year deals worth approximately $1 million apiece. Kupchak also signed Ed Davis to a two-year deal with a team option after the first year, as well as coming to terms on a deal that will bring Ryan Kelly back for his second season.
Los Angeles unexpectedly put in the winning bid of $3.2 million on Carlos Boozer after the Chicago Bulls used their Amnesty Provision on him in order to create cap space to sign now former Laker big man, Pau Gasol. Signing Boozer creates quite the log jam at the power forward position for the Lakers, but his contract fits the mold in which they are moving forward with.
Lakers Waive Kendall Marshall, Sign Xavier Henry, Wesley Johnson