Lakers Moving in the Right Direction

The Lakers entered the offseason with delusions of grandeur, setting their sights on the likes of Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James. They never, ever stood a chance with LeBron, but to the surprise of many Anthony was intrigued by their offer. We’ll never know exactly how impressed he was, or if the reported interest was more of a negotiating tactic than serious consideration, but the point remains that the L.A. front office forced its way into the picture. Going forward that’s a great sign for a team that risks becoming a real laughingstock for the first time in their history.

Once they decided they were out of the running for Melo’s services, they shifted their sights to filling out a roster that pretty much just consisted of Kobe Bryant, Kobe Bryant’s giant bags of money, “Steve Nash”, and Julius Randle. Since then they’ve made some head-scratching moves, but on the whole there seems to be a much greater emphasis on fielding an actual NBA roster this season after last year’s debacle.

First the questionable (or worse) moves: Re-signing Jordan Hill and Nick Young to big deals. I like Hill when he’s on the court, and he is a proven rotation big, but $18 million over two years is a lot for a bench player, especially one with Hill’s injury history. He’s a tough rebounder and has flashed a bit of a midrange shot, but that doesn’t mean he’s worth this kind of money.

An argument can be made that the Lakers had to spend it somewhere, and since it’s only two years (at most) the damage will be limited, but that misses the point. There were (and still are *cough* Eric Bledsoe *cough*) more talented players on the market that could have been targeted with that space. The deal does at least have a team option on the 2nd season, so at least the team hasn’t shot itself in the foot for next offseason too.

The same short contract/young-ish player logic obviously wasn’t applied to the re-signing of Nick Young. He may not seem like he’s been around that long, but Young is 29 and is an unrepentant gunner. Paying him until he’s 33 doesn’t make any sense. At all. This is the risk of falling in love with your own players in down years  – Young’s solid shooting and high scoring average are all positives, but he won’t be able to hog the ball with Bryant and others back in the fold. The Lakers even inexplicably included a player option on the final year of the deal.

The franchise can’t continue to operate as if there is an endless well of cash to pull from for those kinds of deals with the new realities of the luxury tax.. Fortunately, L.A. showed a willingness to play the market in ways that they’ve frankly never had to when the front office jumped on Houston’s desperation to clear cap space for a Chris Bosh signing that never materialized. By taking Jeremy Lin off the Rockets’ hands they also managed to snag future 1st and 2nd round picks. Lin’s not a bad pickup himself, and he will instantly slot in at the point guard spot that has been a major position of need due to Nash’s injuries.

Another move that never would have happened in the past (because they never would have been under the cap long enough to pull it off) was the acquisition of Carlos Boozer after the Bulls amnestied him earlier in the week. Boozer isn’t the player he once was, but for one year the Lakers get a pick and pop big who can help stabilize the offense in the post a bit while they search for brighter stars. It’s a low-risk deal on a flawed, but still useful, player.

It’s fair to point out Boozer’s defensive issues and how they will be magnified outside of the safety of the Chicago defense, all of which makes the other Laker signing of the day that much more intriguing. Ed Davis has failed to carve out a meaningful role in his stops in Toronto and Memphis, but he’s a solid defensive player who can protect the rim a little, pull down boards, and shoot a high percentage inside 10 feet. Davis will never be a star, but he’s exactly the kind of player the Lakers need – a young, low-volume, efficient big who will put in solid work on both ends.

The best part is that in a free agent market in which mediocre players are getting huge deals, he will be in L.A. next season for next to nothing. That’s the kind of move the team quietly needs to nail in the coming years to regain their status as one of the best in the league.