As I sit in an empty office on Friday night, struggling to finish off a 40-hour work week, I thought about writing something Laker related.
But what is there to write?
The summer league has been covered ad nauseum at this point. There were many great pieces written, but there’s only so much to write about a handful of games that, in the end, hold little value other than getting our first look at the future.
So I posed the question to Twitter as to what Laker fans wanted to read about and, somewhat surprisingly, I got a handful of responses and instead of picking one of them, I decided to do them all and treat this as a mailbag of sorts. Bonus points to anyone who makes some creative name for this mailbag series.
Maybe not shockingly, the most common reply had to do with free agency.
Fresh off the heels of what some (or most) consider a disappointing free agency period by the Lakers, the hopes for future free agency recruitments is dim. In regards to free agency this year, I wrote a piece already about the Lakers’ “failures” this summer and no, it’s not a doom and gloom piece.
The summer of 2016 will obviously be huge for various reasons. Most appropriate to the Lakers is that Kobe Bryant’s enormous contract will come off the books. Pair that with the huge salary cap spike, which is projected at $90 million next year (or nearly $30 million more than this year) and there’s reason to be optimistic about the future.
Using Basketball Insiders’ salaries page (which I highly recommend as Eric Pincus does fantastic job there), the Lakers have a whopping $19.8 million in guaranteed contracts next summer. That, however, includes just qualifying offers to Ryan Kelly, Jordan Clarkson, Tarik Black, and Jabari Brown. I would expect Clarkson and Black, at the least, to return to the Lakers.
Still, if you account for qualifying offers, player options and team options, you’re looking at just $31.9 million in salaries for next summer. That’s nearly $60 million in cap space. Wrap your head around that for a moment.
Now that I’ve gotten you excited, let me bring you back to reality: the chances of the Lakers landing a big fish will likely only be slightly better than this year.
The big name will be Kevin Durant, obviously. Durant, however, will be 28 by the start of the 2016-17 season. Do you think he wants to join a rebuilding team like the Lakers who will still be a year or two away from playoff contention?
Realistically, after Durant, the drop-off is extreme in terms of superstar free agents. 31-year old Joakim Noah will be a free agent, but the Lakers should want nothing to do with that. Mike Conley will be available, but it’s hard to see him leaving Memphis and the Lakers just drafted their point guard of the future.
Al Horford could be an option, but even he will be 30 years old, bringing up similar issues as LaMarcus Aldridge’s situation this summer. Andre Drummond is a restricted free agent, so kiss that dream good-bye as Detroit would be insane not to match any offer for him.
Nicolas Batum might be an intriguing option. At 27-years old, Batum will have plenty left in the tank next summer and the Lakers will likely still have a glaring hole at small forward.
In the end, Laker fans should just not get their hopes up for the summer of 2016. Rebuilding teams don’t land marquee free agents, especially ones on the backend of their primes.
Well, things will certainly be more interesting in 2017. At that point, assuming things go well, the Lakers should be a team on the brink of being a contender. It’s hard to predict salaries that far in advance, but you’d have to imagine Clarkson would have a long-term deal and Randle and Russell would still have multiple years left on their contracts.
The team needs, however, are also hard to predict. So much can change in two summers. Will Anthony Brown develop into a starting small forward? What about Robert Upshaw as a center? Will Clarkson or Russell be a bust?
Again, it’s hard to predict who will and won’t sign extensions over the next two years, but as of right now, the big names include LeBron James, Dwight Howard, and Blake Griffin. However, James won’t be leaving Cleveland, Howard won’t give the Lakers the time of day, and Griffin won’t cross the hallway for the purple and gold.
Chandler Parsons would be interesting as he will be an unrestricted free agent on the good side of 30, but it would take some convincing.
The point guard market is very interesting with Derrick Rose, Ty Lawson, Steph Curry, and Russell Westbrook all set to be unrestricted free agents. Rose will likely not leave Chicago, Lawson has a lot of issues to figure out before we predict anything two years down the road, and it’d be a shock if Curry left Golden State.
Westbrook, however, is intriguing. If Durant leaves OKC, Westbrook could very well follow the next summer. A former Bruin, Westbrook is familiar with Los Angeles and has long been rumored to have interest in the Lakers. However, if Clarkson and Russell develop nicely, do you sign Westbrook to play over one of them?
The way the league trends could change in two years time as well. Think back two years ago to the 2013 NBA Finals. The Miami Heat were constantly exploited, especially against the Pacers, for having no big man in the paint to stop Roy Hibbert. The same happened the year before with Tyson Chandler and Dirk Nowitzki.
Now, the Warriors just won the title playing “small ball.” In two years time, who knows how the league is shaped, and that will determine a lot of what free agency needs the Lakers will have.
To summarize it, though, 2017 is a year far more likely for the Lakers to hit a homerun. We will know what we have with Russell, Clarkson, Randle, and the rest of the young guys, and so will potential free agents. If a free agent sees themselves as the type of person to put the Lakers over the top, it’ll be hard to turn down that glory and fame.
What do you have against the college of Princeton, man? Credit to Anthony for polluting my mind with bad jokes/puns.
Call me crazy, but I’m not nearly as ready to write off Byron Scott just yet. I’m only going to make so many judgements based off one season in LA where the roster was awful, injuries ravaged the team, and the front office was likely pining for the Lakers to tank.
The Princeton offense, likewise, CAN work, but I’m not sure it’s the right offense for this team. I also don’t think that Byron is so stubborn that he won’t change the offense, either. We saw late last season that he more embraced a high pick and roll offense with Clarkson and Lin that helped both play better.
I think this year will be a better barometer of Scott than last. Even for how bad the Eastern Conference used to be, you don’t make the NBA Finals as a bad coach, and Byron did it twice. However, the league has changed, and if Byron can change with it, the Lakers might not be in as terrible shape as many fans think.