July 1, 2016 is still a few months away, but free-agency talk is a year-round thing these days. There’s a ton of speculation that starts years before a guy even hits free-agency. So it should come to no surprise that there’s a ton of names thrown towards the Lakers’ way as potential targets – especially since LA will most likely have the most cap space in the league.
Now, I’ve stressed before that free-agency is overrated and that building through the draft is the way to go. But that doesn’t mean free-agency should be totally ignored, especially given the lack of overall talent on the current bottom-feeding Lakers. We have a nice young core – Russell, Randle, Clarkson, Brown, Nance and Black – but that’s just 6 guys and only one or maybe two of those could be considered potential high-level starters down the road.
Now, as the premier franchise of the NBA, and holder of the most championships in the league as well (Yes, I’m stubborn and counting that 1948 NBL championship that the NBA ignores), what our franchise’s ultimate goal should always be is championships. “Championship or bust” defines the Lakers. Now it may seem silly to not assume that other franchises think like this, but it really is not. Would all NBA teams love to win a championship? Of course. But some NBA teams and franchises, at the moment, would just be happy making a decent run in the playoffs (Hello, Kings).
So, if it’s championships or bust for the Lakers, that just means sign the best guys and win that ring, right? Well, yes. But of course as we’ve seen for the past few years (Melo, Aldridge and soon to be Durant), it’s not easy getting the top guys to sign here with no base or other stars to sell them on. So, that just means get the best guys available that are willing to come here, right? Well, not necessarily.
You see, the Lakers have a core. So unless you think LA is building them up for a trade, then the Lakers MUST cater to this core over any outside talent. Why is this? Well first off, these guys are cost-controlled for the next few years and restricted free-agents after that – which means they will be in LA for the next 6-8 years, unless the Lakers let them walk (of course, this could change with the new CBA, but any possible changes are nearly impossible to gauge right now).
So if we ever want to win a championship again (well, at least in the next 10-15 years), then we must make sure this core is the best it can be, whether that means getting them the right coach, the right gadgets and gizmos to help improve their health & maximize their performance, or the right teammates. Now, since this is about free-agency, let’s focus on the “right teammates” part.
One thing the Lakers cannot do is fall into the trap of mediocrity. We all have heard that “mediocrity” is the worst place to be in the NBA (not good enough to be considered a contender, not bad enough for a high pick). While that may be true in the aggregate, mediocrity is a great place to be *if* you have the cap flexibility and/or the assets to get out of it if such an opportunity is presented.
Do we want the Lakers to be mediocre next year? Yes! But only if that means that the current core is part of the main reason why. I’d love to be going into 2017 free-agency with 35 wins if 33 of those wins came on the backs of the young guys.
Now, back to the free-agency discussion. One of the important things the Lakers must look to do this summer is to add free-agents that fit at least one of the following criteria (if applicable):
- Franchise Changing-Superstar
- Young and Still Have Possible Upside
- Fills a Roster Need
So to clarify the above criteria, number 1 would really only be Kevin Durant, and to a much lesser extent, Al Horford. I don’t see any other “superstars” in this free-agency class. A lot of guys would qualify for number 2, with the top-names being Harrison Barnes & Evan Fournier (both only 23 and would be able to fill the wings), but one must remember that most of these guys are restricted and won’t be sought after until July 12 when the free-agency moratorium ends.
Criteria number 3 would be guys like Batum or Whiteside – Batum would fill the SF hole and bring much needed wing skills to the team while Whiteside fills the center spot, providing what we need from there (even if he is imperfect).
The 4th criteria is tricky. You’re probably not getting bargain value this summer given the cap-spike. It’s a supply/demand thing. Not enough solid free-agents but way too much money sloshing around. Evan freakin’ Turner might be making $13M/year next season. So unless you get say, Tyler Zeller for a 3 year/$16M deal, you’re probably not pulling off many bargain deals this summer (that was best done last summer, and Lou Williams could qualify as another example, actually). Other guys that might qualify for this are Matt Barnes, Luol Deng, & Joakim Noah. A 1 year “mega deal” or a 2 year deal with a 2nd year team option with a older vets like that might make sense for the Lakers. They are guys that would fill a role with quality play while not killing our long-term cap-flexibility.
So why am I writing all this? It’s mainly because of DeMar DeRozan (though some other guys can qualify too). I’ve seen him floated around (and reported) as a natural target for the Lakers.
Look. DeRozan is good at what he does. He’s a good secondary playmaker and a great driver. His FG% on drives is pretty good, however, his FG% in the paint is slightly below league average. He’s also great at drawing fouls, as evidenced by the high free-throw rate (0.457) and high true-shooting percentage (54.4%).
However, he can’t shoot and if he does, he’s taking mid-range shots (according to Basketball-Reference, 33% of his shots come from 16 feet and out to the 3 point line, AKA the “long two” range). He’s cut back on those shots this year in place of more drives, floaters and slightly more threes (which he’s hitting a better rate, but it’s still not good enough). But as I’ve always said, I trust years of data over 1 year, especially when that 1 year comes in a contract year.
His defense is OK (though Defensive Real Plus Minus really hates him, placing him 79th out of 92 for shooting gaurds). Here’s the thing though. He’s not that big to play the SF position full-time, so you’d need to probably move Clarkson to the bench (which is actually where I think he should be, but now you have an issue of having to balance minutes carefully while not hurting Clarkson’s development).
So what criteria does DeRozan fulfill? He’ll need the ~max at 4 years, so it automatically crosses off number 4. It’s certainly not 2. He’s not old, but he’s not so young (will be 27 next season) that he has a bunch of upside left. He does pseudo-fill that need for a wing, but it’s like calling an oval a circle, so you can mostly cross off 3 as well.
Does he qualify as number 1 then? I would say no, though I am open to arguments if you could make it. The problem with DeRozan is this: He needs the ball in his hands. Does that sound like an issue when taking our core into account? Yes. You’re basically replacing Kobe with a younger, semi-efficient version of his current self. Via John Schumann, here are some damning stats (slightly old but doubt it’s changed too much) showing DeRozan’s ball neediness.