Free Agency Can’t Just Be About Adding Talent

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):

  1. Franchise Changing-Superstar
  2. Young and Still Have Possible Upside
  3. Fills a Roster Need
  4. Bargain-Value/Short-Contract/Limited-Exposure

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.

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Though an improved playmaker, he also draws a lot of free-throws, which means the ball has to be in his hand for any offensive benefit to come from him. Does that kind of sound familiar? If not, Lou Williams is on line two.
So why is DeRozan having the ball in his hands troublesome? Well because, Russell needs the ball in his hands. Randle needs the ball in his hands. Clarkson needs the ball in his hands. Ignoring all the sentimental reasons, we’re happy to see Kobe go because that’s going to get the ball in these guys’ hands more often. But if we bring in DeRozan, then suddenly that pressure comes back. And look, creating points efficiently is fine! But if that requires you to change your offense, or that hurts the development of the young guys, because they’re just standing around watching you draw fouls, then you run into an issue.
Clarkson is improving his catch and shoot game, but he’s still a guy who’s main job is to score, especially off the pick and roll. Russell doesn’t need the ball shot from his hand to be effective on the offensive end, but we do need him to be more than a decoy in the corner three. As for Randle, he has some Blake Griffin-esque playmaking to him, so to take that away from him (like Scott’s system is doing right now) makes him even more marginalized.
If Russell was the only piece here, than I would have been on board with a DeRozan signing. But we have other pieces to consider, especially if the goal is to become eventually become a contender again. That’s why free agency can’t just be about adding talent*.
(*Yes, I hear it already: “Sign the guys, and trade them if they don’t fit. Add assets.” I hear you. While I love the asset-management game as much as the next guy, you need to remember that it carries risks. For starters: injuries. Injuries can turn a guy from max-worthy to untradeable. Think many teams are lining up to trade for DeMarre Carroll right now? Even if a guy doesn’t get hurt, his presence can hurt the team’s progress/development, and thus in turn, lowering his overall value. Look at Greg Monroe. He’ll probably still fetch something, but was that worth it in the end for the Bucks? Lastly, even if none of those occur, signing guys and trading them quickly might put a bad taste in potential future free-agents’ mouths. Look at what’s happened in Philly with Hinkie, albeit he did take it to the extreme.)

9 thoughts

  1. It might be worthwhile to actually look at how the teams that one rings got there. Look at the starting 5 of the last 5 championship teams:

    ’15 GS: Curry, Thompson, Green, Barnes = draft (none of them real high); Bogut = trade
    ’14 SA: Duncan, Spitter,Parker = Draft Green = FA Leonard = Trade (draft day)
    So that look like the draft is the way to go, but wait:
    ’13 M: Wade = Chalmers, Haslem, Wade = draft Bosh, James =FA
    ’12 M: Wade = Chalmers, Wade = draft Bosh, James, Battier =FA
    ’11 SA: Nowitzki = draft, Stevenson, Marion, Kidd, Chandler = trade,

    Couple things of note.
    Only Duncan was a top 5 draft choice that stayed with the team the that drafted him. Lesson is that building though the draft is possible but having one of the top draft picks isn’t that important.

    Second point is that as long as you have one really great player (Wade, Dirk) you can obtain the others to get to the championship. Lesson for the Lakers is that they need to have one of the young players really step to the next level in order to have a chance at a ring. Russell is probably the only one who has a chance to do that which is why burying him on the bench is such a bad idea.

  2. Quote: 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).
    It’s unbelievable that this situation, which encourages ‘tanking’, is allowed to continue. ‘Tanking’ could be easily stopped. Are there any changes in the pipeline for next season?

    1. I don’t think tanking is much of an issue. There’s some things they can do to discourage extreme forms of it, but I don’t think tanking is an epidemic like some people make it out to be.

      1. I find this view interesting and very surprising. Teams are rewarded while failing to compete and I don’t see how that can be justified.
        I think the teams that finish last in each conference should not take part in the lottery. I would suggest that picks 6 and 7 automatically go to those two teams. The other lottery teams would have an equal chance of drawing the top 5 picks, and would then fall into position from pick 8 onwards.
        Tanking may not be an epidemic but it shouldn’t be accepted in any form. Finding an advantage in not winning surely has no place in any sport.
        Maybe I’m missing something – I’d be happy to hear other views.

      2. Agreed that tanking has no place in any sport. BB is unique because of the disproportionate impact one player can have. That being said, name one franchise that won a championship by tanking. I cant think of even one.

      3. Quote:”name one franchise that won a championship by tanking”
        There are many ways that tanking affects the league. All of the teams benefit if tanking is allowed, which is why it hasn’t already been eliminated. Contending teams benefit because high draft picks go to non-rivals, making it difficult for ambitious teams to strengthen and become a threat. Mid-level teams don’t have to fear that their immediate rivals will become substantially stronger in a single step. Adjusting the lottery system would force teams to be more creative and ambitious. At least, it would stop rewarding them for failing to compete.
        Just to be clear, I’m not attacking teams that tank. It’s understandable that teams will do whatever is in their best interests. The rules need to be changed so that the option doesn’t exist. Tanking is far more damaging than is immediately obvious.
        In my earlier post I proposed that the last placed teams got the 6 and 7 picks. Does anyone feel this would successfully eliminate tanking? I’d be interested to hear alternative ideas.

    1. Sure, but GS was in a different situation.
      While we didn’t know Curry could be THIS GOOD, he was a rising star.
      Once you have that, as long as you don’t cap yourself out with bad players, being mediocre is fine and even preferred, as long as it doesn’t last for years on end, of course.

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