Sports Out West

Lakers operating with a set plan in place

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Nick Ut

The Los Angeles Lakers entered this year’s free agency period with plenty of cap space and a pitch centered around the franchise’s proven track record of success, but that was not enough to persuade either of the top tier players in LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony to pack up their bags for the bright lights of Hollywood.

Instead the Lakers immediately went a different route on Friday after James decided to return to the Cleveland Cavaliers and Anthony ruled the team out of the hunt for his services next season. A mere hour after receiving that news, Los Angeles traded for Jeremy Lin, future  first round draft pick, a 2015 second round selection from the Houston Rockets. They then followed that up by re-signing Nick Young (four years, $21.5 million) and Jordan Hill (two years, $18 million).

It was a rather quick turnaround given that the team had just digested the news that their Plan A was not a success. It showed that the team had a backup plan already in place, and it should come as no surprise because of the unlikeliness that they were going to land either James or Anthony.

The Lakers had a long shot to begin with James, as it appeared that if he was going to leave the Miami Heat for any team it would  be the franchise in his home state and where he spent the first seven years of his career. This was similarly the case with Anthony despite his close relationship with Kobe Bryant because of the uncertainty surrounding both Bryant and Steve Nash‘s health, and the lack of a definitive future for the organization.

The Lakers almost had to prepare for Plan B with all that in mind, but at the same time they still held out hope for the possibility of either Anthony or James choosing to join the team. As they waited for answer, the front office did not sit around but rather did their due diligence scoping the free agent market with a set plan in place. So once both players were off the board, they moved quickly and methodically to build the roster with both next season and the summer of 2015 in mind with each transaction.

Starting with Lin’s acquisition, his addition to the team provides them with a starting point guard that can get to the basket and make plays for others. If Los Angeles chooses to bring Lin off the bench and start either Nash or Kendall Marshall instead, he can provide that same stability to the bench unit.

He has also been a durable player over his brief NBA career playing in all 82 games two seasons ago in his first year with the Rockets, and last season played in 71 games. This is something the Lakers had to eye because of the persistent health issues all last year with Nash, Jordan Farmar, and Steve Blake.

What is also another benefit from trading for Lin is that he is still relatively young at 25 years old. If he plays well next season, the team could have their point guard of the future locked up for the next several years if they choose to do so. However, if he struggles the Lakers could just let his contract expire next offseason, and use the additional $8.5 million in cap space freed up from his deal to sign a player at the position.

General manager Mitch Kupchak acknowledged these advantages with Lin ‘s addition in a press release on Sunday about the trade.

“This trade allows us to acquire a solid player who will make us a better team, as well as draft picks to improve our team in the future, while at the same time allowing us to maintain financial flexibility,” said Kupchak. “In addition to what he’ll bring us on the court, we think Jeremy will be warmly embraced by our fans and our community.”

The other two moves were made with that same similar game plan in mind. This is case and point with Hill, who many view as getting overpaid by the team. Although his deal is for two years, the Lakers have the ability to cut ties with him after one season due to second year of the deal being a team option. This, like Lin’s contract, would give Los Angeles more financial flexibility next offseason to go out and make moves in the free agent period.

They could also use Hill as a trade asset if he or team struggles prior to the trade deadline next season. However there is one catch to that scenario, as he has to agree to any transaction first because any move to another team would result in him losing his Bird Rights.

The re-signing of Young to a long-term deal provides the team with a much-needed scoring punch either off the bench or in the starting lineup aside from Bryant. The 29-year-old proved that in Bryant’s absence last year as he averaged a career best and team-leading 17.9 points per game. In the 2013-14 campaign, he eclipsed 40 points twice, led the team in scoring on 22 occasions, had the highest scoring average (18.8) in the NBA for a reserve, and was third in the league in points per touch (0.45).

If Bryant is somehow unable to go to start the season or struggles to produce, Los Angeles could rely on Young’s scoring ability for the time being as the 18-year veteran gets himself reacclimated to playing after missing all but six games last year because of injuries. It is also another bonus that the Lakers have re-signed Young to a relative cheap base annual salary at $5 million  given his high level of production last season. This along with the team locking the seven-year veteran to a deal that will span through his prime years of his career makes it a smart move.

Again, what this points out is that Los Angeles did not rush to make a signing but rather had a plan in mind, and it is one that they are still not done executing it. The Lakers still have to fill out the remaining five to seven spots on the roster if they sign both of their draft picks in Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson, and pick up the team option on Marshall. All indications show that they will indeed go that route and add them to the team.

The Lakers can still sign additional players this free agency period as they have about $2-$3 million available for a mid-level exception contract, and can ink multiple players to Veteran’s minimum deals like they did with Farmar, Young and Wesley Johnson last offseason. If not free agency, they can also look to add some players off the summer league team or possibly make a trade that would center around Nash in exchange for another player.

In other words, Los Angeles still has plenty to do in regards to filling out their roster and this not to forgot a head coach vacancy that has been open since Mike D’Antoni resigned on April 30. There is still much in influx for this team, but one can be certain that the front office has a plan and whatever moves they make next this offseason it will done accordingly.

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Nick Ut

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Bob Garcia IV

Bob Garcia is a sports journalist from Southern California. He was a reporter for the award-winning newspaper, The Daily Sundial, at California State University, Northridge. You can follow him on Twitter, @BGarcia90.

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