With the Lakers at their usual self-imposed 14-man roster limit, it's time for us here at Silver Screen & Roundtable to take a look at the docket and discuss....wait, did I write "docket"? I meant "damage report".
It's been a summer like few others in franchise history, as the Lakers primary offseason goal was torpedoed in gloriously public fashion. A seven-time All-Star left Southern California for Texas, and with him a clear view of where the franchise was headed in the immediate future.
However, as big as his departure was, change wasn't just confined to the center position. Breakout role player Earl Clark left via free agency as well, on a somewhat surprising two-year, $9 million dollar deal from the Cleveland Cavaliers. Antawn Jamison followed suit, crossing the hallway into the Clippers locker room in search of his first ring. Metta World Peace, the Game 7 hero who helped bring the Lakers back from the brink of elimination versus the hated Boston Celtics, was waived via the amnesty provision for strictly luxury tax reasons. Chris Duhon, Darius Morris and Devin Ebanks were also all cut loose and wished well in their future endeavors.
To replace them, the front office went on a binge of one-year contract signings, spending their mini mid-level exception on Chris Kaman, and giving veteran's minimum deals to Jordan Farmar, Nick Young and Wesley Johnson. Summer League forward Elias Harris was the exception here, with a two-year deal (on the cheap), while the number 48 pick in June's NBA Draft, Duke forward Ryan Kelly, was given a standard second round contract.
All that being said, we looked to our set of fresh-faced writers and asked: "what was the biggest success--and blunder--of the Lakers' offseason?"
The Great Mambino
Once that free agent center left, the Lakers were sent scrambling like a frantic Walter White in recovery mode. But like the great Heisenberg always does, Mitch Kupchak and Jimmy Buss should be commended for finding any solution with such limited assets on hand. None of the free agents look as though they'll help with the team's most pressing need (a defender...any defender), but in that regard the least offensive signing the team made was clearly the reacquisition of Jordan Farmar. Out of all the Lakers' new recruits, he's the only one who seems to possess the requisite athleticism to defend, as well as willingness to do so. There's no doubt that he'll contribute at the offensive end with his three-point sharpshooting and ability to run a fast break offense, but I'm most eager to see how he'll be able to corral opposing guards.
As far as worst personnel moves, the minute #12 walked out the door, there wasn't a question in my mind that it was one of the biggest front office blunders in franchise history. Yes, that might seem like a somewhat hyperbolic statement. But at the very least, the Lakers let a complete defensive difference-maker leave without getting any compensation. Keeping Coach Mike D'Antoni ranks right up there with the offseason lowlights, but allowing a three-time Defensive Player of the Year to walk didn't just shake up the Lakers in the short term basketball-wise--it did the very same perception-wise around the league.
Some would argue that Houston's new center walking doesn't qualify as "the Lakers worst offseason maneuver", because it wasn't as much what the team did, it's what the player didn't do. In many ways, it's a completely credible assertion--after all, can Mitch Kupchak or Jimmy Buss be blamed for what another free-willed individual decided for a multitude of different reasons?
That all makes sense to me, but so does this: at the beginning of the offseason, if any Lakers fan, blogger or even front office employee were to write down a list of "offseason priorities", topping the list would be "1) Re-sign the center". As such, the Lakers did not accomplish their key goal this summer. In my mind that's a huge failure, especially seeing what the contingency plans were.
Bringing Jordan Farmar back from overseas and into a purple and gold uniform was the best move the team made this summer. While it didn't specifically address a team need (see: true small forward), it added depth to a position that the team struggled with last season (see: injuries, age). Farmar has the tools to be a great fit as a pick-and-roll ball-handler, as well as an uptempo change of pace guard, and should be a significant piece in the 2013-2014 Lakers campaign.
Plus, there's the "feel good" vibes of bringing back a former Laker who took less money in order to make his return.
Honorable mention goes to Chris Kaman, who -- for the mini mid-level exception -- was an excellent signing in a "ignore the Lakers roster situation and only consider the move in a vacuum" kind of way. Kaman is a great backup big option, but the Lakers certainly could have been better off spending their "extra" money on a different role. Which brings up point number two: the worst personnel move of the summer.
Surely everybody has covered how losing Dwight Howard for nothing is a tremendous blunder, so I'll just focus on what they did afterward. Using the mini mid-level on Kaman instead of a true small forward, or a player who can play both small forward and power forward, or a player who shoots at least 37 percent from beyond the arc, or a player who isn't going to be hurt through 40 percent of the season, or a player who can play in uptempo lineups off the bench, or a player who will not be an atrocity on defense next to Pau Gasol, or a player who won't force Gasol out of the post (though, to be fair, it's likely that the Spaniard will have first dibs on low-post space) is the worst personnel move of the summer.
Sure, Kaman may be a great signing on the cheap for contending teams, but he's a one-year stop-gap. At least Nick Young and Wesley Johnson are still players who have the "well, maybe..." factor attached to them, while guys like Elias Harris and Marcus Landry are unknown shots in the dark. The Lakers know what they're getting with Kaman, a player who doesn't help their cause a great deal when looking at the big picture.
Obviously, this summer, just like the nine months that preceded it, did not go remotely according to plan for the Lakers. They whiffed on their sole focus in free agency, and that left the team with quite a few holes to fill and not many tools or selling points with which to do so, especially when considering the team's unwillingness to take on any post-2014 salary. From there, they could have gone in any number of directions ... well, OK, two directions. They could throw in the towel early on what looks like an uphill battle just to make the playoffs, do what they can to move their high salary players not named Kobe, and embrace the suck for one year in the hopes of landing a high draft pick to assist with the 2014 re-boot, or they could do the best they could to field a competitive squad by bringing in the best pieces possible in their limited capacity. As far as we know so far, they chose the latter, and while I personally don't think they made the right choice, it's hard to argue against the fact that they've done the best they could with a terrible situation. They managed to land some decent players, and everybody they signed came in under value, and on one-year deals. But the cream of the crop has to be Jordan Farmar. All the guys who have signed for the Lakers are decent value for the money being given to them, but only Farmar fits in well to the theoretical mold of a player you'd want on a Mike D'Antoni coached team. He's not a kid, but he's still young enough to have the potential for future growth, and his skill set matches up well with what D'Antoni has succeeded with in the past. He's everything you could possibly hope for in a vet's minimum contract.
The worst off-season personnel move for me is the signing of Chris Kaman, but not because the signing itself was bad. In a vacuum, the Kaman signing was a great one. Nabbing a decent center who has a very solid offensive repertoire with nothing but the mini-MLE (and for only one year to boot) is a steal, and normally, I'd count the Lakers lucky and smart to have talked Kaman into the deal. The problem with the Kaman signing is that it just doesn't make sense. As I mentioned before, last year's abomination showed that the Lakers had a lot of holes to fill for the upcoming season ... but center wasn't one of them. They have a starting center in Pau Gasol. They have a capable backup center in Jordan Hill (even if Jordan is the starting PF, he can still also be the backup center in a three big man rotation). Where exactly does Chris Kaman fit in there? There are two possibilities. The first is that the Lakers signed Kaman to purely be Pau's backup, to play the 10-14 minutes per night that Gasol doesn't play and provide insurance in the (likely) case of a Gasol injury. The second (which appears to be closer to the truth) is that the Lakers plan on playing Gasol and Kaman at the same time as part of the big man rotation. That ... is a disaster. Pau Gasol is not a power forward any more, a fact that was made abundantly clear when his starting spot was yanked around last season so that Earl friggin' Clark could get the starting nod. He's too slow on defense, and not effective enough off the low block on offense. Well, Chris Kaman is significantly slower on defense than even Gasol is and, while he is capable of knocking down outside shots more consistently than Pau, his range is more 15 feet than it is 20, so he won't provide as much spacing as he would need to. If Gasol-Kaman lineups aren't already part of your Lakers nightmares, they will be soon.
And the Lakers used their one ace in the hole, their one chance to pay a player more than the bare minimum that a player can be paid, to sign a player that they didn't need, one who does not fit well within the framework of the team's currently existing personnel and coaching staff. At the time Kaman was signed, the Lakers literally didn't have a single small forward on the roster. In retrospect, they filled those holes about as well as they could, and perhaps there is truth to the thought that there simply wasn't a wing out there who would be worth the mini-MLE but not worth more, but there are considerations to be made that go beyond "How good of a player can we get for this money", and Kaman's signing gets a failing grade in just about all of those considerations.
It's a little difficult to pick a best personnel move as none of the acquisitions are what you would call "game changers". Given the financial constraints the Lakers front office had to deal with in regard to free agency, the return of Jordan Farmar for the veteran's minimum is a great value sign. In my opinion, though, the best signing was Chris Kaman. The league has a long history of overpaying for size and it is quite common for a seven-footer who can pass the "fog a mirror" test to be looking at a contract worth $10 million a year. Kaman signed for only $3.2 million is a virtual steal. Yes, the big man is on the decline but last season he was one of only ten players seven feet or taller to post a PER over 16. He may not be a flashy player who puts up big numbers, but he has size, plays efficiently, and avoids mistakes. He is a great back-up center.
The obvious choice for worst move of the offseason is the loss of Howard for nothing. Rather than beat a dead horse, I will pick the next worse move of the offseason, the loss of Earl Cark to the Cavs. Clark had a breakout season last year and while he wasn't able to maintain his ridiculous January numbers, overall he showed he could contribute. He's a young player with good athleticism, decent defensive chops, and an emerging shooting touch. He would seem to be a good fit for D'Antoni, especially when one looks at the lack of defense at the forward positions currently. I completely understand the Lakers desire not to tie up cap space in 2014 by offering him more than one season, but Cleveland signed him with the second year as a team option. I don't understand the Lakers not matching Cleveland's deal and taking a one year (low risk) option like Clark.