If the last few days haven't sapped you of much of your sanity, go ahead and pat yourself on the back because yours truly has been mentally exhausted trying to process a whirlwind process of trades, free agency, and the most inexplicable episode of stupidity from the league in recent memory. Thankfully, yesterday gave us a concrete move to process rather than a horde of speculation in the form of Josh McRoberts, a backup power forward from the Pacers who will likely be the third big off the bench for the Lakers next season. Signed for the full "mini" midlevel exception (MLE) for $6 million/2 years, "McBobs" represents solid value for the Lakers, as he helps fill much of the athleticism gap the Lakers were sorely missing last season. A high flyer around the rim, McRoberts also is a solid pick-and-pop option, something that the Lakers likely will see in Mike Brown's San Antonio-inspired offense, and he shot a decent percentage on a not-insignificant amount of threes last season. His defense, hampered by a lack of lateral mobility, is much more limited compared to his offense, but one can expect that Brown weans some effort from him on that end.
In the wake of the Lamar Odom trade to Dallas in exchange for a large traded-player exception (TPE), it is important to remember that McRoberts, while he will take Odom's spot in the rotation, isn't necessarily Odom's replacement. With the TPE giving the Lakers $8.9 million in flexibility, there will definitely be a lot of potential moves that can be consummated before we serve judgment on what otherwise looks like a bad salary dump. Moreover, the Lakers have another roughly $5.5 million TPE they gained in the Sasha Vujacic trade to the Nets last summer, and given the many needs on the Lakers' roster, one can expect that the Lakers will be very active in looking for opportunities. After the jump, we will discuss some possibilities available with the TPEs, and the surprising news that the Lakers have put themselves back into discussions for Chris Paul.
To start on the subject of TPEs, they essentially function as a form of cap space for the Lakers; by using a TPE, the Lakers can take a player back from another team so long as that player has a salary for the '11-'12 season that fits under the value of the TPE. After the trade is completed, the Lakers will retain the TPE minus the salary of the player that was traded into it. So for instance, if the Lakers traded for a player with a $5 million salary for next season into the Odom exception, they would still have a $3.9 million TPE to utilize. A few caveats: TPEs cannot be combined, so the Lakers can't combine both TPEs and accept a player making $11 million, and TPEs last one year after the trade. That last tidbit is important since the Vujacic trade was completed on December 15, 2010, meaning that the TPE expires...tomorrow.
Given that the Lakers have used the mini MLE to acquire McRoberts, they are now restricted to the veterans' minimum, which is fine in terms of finding a player to fill the back of the rotation, such as the backup five spot, but definitely not enough to make a significant splash in the free agent market. How would the Lakers utilize the Vujacic TPE then? First, let's look at where the Lakers current needs are. Obviously, the team could use a serviceable point guard -- although that might be on hold thanks to the resurrection of the Paul talks; more on that later -- a backup two guard behind Kobe, and a backup five who can play 5-10 minutes a night to give Gasol and Bynum a breather, especially since Derrick Caracter will be out for a few months with a meniscus tear. With that in mind, let's review some possibilities, all of which are simply suggestions, and have not been necessarily substantiated by any official sources:
- Luke Ridnour: In a baffling move, Minnesota signed Jose Juan Barea to a $19 million/4 year deal, which of course, only perpetuates the notion that David Kahn is beyond incompetent. With phenom Ricky Rubio finally on the roster -- and heralded as the savior of the franchise no less -- there was no need to add another point guard, especially since Luke Ridnour, one of the league's better backup point guards, was right behind him in the rotation. Does this mean Ridnour is likely to be moved? Perhaps, as Rubio has the size and chops to guard smaller twos, although that would mean that Barea would have to work off the ball since Rubio is worthless without the ball in hands. Regardless, Kupchak passed on Ridnour in order to sign Steve Blake last offseason, which in hindsight, seems like an especially terrible decision. Even though his numbers came down from his career year in '09-'10, Ridnour posted a 56.7 TS%, nailed 44.0% of his threes, and had a solid 15.08 PER. Plus, he's a solid P&R operator, something needed in Brown's offense. If Minnesota is willing to accept salary relief in form of the Sasha TPE and maybe Ebanks or a first rounder, I'd be up for it.
- Jamal Crawford: I am not a fan of Crawford, mainly insofar as I dislike inefficient gunners who play bad defense. That noted, the current offers for Crawford on the market are pretty small for a scoring guard only a year removed from winning Sixth Man of the Year. Indiana, Portland, and Sacramento are all offering $10 million/2 years, and the Knicks are hoping that he'll return to New York for a measly $5 million/2 year offer. Thanks to the Sasha TPE, the Lakers can offer up to $11 million/2 years in a sign-and-trade with Atlanta, and for that price, Crawford is a bit of a bargain, as he would add some scoring punch to a backcourt last season that was bereft of it besides Kobe. An athletic combo guard, Crawford is decent at guarding point guards due to his solid lateral quickness, and if Brown can coax some effort out of him, he wouldn't be a bad addition to the backcourt.
- Ramon Sessions: We've discussed this possibility before, courtesy of a post from Hardwood Hype's Emile Avanessian during the summer. Sessions can't shoot, is a poor defender, and needs the ball in his hands, but is a solid game manager and pick-and-roll operator that could run Brown's offense. His inability to space the floor really hurts though, as with Ridnour or Crawford above, they can work off the ball and spot-up whenever Kobe runs an isolation or pick-and-roll set, which will be often considering that this is Kobe. Sessions can't do so, and while he would be an upgrade on what the Lakers have currently, it isn't necessarily a good fit scheme-wise.
One way or another, it's likely that the Lakers find some use for the Sasha TPE in the next day or so, as it remains one of the Lakers' key means by which to add pieces to the roster. As for the Odom TPE, the window for its use is far greater, so how the Lakers use it depends greatly on what other roster moves are coming. If Pau Gasol is on his way out in a Chris Paul trade, then it's likely a tool by which to find a replacement starting four such as Cleveland's Anderson Varejao, a solid defensive big who can play both frontcourt spots, knows Brown's system, and isn't in Cleveland's long-term plans as he will be 34 at the end of his current deal. Given the size of the TPE, the possibilities are boundless in this regard, but let's focus on how it could help the Lakers given that they have become involved again in the Chris Paul saga and obviously are continuing to pursue Dwight Howard.
As far as Chris Paul goes, it's unsure as to whether the Lakers are simply being used as leverage for the Clippers to throw in more pieces into a possible deal, or whether the league truly is interested in Pau Gasol, who has been considered a possible piece in these discussions. Of course, Paul for Gasol works as a straight-up deal, and the Lakers could take back Trevor Ariza using the Odom TPE to give the Hornets $21,776,880 in salary relief. Throw in Luke Walton, and the Lakers could take back Emeka Okafor, and the Hornets save another $28,990,000 over the life of both deals. The problem for the Lakers here is that they have no young pieces the league wants besides Andrew Bynum, who is likely off-limits in these discussions, or Devin Ebanks, a so-so prospect. On that note, the Lakers have been reportedly looking for a third team to send some youth back to New Orleans in these discussions, and from the outset, yours truly has always thought that the most likely partner was Minnesota. Without their first round pick next year and finally with a competent coach in Rick Adelman, the Timberwolves are in win-now mode, especially since Rubio finally crossed the pond to play in frigid Minnesota.
During the summer, Minny initiated discussions with the Lakers about Pau, largely since his relationship with Rubio could help the team smooth over Rubio's transition to NBA play. Would they be willing to send Kevin Love, who might not sign an extension with Minny, to New Orleans in order to get Pau? They could also sweeten the pot with talented malcontent Michael Beasley to clear the glut of combo forwards or any other of the numerous young pieces on the roster. Moreover, the Lakers could, same as above, take back the deals of Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor assuming someone is willing to take back Luke Walton's deal. Is that enough for the league? Who knows, but it behooves Mitch to make a few phone calls to see if it's possible.
The Howard trade saga, on the other hand, took an interesting turn with the news from Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski that the Nets were constructing a four team trade in order to get Dwight. The wrench in those discussions is that several sources, including Woj, have noted that the Magic might be adverse to moving Howard right now, which is understandable given that as long as there's an inkling of a chance that he might stay, the team might as well see how the saga plays out until the trade deadline. Hoopsworld's Steve Kyler has been adamant that these discussions are primarily driven by New Jersey, and that Orlando officials have expressed that they are not interested in moving Dwight at the moment. This makes sense, as Nene, New Jersey's backup option, re-signed in Denver for a huge $67 million/5 year deal, so the Nets, desperate to improve the roster to keep Deron Williams in town, are redoubling their efforts to try to get Howard, but Orlando is unlikely to budge.
As for the Lakers, Woj and the Los Angeles Times both report that the Lakers are still very much involved in these discussions, so that possibility is still open. As many noted after the Odom trade, the TPE the Lakers acquired isn't big enough to take on the deal of Hedo Turkoglu, but the Lakers could take back Chris Duhon and Quentin Richardson, saving Orlando $16,382,200 over the life of their deals, and if they sent Luke Walton to Orlando, also save the Magic an additional $17,351,700 by also getting Turk. One way or another, it's unlikely we see a resolution before the season starts, so these discussions will probably continue to the trade deadline. From the Lakers' perspective, this actually helps them, as if Bynum returns after his suspension and sets the league on fire with his play (*knock on wood*) due to his training over the summer at Freddie Roach's gym, he only increases his value in any potential discussions.
In short, there are still quite a few moves the Lakers can make before the onset of the season, and even if they can't land Paul or Howard, they still have the means to add onto their primary core. As such, even though patience probably isn't high on most people's minds after the drama of the past few days, it is important to keep in perspective that there are still a lot of directions the Lakers can go before the season starts on Christmas day.
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