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Which Lakers Earned Their Paychecks?, Part 2

(Note: The following piece was written by Actuarially Sound, but since he's out vacationing in some Internet-starved wasteland, I'm posting it for him. Enjoy! ~DF)

Last Monday we began a two-part series examining the salary each Laker earned last year and compared it with what their salary should have been given their on-court performance, as measured by win shares. Win shares, as we discussed, are an imperfect but kinda useful attempt to capture the entirety of a player's performance both offensively and defensively. We've already covered the role players. Today we look at the starters and Sixth Man of the Year Lamar Odom. Without further ado...

Lamar Odom: 11.6 Win Shares / Actual Salary $8,200,000 / Fair Salary $15,447,377

To say Odom had a good season would be the understatement of the year. His career has been defined by the peaks of his undeniable talent and versatility followed by the valleys of frustrating disappearances. When Odom is playing to his full potential one could make a case for him being the best player in the league. But as often as those performances are, there are just as many games in which he plays so passively you hardly know he's on the court. That finally changed this year. Odom brought the great performances far more often than the disappearing acts and as a result won Sixth Man of the Year.

In our analysis he contributed an amazing 11.6 win shares. He had 10.1 win shares in the regular season alone. Only 14 other players in the league finished with more regular-season win shares. To get that elite production from a sixth man and either third or fourth option is the sort of thing that makes other teams envious. The Lakers received a discount when they re-signed Odom after winning the title in 2009. He took an almost 50% pay cut, having made $14.1 million two years ago compared to only $7.5 million last year. In 2010-11 he played to a level that was roughly equivalent to his prior contract if it had been extended with standard annual salary increases. As a result, Odom was the best "bang for the buck" player on the Lakers and, ignoring guys on rookie-scale contracts, probably the best in the league. Dr. Buss could not be happier with the All-Star caliber production he got from Odom, especially at a price that was just under $3 million more than he paid Luke Walton.

Derek Fisher: 5.8 Win Shares / Actual Salary $3,700,000 / Fair Salary $7,723,689

This is probably the only really head-scratching result we get when looking at fair salary based on win shares. I think we can all agree that Fisher was not good last season and certainly not worth nearly $8 million. So how does the analysis suggest he is? The answer is in the limitations of attributing win shares for defense to individual contributions.

Fisher had only 1.2 offensive win shares in the regular season, placing him between Shannon Brown (1.1) and Matt Barnes (1.4), a result that most fans would find reasonable. Defensively, however, he's credited with 2.5 win shares, double what he provided on the offensive end. No one in their sane mind would argue Fisher was better on defense than offense, even with a substandard offensive performance. Fortunately for Fish, defensive win shares are difficult to assign to individuals and thus he's receiving a lot of credit for playing with a lineup full of above-average defenders who helped cover his weaknesses.

Another reason for the high fair salary is his strong playoff performance. Lost among the disappointing exit the Lakers endured at the hands of the Mavericks was Derek's very efficient postseason. Derek is asked to do two things offensively: hit open threes and not turn the ball over. In the playoffs he made 41% of his threes and had only eight turnovers in 10 games. And he actually was credited with 36 assists (second most on the team) giving him an assist to turnover ratio of 4.5. That's exactly what the Lakers need from Fisher. It's no surprise then that he had a decent offensive win share total in the playoffs and really helped to increase his fair salary.

If we were to adjust his fair salary to reflect a more realistic contribution on the defensive end, it would certainly go down a couple million dollars but he still would have contributed at a level commensurate with his actual salary. In the end I think Dr. Buss would not have any hard feelings about paying Derek just under $4 million for his contributions. He certainly was worth it this past season, although  he likely won't be in the upcoming years as father time continues to wear on him.

Ron Artest: 6.5 Win Shares / Actual Salary $6,322,320 / Fair Salary $8,655,858

Artest had the season Lakers fans have come to expect. He provided solid on-the-ball defense, and his quick and strong hands led to a large number of steals. Offensively he did connect on threes at a decent rate (35.6%) and did not turn the ball over often. While he will never be the player he was in his prime, he brings effort every night and as a result contributes enough to earn the salary he's being paid. Dr. Buss may be concerned about the length of Artest's contract and whether he'll be worth it in the final years, but he shouldn't be concerned about this past season. He got his money's worth from Artest and given Ron's antics and Odom's reality show, Buss is getting enough live entertainment he can probably forego cable or satellite and save a few bucks if needed.

Andrew Bynum: 9.6 Win Shares / Actual Salary $13,700,000 / Fair Salary $12,784,036

Bynum played to both the hopes and frustrations of the Laker fanbase this year. When he was focused on playing D and rebounding the Lakers looked like the favorites to win the title, as during their post All-Star break surge. When he wasn't, the Lakers simply looked like a collection of great talent lacking that certain something to take them to the very top of the mountain.

Drew's one of the few players in the league who can control the defensive end of the court by themselves. The Lakers' D was designed to force the opposition right into Bynum and make shots incredibly difficult. When performed properly the defense was otherworldly. This type of performance is well worth his salary and more. Unfortunately for the Lakers, Bynum did not solely focus on the defensive end. There were a few occasions when Bynum's attention shifted to getting touches and his spot in the "pecking order," and as a result the Lakers' play suffered. He gave just enough to impress us and leave us wanting more yet showed just enough flaws to leave us frustrated by the lack of what could have been.

In regard to injuries, he did not suffer the season-ending knee injury we've become accustomed to seeing. That doesn't mean his year was void of injury discussion, though, as he missed a significant portion of the season rehabbing from an injury suffered at the end of the 2009-10 campaign. It was understood that he would miss a few games due to the recovery time, and most Lakers fans were willing to give him the time so long as he returned 100% healthy. If only it were that simple. Soon the return dates were being pushed back as the procedure and recovery time changed.  Then frustrations mounted as it emerged that Bynum pushed the surgery back to attend the World Cup instead. The wear and tear on fellow teammate Pau Gasol, who had to shoulder a larger load for an extended period of time, was likely one of the reasons for the Lakers' early exit this year. Perhaps three less weeks of carrying the inside load himself would have made Pau more effective in the playoffs. We'll never know, though, as Bynum decided soccer (or futbol) was more important.

It's somewhat ironic then that Bynum just missed earning a fair salary close to what he was paid. His performance matched his salary but was roughly three weeks too short. Had he undergone the surgery prior to the World Cup and returned three weeks earlier he would've earned a salary equal to what he was paid. Dr. Buss can't be pleased that he still had to pay Bynum for services not provided because of important engagements, such as watching soccer. Drew still has a little growing up to do.

Pau Gasol: 17.4 Win Shares / Actual Salary $17,823,000 / Fair Salary $24,171,066

Gasol had a very good season this year. Many people focus solely on his fade down the stretch and especially in the playoffs. However, his season as a whole was quite productive. Gasol was considered by many to be the best power forward in the league and while that title has likely been reassigned to the appropriate owner, Dirk Nowitzki, no one would argue that Pau isn't a lock for top three in that discussion.

Gasol's early-season performance was spectacular. Many pundits were labeling him not only the Lakers' MVP but possibly a league MVP as well. The Lakers played well despite missing Bynum solely because Pau was playing at a level rarely seen and he was doing it consistently night after night during the first month and half. Unfortunately the long delay of Bynum's return left Gasol carrying too large a load for far too long and left him with little in the tank when the end of the season came around. As a result, he struggled and so did the Lakers.

Salaries are paid evenly throughout the year and not based solely on the final month of the season. As a result Gasol definitely played above his actual salary and not by any small margin either. He led the Lakers in win shares and thus, looking solely at on-court performance as measured by win shares, deserved the highest salary. Going forward Dr. Buss should have no problem paying Gasol roughly $18 million to get the performance of a top 10 player in the league.

Kobe Bryant: 12.4 Win Shares / Actual Salary $24,806,250 / Fair Salary $16,512,713

Kobe has been the undisputed best player on the Lakers since Shaq was traded. This was probably the first season in which any case could be made for him not being number one on the team in terms of performance. It doesn't mean that he was poor by any stretch of the imagination.  He was still one of the league's best players, but he happened to have a teammate, Gasol, who was either equally good (if not slightly better) and Gasol was forced to play significantly more minutes, thus contributing even more in total.

Kobe's regular season was measured, both in minutes and in total effort. He was constantly conserving energy knowing that he no longer had an infinite supply and needed some in reserve for the playoffs. This led to one of the weaker performances in the regular season for Kobe Bryant, but the fact that it was still enough to warrant MVP discussion speaks to his undeniable abilities. In the postseason he was severely limited by an ankle injury that left him without the explosive first step that he and Lakers need of him. He wasn't quite able to set the table for the rest of the team by forcing defenses to react to him and then finding the open player. Instead he became a jump shooter and a good one at that, but the rest of the team struggled without their primary playmaker at full health.

The result is that based narrowly on our win-shares tool, Kobe did not actually earn his full salary with his on-court performance. He did play well enough to warrant over $16.5 million in salary so he did do many things right, but it's almost impossible for a player to play well enough to earn nearly $25 million in strictly on-court contributions. When one considers that Kobe puts butts in the seats, sells tickets and draws TV ratings like no other player on the Lakers and arguably the league, his off-court contributions make his salary well worth it to Dr. Buss. Buss has already made a significant amount of money on Kobe in past years when his performances were even better while his salary significantly less. Paying another $25 million this season to the "black mamba" should be pretty easy to stomach for the man.

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