The Great Mambino: According to all reports, the Lakers are hot on the trail of Goran Dragic. The Phoenix Suns point guard has notified the Suns that he doesn't intend to re-sign and play amongst a three-guard rotation that includes Eric Bledsoe and Isaiah Thomas.
Let's start off on a positive note here: what's the most compelling singular reason the Lakers would trade for him? Price? Bird rights? Another conclusion that I'm not thinking of that your Ivy League brain has come to?
Ben Rosales: The primary reason to trade for him is to acquire his Bird rights, and thus become the only team able to offer him a fifth year on his upcoming contract. Since Dragic will be 29 this summer and is likely looking for his last big deal in the NBA, this likely carries significant weight in his thinking, although the notion of paying $23-24 million for a 34-year-old point guard, should the Lakers max him out, isn't an appetizing one, even with the cap exploding in 2016. It merits consideration if only because it offers the Lakers a very good chance of ultimately retaining him, but it is also accompanied with numerous risks besides the fact that we would be overpaying for him.
Before we get to those risks, however, trading for Dragic does allow the Lakers to maintain a bit of cap flexibility. As he currently makes only $7.5 million, he would exert a cap hold of $11.25 million this summer, giving the Lakers a little over $10 million or so in cap space depending on where they draft and what assets they gave up to acquire him. That's not even remotely in the range of a 25% max contract ($17 million) but it does give them the ability to add some pieces before signing Dragic to his five-year deal. If they didn't trade for him, they'd simply fork over the entirety of their cap space (roughly $20 million this summer after the draft, again depending on where they draft, thus the starting point for Dragic's 30% max) and give him a four-year, $80+ million deal, only being left with the room exception and minimum contracts after that.
While the positives do sound enticing, acquiring Dragic screws with the most important consideration the Lakers have at the moment, which is keeping their own first rounder. Although their grip on the pick has strengthened as of late, it still remains a dangerous uncertainty to gamble with and getting Dragic would screw with that calculus significantly. Your thoughts on whether the aforementioned benefits outweigh the risk of losing a top prospect?
The Great Mambino: Since this news surfaced, it's been my #1 concern. I agree with your assertion that Bird rights are the number one reason to grab him now--dare him to leave money on the table, a feat that uh, rarely ever happens.
Let's get this straight--Goran Dragic is, at best, a Third Team All-NBA type player. That's the territory for players like Zach Randolph, Al Horford and Chauncey Billups, when they're on good to great teams. Dragic isn't getting the Lakers to play .500 ball the rest of the season by his lonesome, nor is he going to lead the sea change in terms of defensive efficiency. In other words, he's a star, even an All-Star, but not a superstar.
But he is a very skilled guard who can finish games on his own, a point of execution the Lakers have sorely lacked this season. The thought of Dragic coming in and perhaps winning that extra pair of games could be the percentage point differential between the 5th pick and the 6th pick.
I'm not saying that trading for Dragic will knock the Lakers out of that top-5 positioning. Far from it. The Lakers are 27 games under .500 and just a handful of games back from having the worst record in the league. However, trading for a All-NBA talent turns a dead-red home run fast ball into a 12 to 6 curve. And I'm not into that.
In some ways, grabbing Dragic isn't just sacrificing the assets it'd take to get him now, but you're also giving your tenuous hold on a draft pick an even looser grip. It's like giving up two draft selections, one with conditional protection. To me, that's not worth it, especially when he could be signed for nothing this summer. What are your thoughts on the cost/benefit equation? And what do you think it'll take to acquire him?
Ben Rosales: I don't see it as a worthwhile gamble. The importance of the Lakers' own first rounder cannot be overstated. Getting a premium talent on a cheap deal is a huge boost to the rebuilding process, the bust risk notwithstanding, as it gives the Lakers a ton of flexibility to seek out big FAs like Dragic while developing potential franchise cornerstones. It would be incredibly short-sighted to do anything to mess with this.
And as you noted, Dragic moves the needle for the Lakers in a worrisome direction. The gap between the Lakers and the other tanking teams isn't that great even when you look at recent trends, as despite having Jordan Hill and others on the sidelines, they've barely eked out some wins over other teams in the lottery.
This becomes especially poignant when you consider what the Lakers would likely give up in such a trade. To match salaries, you likely have to deal either Jordan Hill or Jeremy Lin and the sweetener would likely be the first rounder the Lakers acquired from Houston. Hill's been out the past few weeks and Dragic's a massive upgrade on Lin, so however you splice things, the Lakers are gaining a significant short-term upgrade. Again, as you said, Dragic's not a superstar, but he's a very good player who makes a difference when we're talking about awful teams for whom a minor tilt in the talent pool means a big drop in the tank rankings.
Also, consider that package we're offering. If Dragic leaves for whatever reason and we lose the first rounder, then we're left with nothing: no Dragic, no Houston pick, and no top-five prospect. That a Dragic move would make this a conceivable reality is simply unacceptable.
Lastly, per the latest report from ESPN's Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne, the Suns counter-offered Isaiah Thomas and the Lakers turned them down. What do you think about that one? It has a lot of similar problems in my book and I think Dragic's better, but it's probably worth addressing.
The Great Mambino: First of all, I agree with most everything you're throwing out here. I'd also like to make a note that Dragic leaving for nothing is an even more stark reality when considering who the coach is. In many ways, I'm not sure what Byron's offensive scheme is. He's rarely had talent on the team to realize any decent scoring actions and I'm not sure if his de-emphasis on passing is intentional or simply because this team is so bereft of capable ball handlers. Regardless of the situation, I'm still convinced that a 30-game exposure to Byron could really convince Dragic to not want to re-sign with LA.
However, let me throw this at you: this season, more than ever, has convinced me that star players never change teams without a veteran lure to get them there. LeBron joined Kyrie Irving and the guarantee that Kevin Love would soon be a Cavalier. He did the same four years earlier with Wade and then Bosh. Deron Williams stayed in Brooklyn because Joe Johnson had just been acquired to team with Brook Lopez, but he was about to leave to join up with Dirk Nowitzki in Dallas. Dwight Howard left LA and tens of millions to join up with James Harden and Chandler Parsons.
Star players want to play with other star players. Having Dragic in the fold gives the Lakers a star player and an extra hand in negotiations that they do not currently have. Does that change the calculus at all for you? It's a compelling reason on my end. Dragic may be turned off by Byron, but the promise of playing with, say, Kevin Love (cap gymnastics needed for that one), Kobe and two first round picks? Looks a lot more appetizing than just a broken down Kobe, an unproven Randle and a lot of cap room for potentially no one.
To answer your question then, I think Isaiah Thomas is a nice piece, but he doesn't help the team achieve the aforementioned goal of a building block. He's a very good rotation player, perhaps the next heir to the Jamal Crawford instant-offense mantle. But he's not Dragic. I don't think he'd be worth the price that the Lakers would have to pay for him, and I certainly don't think he's better than a similar player the Lakers could get in free agency for nothing. What are your thoughts on Isaiah? And of my theory in regard to building blocks?
Ben Rosales: I like Isaiah and before it became apparent that this year was a one-way tank path towards that draft pick, I was an advocate of signing him at something close to the bargain price he eventually got from Phoenix. As mentioned, however, I think he has a lot of similar problems as Dragic with regard to screwing up the tank, albeit not as magnified. Regardless, I'm not particularly high on the notion of giving up the Houston pick for him to jeopardize the tank, even if we would have Thomas under contract after this year.
As for your building block theory, I definitely endorse the concept. A lot of what we've talked about is the team building a foundation, but the purpose of that foundation is to show other players that LA is a location worth considering. Naturally, getting that first big piece to come to LA is the issue, hence why we're talking about overpaying Dragic with a four-year deal worth more than $80 million, but the moment you start that upward trajectory, it starts to become a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Anyhow, I wouldn't necessarily sell Dragic on Love -- it's practically impossible to make the cap numbers work -- but rather that he's the lure along with Randle and the Lakers' top five pick this year for the big 2016 free agents, Kevin Durant chief among them. That might be a tough sell for a guy going into his 30s, but again, that's why we're reportedly willing to pay him over $80 million. (As a quick aside, this $20 million per year figure would still leave the Lakers able to offer multiple maximum deals in 2016; the cap explosion is that big)
And this probably puts LA on the map. They would have a top 15 or so point guard along with two blue chip young talents along with an interesting panoply of role players in Clarkson, Young, Kelly, and Black. This might ultimately be insufficient to attract the cream of the 2016 crop, but it's a good step in the right direction, a happy development considering the team's recent woes.
The Great Mambino: Even if the Lakers sign or trade for Dragic, this is just the first of many steps to get back into playoff and potentially title contention. The Lakers are more than a year away in my eyes and signing a star PG is just step one. There's almost no realistic circumstance in which I'd trade for him--getting him is simply too risky in terms of this year's draft pick, the potential ceiling of which is a greater value add than getting Dragic's Bird rights.