Kobe Bryant. Done for the season. Julius Randle. The very same fate. Steve Nash. It was over before it even began.
A little more than halfway through this season, the Lakers have been racked with injuries to three players that many figured would be the primary cogs in Byron Scott's offensive system. Even Nick Young, one of the better shot creators on the squad, has been hobbled by injuries to his ankle and shooting hand.
With four different shot creators on the IR right now, which Laker has the biggest opportunity to make himself some money next year?
Harrison Faigen: The Laker with the best opportunity right now to make himself some money next year has to be Wayne Ellington. A starter now that Kobe is lost for the year, Ellington went from being a feel-good footnote of the season to real minutes, and he has produced when given a chance. With a TS% of 54.5 (best among Lakers guards), mostly earned by his floor spacing ability, Ellington could be exactly the type of guard a contending team could talk itself into as a bench sniper. If Ellington continues his strong play of the last few weeks he could earn himself a bit of a payday this summer as teams throw around ludicrous amounts of TV money. Not bad for a guy who was prognosticated by most during the preseason as a likely candidate to be cut before his contract became fully guaranteed.
Ben Rosales: For the past few years, Carlos Boozer has been a poster case for the amnesty clause provision in the new CBA, the Bulls' surprising reluctance to set him free until this past offseason notwithstanding, and was justifiably seen as an increasingly limited offensive player who could no longer overcome his defensive deficiencies. For the most part, this was the case when Boozer was inexplicably starting games for a rebuilding Lakers squad, but he has gained new life as a bench reserve and laid the blueprint for the next few years of his career. Observe the splits: 12.4/6.6/1.5 on a 51.7 TS% as a starter, as opposed to 12.2/7.3/1.0 on a 55.2 TS% as a reserve. In addition to the pick-and-pop shooting he was expected to show, Boozer has been surprisingly capable off the dribble and in the post against bench bigs. He still can't defend all that well but that becomes less of an issue against those same bench bigs and he has been one of the primary focal points of the bench's offense. Should this continue, he'll definitely command more than the minimum he was originally expected to get this upcoming offseason.
Drew Garrison: It definitely seems like Carlos Boozer would have the biggest "opportunity" to boost his free agent value. He'll never again get the kind of contract the Chicago Bulls gave him, but if he can come off as an off-the-bench veteran power forward for the rest of the season, he might just fool a team into giving him more money than he's actually worth. GET 'DAT money, Boozer.
Which Laker has thus far lost himself the most free agent money by his performance without Kobe, Young, Nash and Randle?
Harrison Faigen: This is interesting, because the question implies that the player who is the answer had money to lose. This eliminates Ronnie Price, Tarik Black, and Wayne Ellington, who all would be looking at around the veteran's minimum in free agency anyway and only really have money to gain. And was anyone really going to pay the forever aggressively mediocre Wesley Johnson if he scored on a couple more of the isolations he is being force fed now that the Lakers Decepticon has finished its transformation into a tank?
The only real answers to this question are Jeremy Lin or Ed Davis. Since Davis has largely played at or above his career norms, and he does not have the added appeal of a franchise overpaying him slightly to bring his rabid fanbase aboard, the answer has to be Jeremy Lin.
Some of the blame for Lin's subpar play undoubtedly falls on mismanagement by Byron Scott, but some of the blame has to fall on the player himself. Lin should have easily seized the reins of the point guard position once Steve Nash was lost for the season, but instead he has turned the ball over on 19.8% of his possessions, while posting his worst offensive rating (102) since his rookie year. Lin has shown who he is at this point, a good pick and roll point guard who struggles when placed in most other sets. That should be worthy of being a team's well paid back up option, but Lin has struggled so much with the Lakers he may have to settle for a "prove it" deal with a team willing to gamble on his upside.
Ben Rosales: There was never any doubt that Jeremy Lin is overpaid for his current production but the stigma from that contract has disguised the reality that Lin's a pretty serviceable backup point guard. 14.2 PER guards who can hit threes, run the P&R well, and push the ball in transition decently don't grow on trees and it stands that quite a few teams would be interested in him as a result. This might still be the case but his hullabaloo with Byron Scott has the potential to ultimately damage his value this summer, whether justified or no. The vast amounts of scorn heaped on Byron on this website, among others, for benching Lin in favor of Ronnie Price notwithstanding, the reality is still that Lin failed to keep his starting spot over a highly underwhelming Lakers point guard corps. That's something that will be on the mind of every potential suitor this summer when considering how much money to offer him and Lin will have few opportunities to change this perception given that Jordan Clarkson appears to be penciled in as the starter for the rest of the season for developmental purposes.
Drew Garrison: Jeremy Lin, without question, has lost himself the most money this season. He couldn't stick as a starter over Ronnie Price and is now third-string as Jordan Clarkson gets a chance to develop. This was Lin's chance to seize the Lakers' opportunity at point guard, play his tail off during a contract year, and find himself a nice home in the summer. Instead, he's been average at best and hasn't given much reason for any team to think he's worth signing to even a mid-tier contract.
The CDP: Jeremy Lin. I know that Byron Scott, Kobe Bryant, and everyone else has been tough on Lin, but he's also failed to take the reins of this team. Yes, it was totally unfair that Ronnie Price was starting over Jeremy Lin and he's probably an average to above-average point guard. But the dude is getting paid $15MM this year and has failed to assert himself. Especially after Kobe went down, you could really see Lin having the chance to showcase his talents on the pick and roll, chemistry with Ed Davis, and outside shooting. There's no doubt that Lin has NBA talent and skills that should keep him in this league, but his inability to earn minutes on this injury-ravaged squad would really concern me if I was an NBA GM. After this season's performance, Lin will probably be a back-up PG (almost certainly not for the Lakers) and paid as such. He'll probably drop from $15MM this year to the $3-5MM deals you see competent back-ups get around the league.