For the past several seasons, the focus was on the summer. The 2010 NBA champions had become a quickly fading memory and it became apparent that the team needed to reload. Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol were entering their mid-thirties and the next generation of championship contending Lakers were not in sight. As the team was routinely without first round picks (and when they had them, they selected well out of the lottery), the focus gravitated towards, of course, summer free agency, The Lakers needed to bring on some new blood with cold hard cash--the idea of building through the draft was not exactly the first option.
The rebirth of the Lake Show pointed to July.
That aforementioned summer was almost one year ago. And the 21-59 Lakers are the product of how that summer went.
The front office went after all the top guys of that class, offering maximum salaried deals to LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dirk Nowitzki. They struck out each time. Instead, the team kept their flexibility rolling until the next summer, replicating their plan for another year. The organization is holding out hope that summer 2015 is wholly different from summer 2014 and the rebuild can truly jump start.
However, looking at the landscape of the league, it doesn't appear that it's going to be as easy as all that. In fact, this supposed free agent bonanza might be as limited as it was one year ago. The last man standing--and maybe future Laker--could be Rajon Rondo.
Rondo's pedigree isn't hard to see. Four-time All-Star, two-time First Team All-Defense, two-time Second Team All-Defense and a 2008 NBA title at the expense of Kobe Bryant and the Lakers. He's an all-world passer and such a fierce competitor that he's earned the pronounced vocal respect of the Black Mamba himself. He's a proven star in many respects and one still in his twenties.
But it seems like the reasons not to sign him far outweigh the reasons in favor of it. Harrison Faigen covered many of them here, the least of which includes the emergence of Jordan Clarkson and the fact that Rajon Rondo...might not be that good.
However, looking at the landscape of the league and where the Lakers are at, I see Rondo's signing as an inevitability rather than a simple theory. Let's take a look at the reasons:
Who else is taking the Lakers' money?
Depending on several different decisions in the coming months, the Lakers could have as much as $30 million to throw at free agents. However, who is taking the money? Many of the big name players such as LaMarcus Aldridge, Marc Gasol and Goran Dragic are rumored to be staying with their current teams (or have flat out stated that leaving just isn't in the cards). Restricted free agents Jimmy Butler and Kawhi Leonard are likely to have any offers made to them matched by the Chicago Bulls and San Antonio Spurs, respectively. DeAndre Jordan, Paul Millsap and Brandon Knight would happily take max money, though the latter two might not be worth it and DJ is likely to stick on the other side of the STAPLES Center hallway.
Cleveland's Kevin Love is the wildcard here and his free agent fate is likely tied to how well the Cavaliers do this spring. Even with his very public unhappiness with his role in Cleveland, would the former Bruin be willing to go to another rebuilding project in LA when a championship contender is right in front of his face, offering him five years and over $100 million dollars?
The Lakers will shoot for the stars as they always do, but the current situation in LA could call for another few years of rebuilding. Many of the premium free agents on the market are happy with their current contending squads or are very unlikely to turn down an extra year and between $15M and $20M. After all, when does that ever happen...?
Well, another exception may be Rondo.
Rondo wants the money and wants to be wanted
Rajon Rondo knows he's good. This recent (excellent) piece by Baxter Holmes confirms the point guard as a highly intelligent player whose skill and commitment to the game often leads to conflict with teammates and coaches. It's no surprise that he connects so well with Kobe Bryant, another highly intellectual player that believes his way has to be the best way to win.
It's hard to say that Rondo's recent spats with Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle confirms his view of himself as the center piece of an offense, but at the same time, it's hard not to extract that from it. He's a four-time All-Star and a former champion--Rondo knows he's good. He wants max money and in a summer where many free agents may stay with their incumbent teams, it's hard to see him thinking he won't get it. From what I gather about him, he'll be going for as much money as humanly possible.
Now it's just a matter of who he thinks will give it to him.
The Lakers NEED to spend their cap money
The Lakers front office has preached patience for three years now. They've actively passed on trades that would require them to take on long-term money and avoided contracts that would prohibit them from making a max contract deal last summer and of course, this summer. The Lakers have sacrificed singles and doubles in lieu of taking a swing at the home run pitch (for example, they missed out on bidding for All-Star starting guard Kyle Lowry because they were trying to land Carmelo Anthony).
Management has publicly stated that flexibility is king, in terms of cap room and assets. But with the worst season in franchise history already locked in and perhaps an unprecedented third straight lottery bound season on the horizon, Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak will be under more pressure than ever to show some discernible progress. Landing a former All-Star would be the sort of immediate jump start that's far preferred in LA over watching Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson and future lottery pick (...hopefully) come together over the next few seasons. The Lakers striking out in free agency for two consecutive summers isn't really the best PR move, nor one the team wants to make.
That might mean shelling out money to a player whose actual skill is firmly outweighed by his perceived skill.
The Lakers want to have star power
This team is going to finish around 40 games under .500. They are, in many ways, damn near unwatchable on some nights. However, next season, I suspect that they'll be near the same number of National TV appearances, despite coming off the worst year in team history. Why? Kobe Bryant and his star power.
The Lakers sell tickets in this town because of Bean. The team craves another star to pair on the marquee--Nick Young, Jeremy Lin and Carlos Boozer aren't exactly the images a 16-time champion wants to throw up on a TNT Thursday graphic, you know?
Is Rajon Rondo the player the Lakers need? Is he still an All-Star? Is he on the downside of his career already? The answer to all three questions could be yes. But he's still a proven name and a face the Lakers can sell and drum up some interest with.
This isn't at all to say that signing Rondo is the right thing to do. To me, it just seems the most likely course of action considering how this summer's free agent class is shaping up, where the Lakers have been the past few years and the unique demands of the marketplace in which they make their home. At this point, I'm most in agreement with Harrison's article, which asserts that the Lakers would be better off riding with an emerging Clarkson rather than strapping themselves to an eight-figure yearly deal with a player who hasn't looked anything like a max contract guy in several years.
However, the Lakers (and their fanbase) are dying for a star--even if that man is a star in name only--to pair with Kobe Bryant in perhaps his last year in uniform. But given their limited choices and the unlikelihood that Rondo takes less money to play on a better team, I foresee a very happy point guard in Dallas ready to sign on the dotted line.
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