Every week up until the sounding bell of the player signing period in July, we'll be polling the SS&R writing staff to see what their thoughts are on the Los Angeles Lakers' upcoming free agents, their potential market value and whether or not they'll be in the purple and gold next season. Our first summer free agent: Wayne Ellington
Coming into training camp as a non-roster invitee, Wayne Ellington couldn't have imagined that he'd end up starting 36 games for the Lakers and playing 65 games overall. In fact, there's very little that the then five year veteran could have hoped for past a nice four-week exposure tour running with the purple and gold in the preseason. However, as the laundry list of Lakers injuries started to pile up even in training camp, it became quite clear that Ellington would serve on the Lakers far past what anyone could have expected when he was signed by LA in late September.
After a fine season with the team subbing in for the likes of Kobe Bryant, Xavier Henry and Nick Young, the swingman's free agent case has been made. Where will he land next season?
What do you feel is a fair free market contract for Wayne Ellington?
Harrison Faigen: Ellington has often been compared to Jodie Meeks in his 2013-14 season with the Lakers, and the comparison is not bad. Per-36 minutes, Ellington (14 points, 41.2% FG, 37% on 3's) was basically a poor man's version of Meeks in his last season with the Lakers (17 points, 46.3% FG, 40.1% on 3's). If Meeks was able to get $6 million per year from the Detroit Pistons, I could easily see Ellington getting $3-4 million per year or more for his approximation of Meeks' skill set as the cap rises.
Jameson Miller: $2-3 million annually over 1-2 years. It's not difficult to see Ellington's career continuing along its decidedly "journeyman" trajectory, netting him relatively cheap year-to-year contracts from teams that find themselves in need of a guard to come off the bench, play 20-25 minutes, hit open shots and be a positive locker room presence. Wayne is the classic case iof a guy whose talent level merits him being part of an NBA team, yet he's not quite good enough to earn big money or long-term security. He'll likely never be sought after, but someone always needs a Wayne Ellington.
Trevor Lane: Wayne Ellington essentially filled a Jodie Meeks-lite role for the Lakers this season and his shooting ability off the bench will generate some interest around the league. Over the course of his career Wayne has bounced around quite a bit (5 teams in 6 seasons) and will be looking for a deal that offers him some long-term security and a salary above league-minimum. Teams won't break the bank for him, but given the value of spacing in the modern NBA, a shooter like Ellington can probably expect to see a two or three year deal for an average of $3.5 million per season.
The Great Mambino: Ellington isn't a great player by any means, nor would he most likely be a rotation player for a playoff team. However, he does have one certifiable NBA skill: the dude can shoot. On top of that, he plays very hard, tries on defense and has no problem playing off ball. All this adds up to a guaranteed contract for sure, but nothing extravagant. Two years and between $3 and $4 million sounds right to me.
What do you think are the mitigating factors in the Lakers pursuing him in free agency?
Harrison Faigen: The draft and free agency. If the Lakers keep their draft pick and select D'Angelo Russell or Emmanuel Mudiay, then Jordan Clarkson will presumably spend some time at shooting guard in addition to point guard. Kobe Bryant is still on the roster, and Nick Young will almost surely play more games than he did this season. Jabari Brown will be given every chance to make the team out of training camp on his non-guaranteed deal. Ellington would seem to be a luxury at that point and probably not worth bringing back. If the Lakers go with a frontcourt player in the draft, then maybe Ellington is worth bringing back, but given the front office's recent track record of finding gems in the second round or D-League it would probably be more prudent to just give that spot to one of those guys.
Jameson Miller: Timing. While the draft and who the Lakers select will certainly play a huge role in determining what kind of backcourt help they need, the more time-sensitive issue of free agency is the key process here. It seems obvious to say, but if someone offers Wayne a contract he feels good about while the Lakers are busy swinging for the fences, he's gone. Then again, we've seen this movie before—if the Lakers use the draft on frontcourt talent and strike out in their attempt to acquire impactful backcourt players via free agency, I could see them running it back with Ellington if he's still available.
Trevor Lane: Of course the draft and free agency will play a big role in determining whether or not Ellington is brought back in purple and gold next season, but so will the continued development of Jabari Brown. Brown fills a similar role as Ellington does with his scoring and shooting off the bench but is on a non-guaranteed contract that will pay him less than a quarter of what Wayne is likely to make next year. With the Lakers once again finding themselves flush with bench players but lacking starters every little bit of salary cap space is needed to bring in talent. While Ellington's veteran experience and leadership aren't something to dismiss, there is a cheaper option already on the roster the so Lakers rightly won't hesitate to cut Wayne loose if it means bringing in marquee talent.
The Great Mambino: It has to be both the roster crunch and timing. The Lakers have a ton of cap room and if they whiff on the premiere free agents, there are many slots to fill with mid-tier free agents whose deals may look small in comparison in a year. Ellington can't be a priority for the Lakers, so there's also a question of whether or not another team will snap him up while the organization is trying to fry a few bigger fish.
Do you feel that the Lakers should bring Wayne Ellington back next year?
Harrison Faigen: As stated above, the Lakers are facing a potential logjam in the backcourt even before prognosticating on who they will select in the second round, so it is probably time to thank Ellington for his services and professionalism before wishing him the best of luck on his new team.
Jameson Miller: While you would never look at this year's team as a whole and say it's a good idea to keep the band together, in looking at each individual, it becomes more difficult to say, "Oh this guy's got to go." Before you know it, you're re-upping on the worst team in franchise history. Short answer: no, they need to give some young blood a shot.
Trevor Lane: I'd like to say yes, I really would. As a long-range threat off the bench who can also occasionally make plays for teammates and employ solid defense he is an ideal reserve guard. Ellington also showed heart in playing through the tragedy of his father's murder, and sets a great example for the younger players on the team. While the youth movement is in full swing there need to be a few non-Kobe veterans around to teach the kids how to become pros, and given his career of scratching and clawing to survive Wayne can speak from a different perspective. However, last summer the Lakers allowed solid reserves like Jordan Farmar, Jodie Meeks, Kent Bazemore, and Kendall Marshall to leave while chasing bigger fish, and I expect more of the same this off-season. As much as Wayne Ellington deserves to be brought back he is a role player and the cold, hard truth is that he is replaceable. Sadly, if another team gives him a long-term deal it makes sense for the Lakers to let him go.
The Great Mambino: Yes. His performance this past season should warrant a guaranteed deal, though one that's small in money and length. He's proven himself to be a reliable substitute at the back of the bench that can give a bit of production in small bursts if a starter or true rotation player gets injured. To me, that's worth reserving a spot on the Lakers' roster next year.