The Los Angeles Lakers front office’s decision making in free agency has been one of the most scrutinized aspects of the team over the last several years since Dwight Howard departed for the Houston Rockets. Howard had his reasons for leaving, but it was the first time a major free agent had left the Lakers.
Since that drop of blood was sniffed in the water, the sharks have begun to circle. The team’s decision to hold off on locking in their own guys (outside of Kobe Bryant’s mammoth extension) and keep their cap open the last few summers to chase superstars has been debated over and over, as was their choice to continue to roll their cap over to the next year by signing stopgap options on one-year deals.
That cycle changed this summer. The Lakers signed veterans Timofey Mozgov and Luol Deng to gargantuan long-term deals over the offseason, but those weren’t the only two contributors they chased. Los Angeles also pursued former Lakers wing Kent Bazemore, but he turned down their advances to return to the Atlanta Hawks, which led to the Lakers signing Deng shortly thereafter.
Bazemore (at age 27) arguably would have fit the Lakers’ young team’s timeline for contention better than Deng (who is 31-years old). Despite the Lakers’ need on the wing seemingly making Bazemore a perfect fit though, there were off the court reasons he ultimately decided to pass on their offer.
It turns out Bazemore, much like an elephant, never forgets, as he explained to Mark Medina of the O.C. Register:
Atlanta Hawks forward Kent Bazemore rejected the Lakers’ four-year, $72 million offer last summer before re-signing with Atlanta on a four-year, $70 million deal. After joking he made the move to save on taxes, Bazemore acknowledged his decision partly stemmed from the Lakersdeclining a $1.1 million qualifying offer to make him a restricted free agent in 2014. After striking out on James, Anthony and Gasol, the Lakersalso narrowed in on Jeremy Lin, Nick Young and Jordan Hill before pursuing Bazemore. He agreed to a two-year deal worth $6 million with Atlanta shortly afterward.
“One thing you want in this league is to be wanted. They didn’t pick it up for that little amount of money,” Bazemore said. “So that showed how much they believed in me and my abilities. That closed that chapter.”
There were other reasons for Bazemore to pass on the Lakers. The team has a much less competitive roster than the Hawks, and Bazemore explained to Medina why Atlanta was a comfortable and familiar situation for himself as well.
That being said, this does highlight the issue with letting a potential young contributor go for nothing.
While Anthony Brown is far from the level of play Bazemore had displayed so it’s not an apples to apples comparison, if he ever figures out how to make shots in an NBA arena like he did in college ones, the Lakers’ decision to let him go towards the end of training camp in order to keep more seasoned contributors could come back to bite them.
The team’s decision in both cases is defensible, but it’s also worth noting that it can backfire.
Harrison Faigen is co-host of the Locked on Lakers podcast (subscribe here), and you can follow him on Twitter at @hmfaigen.