As you have surely heard by now, the Los Angeles Lakers reportedly signed Timofey Mozgov to a four-year, $64 million deal on the first night of free agency. The now former Cleveland Cavaliers center was Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak's first call of free agency, and the two sides moved swiftly to make a deal happen.
The reaction was swift, a unique cocktail of fury and bewilderment that was previously only thought possible if the Lakers re-signed Dwight Howard to a max contract and announced plans to start him at point guard.
Lakers fans on social media were despondent. Analysts overreacted (yours truly among them), with questions generally falling into three categories. Let's answer them in order:
1) "Why did they sign him for so much money?"
To put it simply, because the NBA's cap situation is bananas right now. Teams have more money than they know what to do. The wake of the rising cap is going to lead to a tsunami of spending, the Lakers were just the first part of the wave to hit the shore.
In fact, when taking a step back, the annual salary is at the very least defensible, even if it might be a slight overpay. However, as Eric Pincus of Basketball Insiders expertly explained, the price tag is not as bad as the initial sticker shock.
Cap proj. is $107M but could reach $110+ mil for 17/8 - Mozgov's $ would be 14.3% - equivalent to $10M on $70M cap https://t.co/gN523LCRta— Eric Pincus (@EricPincus) July 1, 2016
Is Mozzy worth $10 million under last year's cap? Probably. And while it's impossible to know how much other team's would have offered Mozgov, when thinking about it in these terms it seems relatively reasonable, except possibly that fourth year the Lakers gave him, which leads us to our next question.
2) "Why is the deal four years?"
This part is legitimately perplexing. Mozgov is 29-years old, and as anyone who has watched the NBA for any extended length of time can tell you, plodding big men like him age fast once they start to decline. Did the front office really need to offer that fourth-year?
No one knows right now, but one thing possibly in the Lakers favor is that the structure of the deal is still unknown. The third and/or fourth years could very well be subject to partial guarantees, or the last year might be a team option. If either of those scenarios are the case, the contract at least looks a little better.
3) "Wasn't this guy basically benched for the Cavaliers entire Finals run?"
Yes, but that was more of a function of the Cavaliers' roster. Tristan Thompson is a better offensive rebounder and more versatile defender than Mozgov, two traits Cleveland heavily utilized during their journey to the franchise's first title.
The team also traded for Channing Frye to play as a stretch-five, and both of those factors led to many forgetting that Mozgov was a huge part of Cavs run through the Eastern Conference just last year. The team outscored opponents by 11 points per 100 possessions while Mozgov was on the floor after his midseason acquisition, which ranked first on the team, even ahead of even LeBron James' 9.8 net rating.
So what does Mozgov do well that allowed him to have such effectiveness for the Cavaliers last season? A couple of things.
When Drew Garrison and I were going through the editorial process for his piece on Hassan Whiteside's effectiveness out of pick-and-rolls this week, we both had a good laugh at the seeming randomness of Mozgov's name showing up on this chart of the most efficient dive men in the league this season:
But while Mozgov may not look the part of a pick-and-roll dynamo, he does set teeth-rattling screens and is more than capable of rolling to the basket effectively (the second of which he does in the clip below):
Mozgov is not going to be dunking on guys at the tin all year, obviously, but the numbers paint a picture of the best pick-and-roll partner Jordan Clarkson and D'Angelo Russell will have ever played with. His screens will free them to take on big men one-on-one with a full head of steam, and his lumbering to the basket will give them a downhill threat they were so often lacking last year.
Mozgov also seems to have a good sense of when to move without the ball in order to find seams in the defense for easy buckets. Mozgov notices his man totally has his back turned to him, so he gets to the basket and makes himself a target:
On the other end, Mozgov can utilize his length to make opponents shoot over him by dropping back towards the rim:
He can also protect the basket from the weakside:
Don't get it twisted, though. All of the things listed above are reasons this signing could work out, but Mozgov's contract is not all sunshine and rainbows. For one thing, he may end up suffering from ongoing knee problems due to not properly rehabbing after offseason surgery last summer:
"Mozgov had a bad knee and he shouldn't have started the season when he did," ESPN's Brian Windhorst said during his weekly radio show ‘Hey Windy' on ESPN 1540 KNR2 in Cleveland. "He should have been more worried about rehabbing his knee.
"The surgery that they performed last summer was not a success but he felt pressure to play really well because he saw a massive paycheck coming his way. It was the combination of worrying about the contract and an unhealthy knee and a changing role on the team that all contributed to him having a down year."
Mozgov's points per game average has plummeted from 10.6 during his time with the Cavs last season to just 6.3 this year. His rebounding numbers have also dipped to below five per game.
Both drop-offs could be attributed to his dwindling number of minutes, averaging almost 10 less than he did last season, but the fact of the matter is that his play hasn't justified earned playing time.
Last season he started 45 out of a possible 46 games for Cleveland, this year just 48 out of 76 opportunities.
"He had a cyst in his knee that they removed," Windhorst added in detail to the summer surgery. "The removing of the cyst didn't completely heal the issue and there's the possibility that he may need another surgery."
Windhorst reiterated that an additional surgery is possible but not guaranteed.
Well that sounds terrible, but don't worry, it gets worse.
Even if he's fully healthy (as friend of the site Adam Mares pointed out on Twitter shortly after news of the signing) Mozgov is a nightmare defending the pick-and-roll, otherwise known as possibly the most frequently run play in the modern NBA.
That type of ineptitude is kind of a big deal, and was a giant factor in Cleveland's decision to bench him for the stretch run, and further reason everything written before this might be wrong and this contract could be a total disaster:
@DrewGarrisonSBN Hi pnr defense is not great. https://t.co/Ikq9rNMPDo— Adam Mares (@Adam_Mares) July 1, 2016
If Mozgov can get back to the effectiveness he showed prior to last season, then this signing won't look so bad under a balooning cap. It would still be a slight overpay, but the Lakers were always going to have to pay a premium to bring any talent to their 17-win team. Mozgov has some skills that the Lakers need, and he finally fills their hole at center. It's possible to see what the front office was aiming for here.
However, it's also possible Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss totally reached here, especially when considering Mozgov's possible health issues that might cause him problems in the first year of this four-year deal. Big men with knee issues are always a risk, and the Lakers just bet big on one. Whether that bet will boom or bust has yet to be determined, but until Mozgov's health status is known and we see what types of contracts the rest of the players on the market get, it's impossible to know whether or not this was as bad of a signing as the heat of the moment reaction would have most believe.
All stats per NBA.com. You can follow this author on Twitter at @hmfaigen.