When the Los Angeles Lakers handed out whopping four-year deals to Timofey Mozgov and Luol Deng over the first few days of free agency, the assumption was twofold. One, that the team had to overpay in order to get players to agree to join what was the second worst team in the league last year, and two, that the front office wanted to bring in capable veterans to help their young core grow.
According to Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report, who wrote a column reporting on the dysfunction in Lakers’ management this past week and appeared on NBA TV on Saturday, this is only partially true. The team is also saying they think these roster additions can lead to a more rapid return to competitiveness than most would predict.
“The Lakers are making free agent moves to try and get good right now,” Ding said after referencing Jim Buss’ self-imposed deadline to make the Lakers competitive again, “They hope it’s a playoff ready roster. Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss are hoping to have a contender this coming season, which seems really unlikely.”
As unlikely as that may seem, Ding outlined the ways it could potentially come to pass.
“But it is possible they could bid for the playoffs if there is a lot of improvement from these young players, and then Mozgov gives them stability as a rim protector and a pick-and-roll partner for D’Angelo Russell, and Deng gives them that veteran influence to help them learn how to win games late. So that’s their hope,” said Ding.
“What we’re talking about here is a franchise that is not willing to waste another year. For some of the reasons we just discussed for current front office management, there is a little bit of a quiet desperation here, because they wanted to spend their money for sure,” Ding continued. “They weren’t going to wait around on restricted free agents, they weren’t going to try and sell these guys on two-year deals, and not just to put a good product on the floor right now, but because there is that deadline looming over them where they need to show a lot of improvement immediately for Jeanie Buss and the Buss family to say ‘Jim, you can stick around and keep running this franchise.’”
If the “desperation” in the Lakers front office is real, it could explain why the team did not try harder to haggle Mozgov and Deng into taking less guaranteed money on their deals as they get into their mid-thirties. But if the front office really believes this team will be a playoff contender next season barring a plague of injuries affecting all 29 other NBA teams, they are going to be sorely disappointed.
However, as Andrew Ungvari pointed out on Twitter, there could be other reasons for the Lakers to leak that a playoff berth was their “hope” right now:
@hmfaigen This is the week when new season ticket holders choose their seats.— Andrew Ungvari (@DrewUnga) July 2, 2016
Whether or not they would be better served in the long run by not inflating fan expectations is up for debate, and to their credit, no one in the organization has publicly even hinted at the playoffs being a goal for next year.
That very well could have changed in the last few days with the additions of Mozgov and Deng, but until Buss, Kupchak, or someone else in the organization puts this kind of pressure on themselves publicly, it’s probably best to give them the benefit of the doubt and not assume they think they were a Mozgov away from playoff contention.
All quotes transcribed via NBA TV. You can follow this author on Twitter at @hmfaigen.