The Los Angeles Lakers' kicked off free agency with a huge signing (literally) when they added seven-footer Timofey Mozgov on a four-year deal worth $64 million, and then followed it up with contract agreements with Jordan Clarkson (four years, $50 million), Luol Deng (four years, $72 million), and Tarik Black (two years, $12.85 million).
With their Wednesday night trade for Jose Calderon (and two second round picks as payment for taking on his contract), the front office would appear to have exhausted most of their big moves for the summer, and will now set about filling in their roster on the margins.
What do we think of the Lakers' haul? Are they significantly better than the 17-win team last season? How will they compete in the West? We asked some of our writers to grade the Lakers' moves so far, and opinions are mixed:
Now that the Lakers seem done making big moves, what grade would you give the team in free agency?
Look, the Lakers weren't getting Durant or anybody of his caliber, and I understood that. But any free agency period where the first call made is to a center who was irrelevant in the previous year's playoffs means you can't place higher than a C in my book.
The Mozgov deal violated a lot of logic to me, including the fact that he wasn't exactly in demand, and that players like Cole Aldrich, yes that Cole Aldrich, will in my mind produce similarly while Mozgov is just on a far worse contract.
The Clarkson extension was a good deal for both sides, Clarkson has earned it and the Lakers also don't take the balloon payment hits at the back end of a potential Arenas Offer Sheet that Clarkson could have signed. Still, a part of me looks at that as the Lakers front office taking a slightly defeatist view of their chances in free agency next year (the Arenas offer sheet would've given the Lakers more cap space for next summer).
The Luol Deng signing is fine. Not too warm, not too cold. It's going to be painful on the back end when Deng declines as he gets older, however his veteran presence and his ability to start for as long as it takes for Brandon Ingram to pick up the NBA game and also spend some time at the PF spot in smaller lineups that Luke Walton will surely employ provides solid value. Grade: C
Despite all of the funny money thrown out this offseason, the Lakers gave what may prove to be the worst contract of July to Timofey Mozgov (4/$64 million). It's a horrifically bad deal that likely overpays Mozgov now, to say nothing of how badly it will overpay him three years down the line. The deal, in conjunction with the Luol Deng contract, soaks up most of the team's cap space for next season, so the Lakers are punting on being real players in free agency next year as well.
I also hate the acquisition of Jose Calderon, a defensive sieve who clutters the team's guard rotation and hopefully doesn't spell the end of Marcelo Huertas' tenure in Los Angeles. The Lakers don't get an F because they did well to resign Tarik Black for two years and lock up Jordan Clarkson for four years below his max. Furthermore, Deng is a solid player who should help mentor the team's young core, even if the Lakers signed him for too many years. Grade: D
The Mozgov and Deng signings weren't bad in the context of what the team is trying to do. Neither player is going to demand the ball and take opportunities away from the young nucleus the Lakers have such high hopes for. Of course, the Lakers could've gone for younger players at either position to match the core's timeline, but having quality veterans around isn't a bad thing. The Lakers even still have some room left to add a backup wing player. Grade: C+
If this is it for the big moves in free agency, the Lakers probably deserve somewhere around a C-, and that might be a little generous. The Luol Deng deal is whatever, he's a solid player that's on a decline and the contract might end up being really bad ... but he's a good veteran for the kids to play with and should be a great mentor for Brandon Ingram, in particular.
The Timofey Mozgov deal, however, is unfathomably bad. There's little reason I can imagine to give that signing anything other than an F, if we are grading individually. He's not a great player in his own right (advanced numbers this year had him at about a replacement-level player), but add to that his age (turning 30 in a week), his injury situation (coming off a questionable knee surgery), his status with his previous team (he was phased out of the Cavs' playoff rotation) and the money (SIXTY FOUR MILLION DOLLARS), it becomes indefensibly horrible.
No one was going to even come close to giving Mozgov this kind of deal this year. Nene, who I feel is actually a better player than Mozgov, got 1 year, $2.9 million. Cole Aldrich, who was far better this year, and younger, with better knees, got 3 years, $22 million from the Timberwolves. I'm sorry, but there's nothing positive to be said for this signing other than, "Hey! At least D'Angelo has a fairly competent large human to run pick and rolls with!"
With the caveat that the Lakers very well might not be done with free agency -- as evidenced by yesterday's Jose Calderon trade -- and the exact structure of the deals they gave out with respect to non-guaranteed money and the like is still unknown, I would give the team a B-. The front office does deserve some credit for moving decisively after it became apparent that the premier options on the market would pay the Lakers little-to-no heed during the opening hours of free agency, but the team chose a bizarre way of executing this newfound focus by signing Timofey Mozgov to a deal well in excess of his likely production. Mozgov absolutely fits as a pick-and-roll partner for the Lakers' guards and a rim protector if he can stay healthy, but given his age and struggles last season, this feels like an especially poor gamble all-around if there is no offset language in the deal to make the last few years more palatable. By sometime in year two or three, it would not be overly outlandish if Ivica Zubac or Tarik Black were consistently out-producing Mozgov.
Deng is a far worthier gamble given that he fills a spot on the wing and can slot in as both a three and a four in Luke Walton's system, all the while checking the team's primary wing threat to ease the transition of the Lakers' latest prized rookie in Brandon Ingram. The four-year structure is more defensible for Deng since he was likely significantly more sought after than Mozgov, and he's more likely to remain useful throughout the life of the deal. In addition, Deng's oft-mentioned professionalism and locker room demeanor should be a major boon to the coaching staff in aiding the development of what amounts to a very, very young squad. With respect to that burgeoning core, the Lakers do deserve credit for re-signing Jordan Clarkson to a bargain deal even with the Arenas rule holding down his price, as Clarkson nevertheless took a discount apparently without seriously trying to secure a full offer on the market, allowing the Lakers to prevent his deal from hugely spiking in the last two seasons.
Lastly, I'll reserve judgment on the Lakers' re-signing of Tarik Black, a perfectly fine one in terms of dollar amount, until we see the full ramifications of what they will do with their remaining cap space, as Black's Early Bird deal was deliberately structured as to preserve the Lakers' cap space since it does not have to be consummated until the Lakers see fit to do so. Grabbing Calderon for two second-round picks, even should they be relatively late ones, was a good start as Calderon comes off the books next year, maintaining the team's cap space next summer and in the process giving them a serviceable backup point guard who should also serve as a veteran presence in the locker room. Should the team manage similar deals leveraging their cap space, use that space to tender an offer to restricted free agent (cough) Allen Crabbe (cough), or chase any remaining value options, their grade should accordingly improve.
Is there anything you would have done differently than the team?
Even if I was sure that Mozgov was the right investment for the Lakers, I wouldn't have been as aggressive right out of the gate. I'm sure the Mozgov deal set the market for a player like Ian Mahinmi, whereas in any negotiation you don't want to be the one setting the market for others.
Past that, to commit that much money to Deng and Mozgov for 4 years will be painful in years 3 and 4. The cap spikes are happening this summer and next, and after that will flatline and maybe even come down a little - those years will look painful. I would've rather signed a player like Deng to a 2-year deal at an even higher annual rate to maintain full flexibility for this roster. While the Lakers will undoubtedly be able to move salaries next summer in case a couple of max-level players choose to come to LA, it just feels like the moves made this summer make those prospective moves more complicated than they needed to be.
Am I being overly negative? Possibly. But this isn't a knee-jerk reaction, six days into the Mozgov signing, I feel just as strongly as I did then. Either way, the team will be better this season, it will be more fun to watch, and I'm excited about what's next.
I hoped the Lakers would have targeted younger players rather than players likely past their primes. I understand the need to add veterans to the locker room, but that could have been done with shorter contracts. Mostly, I just wish the Lakers hadn't moved so quickly. Their haste to sign Mozgov suggested poor talent evaluation and a misreading of the market, when they could have added players with higher upside like Bismack Biyombo or Ian Mahinmi for similar cost.
Once it became clear that the Lakers wouldn't attract their priority targets, they should have waited out the market, rather than wasting their money on bad deals just for the sake of adding mediocre talent. Had they waited out the Kevin Durant decision, they could have been a taker for the final year of Andrew Bogut's contract to fill their hole at center, or put in an offer for Harrison Barnes. Unfortunately, the Lakers' moves thus far have demonstrated impatience to get better immediately, even if only marginally, and the team has sacrificed one of its best assets moving forward to do so - a clean cap sheet.
I would change the length of these deals, or at least add some opt-outs. The cap space isn't really an issue because by the time Deng and Mozgov reach the third and fourth year of their respective deals, the cap will be much higher than it is now. The regression of 30-year old veterans is a real thing and signing long-term deals for guys that will slowly break down is tough to swallow for Lakers fans. However, the team had to add a veteran presence around the core group and if it took a longer deal, so be it.
What I would have done differently, other than obviously not doing the Mozgov deal, is to put a larger focus on acquiring one of the major young pieces available in free agency. It sounds like the Lakers were competitive in an offer for Kent Bazemore (whom they let walk in free agency a few years ago to instead sign Nick Young to an extension), but the Magic were able to secure Bismack Biyombo (again, a better player than Mozgov while being far younger) for just a little bit more than they gave Mozgov (4/$72M). I would absolutely love for them to sign Allen Crabbe to a huge offer sheet and force Portland to match, but I doubt that this will happen.
Ideally the Lakers would have chased younger options to slightly more sensible deals, but it doesn't appear that those options were necessarily forthcoming this offseason. Indeed, the team made an effort to chase the likes of Kent Bazemore for the same money that Deng ultimately got, and thus ultimately can't be blamed for Bazemore deciding to take slightly less to stay in Atlanta. And in least in this example, the contract that Deng got was ultimately the market rate, even if the last year or so might be relatively difficult to stomach. As such, our analysis inevitably turns to who the Lakers could have chased instead of Mozgov and there were a few options that got comparable money such as Bismack Biyombo or significantly less in the case of Cole Aldrich that the Lakers could have gone after instead. Even if it turns out that Mozgov's contract has offset language, this still generally will hold true.
I will note, however, that comments to the effect that the Lakers should have waited out the process and tried for one of Andrew Bogut or Festus Ezeli -- or Harrison Barnes, although I think him ridiculously overrated and would think significantly less about the team had they gave him the deal Dallas did, but I digress -- after Kevin Durant made his decision are a bit more indefensible since they rely entirely on the benefit of hindsight. There was no way to know before it happened that Durant was going to go to Golden State, necessitating their vast effort to clear space for him, and minutes up to the actual decision, most commentators were predicting that he was going to return to Oklahoma City. That the Lakers acted decisively is to be lauded, not scorned; what should be critiqued is the player they actually went after.
Free agency also is, as I noted above, not completely over for the Lakers and there still remain opportunities to improve, so the book is not completely closed here. Nor should the overall thoughts on free agency detract from what has been on the whole a very successful offseason for the team and there is little that the team can do moving forward that can detract from that.
How do you think the Lakers did in free agency? Let us know in the comments below!