27-year-olds with as much talent as Andre Drummond almost never become available, mid-season, for free. For all the debates about what he’ll bring to the Lakers, where he fits for this team, how he’ll make it better and more, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that the purple and gold even having an opportunity to add a player who was previously making $29 million this season is really, really lucky.
The Lakers never would have been able to swap the salaries to add Drummond at the trade deadline without losing multiple members of their rotation; instead, by taking a buyout, all he’s costing them is an open roster spot and a veteran’s minimum contract. Overrated, underrated, properly rated, no matter what you think Drummond lands on that spectrum, 6’10, two-time All-Stars who are averaging 17.5 points and 13.5 rebounds per game in their physical prime are almost never available for (basically) nothing.
All of that context helps explain why Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka is feeling excited to add his former client, something he made clear in the team’s press release to announce the move.
“Andre Drummond gives us powerful, anchor-point skills on both ends of the court,” Pelinka said. “We feel extremely fortunate to add a player of his caliber and magnitude to our core group at this stage of our journey to defend the NBA title.”
That’s also probably why head coach Frank Vogel says he’s “thrilled” to add a player of Drummond’s caliber to his rotation, calling him “one of the best centers in the league.” For his part, in his first public comments, Drummond simply said he’s ready to get “back to work.”
A motivated Drummond, doing only the things he’s good at in a more limited role on a winning team is (likely) a very different player than the one who has spent most of his career gobbling up rebounds and chasing numbers on lottery teams. There is something to be said for the idea that sometimes we overthink this stuff, VORP-braining ourselves into saying stuff like “Gorgui Dieng is a better fit” and the like. I know that I’m sometimes just as guilty of this as anyone.
Sometimes though, talent is just talent, and whatever you think of the advanced numbers that have at times painted a picture of an inconsistent or empty calories player, Drummond is undoubtedly the most talented guy to hit the buyout market this season. He’s arguably the best rebounder in NBA history, a deceptively quick titan who will probably finish around the rim a lot better with LeBron James spoon-feeding him buckets (when he returns, at least).
And for all the breathless worrying about the NBA’s big-market problem allowing the Lakers and Nets to get better on the buyout market, there is some needed context. For one, from Blake Griffin, to LaMarcus Aldridge and Drummond, all of those players’ teams chose to let them go. No one but the NBA’s perverse incentives to lose forced them to sideline good players so they could lose more games.
Or, as Griffin himself put it:
Some perspective from Blake Griffin about the amount of talent the Nets have acquired: For the last year, I have been hearing about how bad I was and then I come here and people say, 'Oh, it's not fair.' "I guess you could say it's amusing," Griffin said.— Malika Andrews (@malika_andrews) March 29, 2021
And as the always-thoughtful Tom Ziller points out, forcing these players to just get sidelined so bad teams can choose to be worse isn’t a solution. He also made the case that for all the panicking, big markets aren’t necessarily gobbling up all the league’s talent as much as some would have you believe. The cold, hard facts are that despite the narratives, the Lakers and Nets aren’t getting all of these guys:
What if I told you that the team who has signed the most players bought out since 2015 is....Milwaukee— Bobby Marks (@BobbyMarks42) March 29, 2021
There is also the reality that every situation is unique. It clearly wasn’t just the big market factor drawing Drummond to Los Angeles. Some of those ties are well-covered. Pelinka is his former agent. He’s been “close” friends with Anthony Davis since high school. He grew up dreaming of a chance to team up with LeBron James.
Some of his ties, however, haven’t been pointed out as much. Of the Lakers’ recruiting him to L.A., it’s fair to guess that his former Pistons teammates, Markieff Morris and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, were among them.
And while Drummond obviously has love for Keef, it’s also worth pointing out that he has played more professional basketball games with Caldwell-Pope than any other teammate in his career (h/t to the excellent producer Jeanie of the Laker Film Room podcast for noticing this).
So, I don’t know, maybe the NBA’s real competitive balance problem is that the Pistons just keep letting good players leave for nothing?
Pistons are the Lakers' real G League team https://t.co/1mthJch0QS— Buyout Market Faigen (@hmfaigen) March 29, 2021
But whether one sees the buyout market as an issue or not, once Davis and James return and this team is at full strength, it’s almost inarguable that the Lakers have gotten better for the price of precisely nothing, adding another weapon in Drummond to give them a different dynamic at the center spot. To steal a phrase from Pelinka, that’s “extremely fortunate” for them. Whether it’s fair to the rest of the league isn’t (and shouldn’t be) their concern.