Wes Johnson recently spoke with Hoopsworld about his enjoyment playing in Los Angeles under D’Antoni’s system and his desire to return to the Lakers next season.
“This is definitely a place I want to be,” Johnson told Hoopsworld. “I love Los Angeles. I love the organization. I love the people that I’ve been around since I’ve been there. I definitely think this could be a long term thing. We just have to wait and see.”
Wes hasn’t necessarily blown anybody away with his play, but he has been solid this season and putting up career highs in assists, blocks, rebounds and shooting efficiency across the board: .429 from the field, .405 from 3 and .786 from the free throw line.
Wes is also by far the Lakers best perimeter defender, albeit by default as the Lakers lack any semblance of a shutdown perimeter defender. Per Synergy Sports, Wes is giving up 0.99 points per possession and his opponents are shooting 43.6 percent against him. To put those numbers in perspective, a known premium perimeter defender like Tony Allen of Memphis gives up 0.94 points per possession and opponents are shooting 39.2 percent against him.
Wes at 6-7, 215 lbs, 7-1 wingspan and freakish athletic ability, he has all the natural tools to be a superb defender. If Wes is able to take that next big step in his development as a defensive player and at least sustain his current offensive effectiveness he could develop into a vital role player in the same mold as a Bruce Bowen.
A Bowen type player is definitely someone worth keeping around if the Lakers have plans on building another championship level team in the next 2 years before Kobe retires. The Lakers will be searching for their next franchise player but whoever that is, he’ll need good supporting players like Wes can potentially become. The question is at what price do they bring back Wes?
A good measuring stick for market value would be players comparable to Wes that signed contracts over the last 2 years:
Courtney Lee, a very good defensive guard with slightly better offensive skill than Wes, signed with Boston for 4 years and 21 million in 2012. The aforementioned Tony Allen, a 3 time NBA All-Defensive Team member with much less offensive skill than Wes, signed for 4 years at 20 million this past off-season.
That is probably a good estimate at Wes Johnson’s market value and what he and his agent will likely expect: 4 to 5 million per year and a contract at about 3 to 4 years.
How does that affect the Lakers’ plans in free agency going forward?
The Lakers have $34.1 million committed to 3 players next season: Kobe, Nash and Sacre. It is hard to say at this point if Nick Young will pick up his player option for 1.2 million, but based on his performance this season it is unlikely he’ll agree to being underpaid again and will likely will opt out and seek a higher salary and longer term contract.
The salary cap is currently 58 million for this season and is expected to increase slightly for the 2014-15 season; estimates from those familiar with the NBA cap have estimated figures of around 60 to 62 million. Based on those estimations the Lakers will have roughly 26 to 28 million to spend on filling out their roster next off-season.
The Lakers are saving cap space to offer a max deal to a franchise player and that amount will vary depending on the years that this player has invested in the league and the amount they are being paid in their last season.
A player like Carmelo Anthony will have a maximum price tag of 22.5 million since he is entitled to 105 percent of his previous year salary of 21.49 million. A player that isn’t coming off an already existing large contract, such as Eric Bledsoe who is currently in his rookie contract, would come at a substantially smaller cost.
Bledsoe is currently in his 4th year of his rookie contract and making 2.6 million; next season, he’ll be eligible to get a maximum deal starting at around 14 million. Bledsoe is merely being used here as an example of difference in the maximum salaries for players as the likelihood of him being attainable this coming off-season is highly unlikely. Bledsoe is a restricted free agent and the Phoenix Suns will have the right to match any offer he receives this coming off-season.
Based on the very loose estimations we have put together here it looks like the Lakers will have the money to bring back Wes Johnson, but if their plans on still on nabbing a franchise player that will require a max deal that could be anywhere from 14 to 22 million, they might have to choose between bringing back Wes or one of the other young guys on the current squad such as Nick Young, Xavier Henry and maybe even their first round draft pick next season. We haven’t even figured in Pau Gasol who if they decide to bring back will eliminate any chance of Wes returning unless he is open to taking a minimum contract.
The Lakers situation is still very much fluid and can take a drastic turn from now until next off-season. In the meantime Wes need only to continue his development and make the Lakers decision a tough one.
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