A discouraging free agency season came to a close when the Lakers re-signed Ryan Kelly to a 2-year deal. In their 18 days of activity the Lakers were not redeemed. Their disastrous season had no silver lining. Instead of a bang all that was left once it was over was a tiny echo. It brought to mind John Wooden’s famous quote, “Don’t mistake activity for achievement.” Yes the Lakers were busy. But what did they get done?
The Lakers didn’t acquire a max player, rejected once again by a star, this year on the offensive side of the ball. Nor did the Lakers acquire the young talent the rumor mill speculated on: Greg Monroe, Eric Bledsoe, Lance Stephenson, Gordon Hayward. Of those players, Lance Stephenson was the one the Lakers could have had; he signed a 2 year deal with Charlotte.
The Lakers did exactly what Mitch Kupchak predicted they would do three months earlier. He re-upped the best talent of last year (Xavier Henry, Nick Young, Jordan Hill, Ryan Kelly) to small deals, he gambled that Wes Johnson in a different system would meet his potential, and he saved cap room for 2015.
Next summer the Lakers will only have six players under contract (Jordan Clarkson, Kobe Bryant, Nick Young, Julius Randle, Ryan Kelly, Ed Davis). They will have cut $32 million dollars in salary and will start all of this chaos once again.
This is what they accomplished:
Jeremy Lin: Desperate for a point guard, the Lakers were the only team in the Western Conference who did not have guard who could run the offense, get into the paint, drive to the rim and finish. Last year, Jeremy Lin finished second to Lebron James in fg% on drives to the rim. Lin is a pick and roll player who lives in the paint, has good court vision and finishes through contact and as an added bonus he is intelligent. He was an upgrade to the Lakers offense even as his defense is a huge liability.
Carlos Boozer: The Lakers did not expect to win the Boozer lottery. Boozer does several things for the Lakers. First, he protects Julius Randle. Coming into his rookie year and into a league with explosive power forwards, the presence of Carlos Boozer will allow Julius Randle to develop without pressure. He can have 2-12 nights and escape the glare of scrutiny that a starter would endure. Furthermore, Boozer is a skilled mid range shooter and rebounder, a former All-Star, and in the last year of his contract. He is only 32 years old and has several years of basketball left. The Lakers should get the best out of Boozer this year as he plays for his next and probably last contract.
1-Year Deals: The Lakers brought back two players on one year deals. Xavier Henry was just beginning to develop when he suffered a wrist and knee injury last year. Henry is a physical player who thrives on contact. He finishes at the rim, has a nice perimeter jumper and is a solid defender. He is only 23 years old. Henry turned down offers from the Pacers and Heat wanting to build upon what he started with the Lakers which could be special. On opening night Xavier may be the starting shooting guard for the Lakers.
The worst of last year’s bunch, Wes Johnson, signed a one year deal as well. Wes is a perplexity. He was a lottery pick who is long and athletic but can’t dribble, shoot or pass. He often misses at the rim and blows defensive assignments. But the prevailing wisdom about Wes is that (a) he is a finisher, and (b) Mike D’antoni played to his weaknesses and not his strengths which is getting into the paint and using his athleticism.
2-Year Deals: The Lakers signed Jordan Hill, Ryan Kelly and Ed Davis to 2-year deals. Jordan Hill, at $9 million dollars, was overpaid but his contract has a team option at the end of this year so in effect Jordan Hill signed a one year deal with the agreement he won’t be traded. Jordan, if he can stay healthy, is an active, physical presence around the rim. He suffers from a lack of athleticism making it a challenge to guard athletic players with explosion but he brings it every night. His greatest skill is he plays hard.
Ed Davis and Ryan Kelly round out the front court with different skill sets. Ed Davis will get a lot of minutes as someone floating from power forward to center. Davis, the son of Terry Davis who played 10 NBA seasons, is a solid front court player who was a victim of the numbers game in Memphis but he’ll see a lot of time with the Lakers. He provides the Lakers with shot blocking and rim protection and toughness up front. A lottery pick in 2010, his career high was 22 points versus the Knicks in 2011.
Ryan Kelly was the surprise of Mike D’antoni’s band of brothers. He came into the league as a three point shooter yet the perimeter was where he was the least effective. Last year Kelly was an able and willing rebounder, he put the ball on the floor and drove to the hoop and most importantly he showed his innate instincts on how to play the game. He gets spacing and ball movement and screen setting and teamwork. His biggest offseason responsibility was to work on his body in order to get stronger.
Kendall Marshall: The Lakers waived last year’s point guard even though they didn’t want to. Signing Ryan Kelly and Xavier Henry was a bigger priority. Kendall’s greatest gift- his bounce pass- and his ability to get the ball to his teammates was offset by his inability to score or to maneuver in the paint. Kendall is a point guard who was better served in the NBA of 15 years ago where point guards were not explosive or athletic and their only responsibility was to control the offense. Kendall’s burden became the Lakers affliction. No one defended Kendall, the spacing on offense was ruined and he couldn’t take advantage of open areas on the floor. It was even more intolerable for him on defense with his lack of foot speed.
Nick Young: When you are told to “get into the gym” by Kobe Bryant you do it. Nick Young got the call from Kobe after re-signing with the Lakers. Kobe demanded him to do a not very Nick Young thing. Prepare in the off-season. Work hard in the summer. The Drew League, a favorite of Nick’s, is entertaining but it doesn’t address the fundamentals nor does it correct the instability of Nick’s game. At a very basic level, Kobe understood that Nick’s attitude about the game had to be adjusted. Kobe challenged Nick to get serious in the summer, work hard and be ready. It may come to pass that Nick Young is the starting small forward in 2014-15.