Lakers fans have constantly complained about the team’s lack of focus on complementary players and extreme focus on landing the next cornerstone superstar players. The front office has focused most of their resources pitching to the top tier players leaving them with the scraps after they are rejected. It wasn’t just a single incident, there were plenty of players that they did it for.
Carmelo Anthony. LeBron James. Dwight Howard. LaMarcus Aldridge.
For those who thought that they had a legitimate shot at getting these players, they quickly learned that they couldn’t rely on them coming to a rebuilding situation. They have started to come around to the idea that Mitch and Jim have little to do with them signing or not. It all has to do with the state of the team. Aging stars entering or on the tail end of their respective primes just don’t want to come here. As great as living in LA is and all the other rewards that come off the court, the young core is still very far from being a serious contender.
It means players like Al Horford and Kevin Durant are definitely not going to sign with the Lakers. Most fans knew that they had little to no shot of either coming (Stephen A. Smith says otherwise, but I don’t want to mess with him). Therefore, the Lakers could focus on the other free agents that fill a need and have talent that complements the team’s structure.
Nic Batum. Hassan Whiteside. Chandler Parsons. Bismack Biyombo. Kent Bazemore.
All of those players signed with other teams after the Lakers signed Mozgov in the first couple hours. Each player had a different story for why they passed on the Lakers, and they are all justifiable. Batum loved Charlotte so much that he took a pay cut to sign the 5 year max. Parsons wanted to play in Memphis with his boy Conley, and Whiteside didn’t even give the Lakers a meeting. Biyombo was out of the picture because of the Mozgov signing, along with the fact he probably told them he wasn’t interested, and Bazemore wanted to contend in Atlanta (and shove it up the Lakers that they didn’t extend a QO to him to sign glue guy Nick Young). All of these free agent landing spots share a couple similarities: they went to a competitive team or a team with a established player.
The Lakers are in the same spot that the Mavs are in as far as free agency goes. The Lakers roster does carry more potential, but both teams can only pitch future cap space and other business opportunities. Players just step over the big market teams because they know that they will be wasting their years. That has nothing to do with how good Mitch and Jim are, it just shows how the game has changed. A big market team full of young players that still need to be groomed just to contend for the playoffs is not attractive. Especially with all the teams having huge cap spikes. Players have more options than ever. KEVIN DURANT CAN SIGN WITH A 73 WIN TEAM. That goes to show you why the Lakers aren’t even a thought in his mind.
With the rise of superstar household names from small markets such as Portland and Oklahoma, players now know that they can make it on any team in any city as long as winning and success continues. KD just got a huge deal with Nike and he isn’t playing for a big market. The same goes for Lillard: he is being successful and making money in Portland. This and sales taxes is enough for players to not value big teams as much as they did before. “Hollywood” or ” the Big Apple” don’t mean jack anymore.
Even though “analysts” refuse to acknowledge this trend, it is happening. Milwaukee is now a serious landing spot for players that want to win. Their core is young, but it is much farther along than the Lakers. The Lakers will be interested in all of the top free agents, as they should be, but they will keep “striking out” because they aren’t THAT team yet. Pitches and meeting will be done with some players that show mutual interest, but they will realize that the Lakers can’t give them a legit shot at a title like most players want. It is not a failed offseason just because a big name doesn’t sign with them, heck, even a 2nd or 3rd tier player.
Expectations need to altered so that hearts are not broken. I fell victim to the free agency hype, but I had a feeling that the players would all realize that they want to WIN NOW. Not in their next contract, NOW. Whiteside fit perfectly with the Lakers, but the state tax and more competitive places elsewhere closed that dream real quick. Parsons, Bazemore, and Batum all weren’t likely to go to the Lakers just because the Lakers team isn’t proven.
It is a double sided problem and it prevents the Lakers from going out and signing the perfect fits for their roster. Bloggers spend all their time compiling lists of players that the Lakers should go after (because we’re smart like that) and hit it on the head for the kinds of players they should chase. They were rumored or connected with most of the more realistic attainable players. The fan base has slipped into either the “at least they tried” or “they can’t get the job done” camps. As easy as it might be to simply give them all the blame, it isn’t fair to blame them for trying to get these players with both hands tied behind their back.
With all of the pre-free agency tampering that (probably) happened, the Lakers didn’t waste time trying to get meetings or phone calls. They moved on and looked down at their big board. With the better targets not showing interest, they had to settle for Mozgov. Even though the contract is terrible and way too long, the player makes sense. He is a good pick and roll big that drives to the rim well. He can’t really catch off the short pick and roll or pass off of it. He can’t guard on the perimeter all that well and is an average rim protector. He isn’t the best option, but the Lakers now have to overpay more than other teams would to attain even an average starting center. The timing of the deal was why Lakers fans erupted. Seeing better players agree to better deals has driven Lakers fans into madness.
The Deng contract is much better and makes much more sense. The Lakers had already lost out on Bazemore, and the wing position was still a need. A 4 year, $72 million deal with no options isn’t ideal, but the current market isn’t handing out many team or player options. Deng is a great veteran presence that can play good defense on the perimeter and spaces the floor well enough. He plays better at the 4, but since Randle is there, he is likely to slot in at the 3 or be the 6th man off the bench. Again, another big overpay that had to happen for them to get their guy.
Lakers fans have some common questions that must be going around in their mind:
Why did the Lakers overpay? Aren’t we the Lakers? Why don’t we keep punting every year until we get A or B tier players? Why did we give two 30 year olds 4 year deals?
The best way to judge what the Lakers are doing is to take away the contracts and look at the players. They want solid veteran players to help the younger players succeed. They can’t keep rolling over their cap space to keep getting rejected and having to hand out similar type contracts. The Laker brand name isn’t what it once was. It is now the name of a glamour franchise that no longer appeals to big free agents. They now have to reach in a bad market to get solid players by whatever means necessary. Overpaying was a must in this market. Lakers fans got a reminder that going forward, the Lakers won’t land key players until their core develops. The front office knows that, and their free agency so far backs it up. This is how it feels to be a small market team. Better get used to it.