Timofey Pavlovich Mozgov. That’s the name that has given Lakers fans everywhere a mixed bag of emotions. Some angry, some confused, some indifferent. After hearing non-stop reports and rumors connecting the Lakers to Hassan Whiteside and Bismack Biyombo, they wasted no time in filling their void at the center position. On July 1st at 12:01 am Eastern Time, the Lakers contacted Timofey Mozgov:
Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak reached out on Mozgov at 12:01 AM, league sources tell @TheVertical. Centers could move on the market quickly.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojVerticalNBA) July 1, 2016
Not long after this, the Lakers locked Mozgov up for a reported 4 years at $65 million:
— The Vertical (@TheVertical) July 1, 2016
Many Lakers fans proceeded to meltdown at this signing. The amount of money and even more so, the amount of years, that it took to sign him left some fans scratching their heads. After a down year in which he barely came off the bench, the deal has been tough to justify for anyone. In the short term, this deal is not as terrible as it seems. However, it is a little harder to justify the contract in years 3 and 4. Here is a breakdown of why this contract is not as bad as everyone seems to think it is.
The New Cap
Before free agency began, the NBA confirmed that the salary cap would rise to $94.1 million. Last season’s cap was $70 million. That is roughly a 34% increase in cap space. While this meant that teams had more money to spend, it also meant that more players would be getting bigger deals. Timofey Mozgov received a 4 year $65 million dollar offer this season. When compared to last season’s equivalent cap figures, he received a slightly lesser deal than Robin Lopez. Last year, Lopez signed a 4 year, $54 million dollar deal with the Knicks. Courtesy of Danny Leroux (@DannyLeroux):
Reported Mozgov contract conversion (4/64) pic.twitter.com/OSXMVu04TD
— Danny Leroux (@DannyLeroux) July 1, 2016
Robin Lopez’s contract broken down courtesy of SpotTrac:
By 2016-2017 cap standards, Robin Lopez would be earning around the $18 million dollar mark. Timofey Mozgov, by 2015-2016 standards, would be earning $11-$12 million depending, assuming the reported details are accurate. Lopez is a better player overall, but their per 36 stats are almost identical. When Timofey Mozgov was healthy in 2014-2015 and in a system that worked for him, his player efficiency rating (PER) was 18.7. In comparison, Lopez had a PER of 16.2 in 2014-2015. If not for last season with Mozgov’s injuries and a bad fit in his system, their career PER’s would be nearly identical. Lopez is two years younger than Mozgov, but Mozgov has 5,364 less minutes under his belt despite playing in more playoff games.
How Mozgov Fits the System
Many Lakers fans have stated that another issue they have with Timofey Mozgov is his overall fit with Luke’s system. We still don’t officially know what kind of system Luke will run. Sure, you can say that he will likely run a similar system to what he used in Golden State. He has stated that he will be running a system that will incorporate all that he has learned from all of the coaches he has worked under. We will likely get a better understanding soon with summer league approaching.
From the moves that I have seen so far, it’s fairly apparent that Luke will be running a predominantly pick and roll system. Pick and roll is a simple play in which a player (Mozgov) will set a screen for his teammate (D’Angelo Russell). The defender is screened by Mozgov, and then Mozgov will roll to the basket looking for a pass. Timofey Mozgov is one of the best pick and roll big men in the NBA. The most accurate assessment of a big man’s ability in pick and roll is points per possession (PPP). Courtesy of Silver Screen and Roll:
It’s pretty clear why Timofey Mozgov was picked up, though the sample size is low. All five of the big men on that list received contracts that were equal to or greater than Mozgov’s contract. Two of them received max deals, though neither of those players are more than 2 years younger than Mozgov
Misfit in Tyronn Lue’s system
When Tyronn Lue took over as head coach mid-season, the Cavaliers ventured away from the pick and roll. Instead, they focused more on a system in which the center screens while the point guard drives and kicks to the three point line. The center position became irrelevant offensively, unless you count grabbing the offensive rebound. Tristan Thompson was far superior in that category. Once the Cavaliers traded for Channing Frye, Mozgov became irrelevant in Lue’s system. In my opinion, Timofey Mozgov’s lack of play was not because he was bad. He just didn’t play because he didn’t fit.
The Lakers just signed Tarik Black to a 2 year, $12.85 million dollar contract. Tarik Black was the Lakers’ best pick and roll man last year, despite only getting a few minutes. It’s apparent that Luke wants strong screens, and big men that are willing to roll to the basket and look for the pass, not just the rebound.
Veteran Leadership in a Young Locker Room
So far, the Lakers have made three other major moves to build this team. The first was signing Loul Deng to a 4 year, $72 million dollar contract. Then, they re-signed Jordan Clarkson to a 4 year, $50 million dollar deal. On an insane night, they took on Jose Calderon’s contract to facilitate the Bulls’ signing of Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade. Mozgov, Deng, and Calderon all have one thing in common. They are excellent locker room veterans.
Many teammates have said that Mozgov is a rock in the locker room. Timofey has been through quite a bit throughout his NBA career. He has dealt with the wrath of LeBron, a mid-season trade, and as last year showed, a down year. He has always been the consummate professional and teammate. He never complained about his lack of minutes with Lue. He always cheered his teammates on and was ready to go when his name was called.
With the possible departure of Nick Young from the team, the Lakers front office has made veteran leadership a priority this offseason. It’s clear that the young core is the main focus for the front office, and they want to make sure there is a culture in place that develops proper and winning attitudes. You can’t teach a winning attitude by telling someone how to act. They have to witness it. This season should not be anywhere near as bad as last season.
Struggle Continues to be Very Real
While it hopefully won’t be as bad, the upcoming season will probably still be a struggle. There will still be losing streaks for the team to deal with. It’s up to the veteran leaders to show the young core how to maintain that winning edge regardless of the struggles. This is something that was severely lacking last season, and is invaluable for the future of this franchise. By future, I mean the young core of players that are not even 25 years old.
Many Lakers fans have also showed legitimate concerns over Mozgov’s injury. He had a severely botched surgery last summer and tried to return from it too quickly. This was likely due to the fact that last year was his contract year. As Brian Windhorst of ESPN explained to the “Hey Windy” show on ESPN’s 1540 in Cleveland:
The surgery that they performed last summer was not a success, but he felt pressure to play really well because he saw a massive paycheck coming his way. It was the combination of worrying about the contract and an unhealthy knee and a changing role on the team that all contributed to him having a down year.
In fairness, you can’t blame a player for wanting to come back from surgery and wanting to play as soon as possible. Some will argue that Kobe may have come back too soon from his Achilles injury, which led to his broken knee. A combination of trying to get on the court too fast, and possibly poor judgment by his agent, led to an assortment of problems. That said, he told Mark Medina of the Daily News:
“I’m perfect, finally,” Mozgov said. “It took me longer than I thought. But I’m perfect.”
With all due respect to my fellow Lakers fans and bloggers alike, Luke Walton and Mitch Kupchak knew all of this long before we did. If they thought that he wasn’t close to 100%, they wouldn’t have even made the phone call. With all the rest and lack of playing time, I would be surprised if he wasn’t 100%. With the lack of playing time and a summer off, my feeling is that he should be ready to go come pre-season.
The Length of the Contract
With all the contracts that have come off the board, it’s becoming more apparent that most Laker fans are concerned with the length of the contract rather than the money. With a possible four years guaranteed (still unofficial), it’s a wonder why the Lakers would sign him till he is 34, especially with the knee issue. My feeling is that Mozgov wanted the security as much as the money. The team may not compete for the playoffs for another few years. They may not compete for a championship for another five years. This means that Timofey Mozgov may never see the Finals again, on this contract, at least. As an aging vet who has won a championship and been to the Finals twice, it could be a tough pill to swallow being relegated to being a starting center on a rebuilding team.
All the big men above, minus Bismack Biyombo, went to playoff teams in free agency. Ian Mahinmi was paid the same amount as Mozgov, likely to be a backup. It takes money, security, and a solid coaching structure to convince anyone, let alone an aging veteran, to come to your rebuilding team.
The CBA and a Possible Silver Lining
All that said, the new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) is supposed to be figured out after next season. I am personally hoping that there will not be another lock out, though it seems quite likely. Why do I bring up this depressing news? Many sources, including cap wiz Eric Pincus, have stated that another amnesty clause could be included in the next CBA.
This means that a team can clear out a player’s contract without any financial obligations for that player. This could certainly be used on Timofey Mozgov if he were to underperform in any way, or should he continue to suffer injury problems. It’s a nasty way to look at a silver lining, but this is a business. I guarantee the Lakers front office, who has been absolutely brilliant with cap space this off season, is observing the same thing.
Overall, the contract’s length is a tough pill to swallow, but the money in the short term makes sense. The hope for many Lakers fans was to get a young rim protecting big. The team is already young as it is. Adding another young player may have been a detriment to what the team is looking to do for the future. The Lakers are all in with this young core, and in order to ensure that core stays on track, they needed to overspend on veterans that were willing to commit to a rebuilding project. With no ring in sight (especially with the Warriors super team), the Lakers needed to convince a player they wanted to come and help this team. Timofey Mozgov came at a price. If he plays the way he can and keeps the kids on track, the contract will be worth every penny.
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