If you haven’t read the breakdown by Zach Lowe on Jason Kidd’s exodus from Brooklyn for Grantland, it’s well worth the time. But beyond some excellent details of how that whole unquestionably strange mess came to be, the story contained an eye-popping little nugget sure to interest Lakers fans:
“The Thunder are indeed paying into the revenue-sharing system, rare for such a tiny market, but they’re slated to make nearly $29 million in profit when everything is netted out. That’s the fifth-best projection in the league, trailing only the Lakers ($100.1 million), Bulls ($61 million), Rockets ($40.7 million), and Celtics ($33.1 million)… Holy cow, the Lakers! They end up with that huge profit despite contributing a league-high $49 million to revenue sharing.”
Yes, the Lakers cleared $39 million more (!) than any other team in the league, despite suffering the worst season on record since packing up the trailers and moving from Minneapolis. Despite Kobe missing all but six games, despite failing to sell out every game at Staples, luxury tax payments, and the aforementioned revenue sharing bill.
With free agency officially underway, the Lakers have been connected in one way or another to just about every name on the market, from the obvious big fish (LeBron, Carmelo, Bosh) to the guys a tier below (Kyle Lowry, Greg Monroe, Luol Deng, and so on). That’ll happen, in part because the Lakers, who don’t even have half a roster, are probably interested in just about every name on the market, and also because every name on the market has a vested interest in making the Lakers appear interested. Without question, the Lakers would like to figure out a way to beat the odds and improve quickly, whether by straight signings or trades absorbing players into their vast, verdant meadows of cap space. I can accept the possibility the Lakers become a decent enough team next year. Title contending, no. Playoff contending? I can accept that (even while not betting on it).
What I can’t accept, though, is the thought process stating the Lakers MUST do something bold, because they CAN’T POSSIBLY go through another year like last. Fans will revolt! They’ll stop showing up! Ratings will tank! And so on! Except assuming Kobe plays, a lot of that won’t happen. Watching the team again struggle would suck but with likely only two years of Bryant remaining, people aren’t going to skip their last handful of opportunities to see him live, whether at home and especially on the road. That’s part of the value he has to the organization.
But let’s say I’m wrong. Let’s say people don’t show up. It’ll look bad for people to see empty seats, but those tickets will still be sold. The Lakers have a wait list for season tickets thousands of applicants deep. Anyone giving theirs up in a fit of pique won’t be getting them back. And even if the Lakers lose sales for a couple years, and they won’t, at least in any meaningful way… they have to figure out how to lose $100 million in profits before landing in the red.
There will be angst. There will be anger. But if the Lakers can’t hit a home run this offseason and are forced by circumstance to keep their proverbial powder dry (or most of it, at least), absolutely nothing will happen that won’t be instantly be cured by getting good again in a year or two. Lakers fans aren’t going to abandon the franchise over a couple years of necessary futility, and nor should they. So the Lakers can do what they think is right, without worrying what media types, or celebs in the lower bowl, think. Yes, it’s uncomfortable for fans not to know who’s next after Kobe. I’m sure it’s uncomfortable for the Lakers, too. But finding a good answer is far more important than finding any answer.
The idea is to build a genuine championship contender, not to compete for a six-seed every year, and to that end the news passed along by Lowe has the potential to be a positive force for the Lakers.
A few more thoughts on free agency…
- I get waiting to see what Melo and LeBron do, but the Lakers need to be careful about waiting too long. There’s a good chance most of the big action, whatever it is, happens after James and Anthony are off the market, but teams who don’t feel they have a shot at either won’t stand still, and secondary players interested in security might snap up solid offers sooner rather than later. The Lakers have to balance the home run swing with the need to make contact. The cheap, young, lesser known players of the world – think Kent Bazemore – could be gone quickly. There are opportunity costs associated with trying for, and not getting, the superstars.
- The idea LA won’t sign any non-elite FA to deals longer than a year or two, and there’s been plenty of chatter about that, basically means they won’t get any of them. Jodie Meeks got three years and nearly $20 million from the Pistons. Golden State gave Shaun Livingston 3/$16 million. Do the Lakers really think Kyle Lowry is going to take two years? Or that two years might be enough to get Greg Monroe to sign an offer sheet, or have the Pistons not match? In the end, I don’t really believe the Lakers will limit themselves to that degree for players the genuinely want and believe can grow with the rebuild.
- That the Lakers would want to keep a clean cap sheet to woo the Durants and Westbrooks of the world makes sense, but at the same time they have to build a real team to attract them. The “blank slate, we’ll build a winner around you, we always have and always will and look at the pile of money!” sales pitch doesn’t really work these days, it seems. Elite players want to join a team with infrastructure, meaning the Lakers need to build some even if (ok, when) James and (probably) Melo end up somewhere else. Assuming they don’t wildly overspend on Genuinely Bad Idea Players, it’s ok to shell out three or four years. Most good talent can be moved in a pinch.
- Whatever the Lakers can do to absorb talent through trades, they should. As we’ve already seen with the Meeks deal, player contracts can inflate quickly. The Lakers could, and probably will, have to pay more than performance might merit, particularly with any restricted free agents. It’s the price of doing business.
- My appreciation for Anthony grew a ton this year, given how he handled a dumpster fire of a season in New York. That said, the idea of giving a 30-year old Melo $96 million for four years, knowing it might not be until the third year the Lakers are title-competitive, makes me squeamish. Not saying I wouldn’t do it, but his will be a giant contract on the books while his skills are, at the very least, not ascending.