As my youngest has grown fond of saying, “I have good news, and I have bad news.”
The good news? The Lakers have landed a viable starting center, acquiring Roy Hibbert from the Pacers in exchange for a future second round pick. It’s a straight salary dump for Indiana, and in a vacuum the price for L.A. is great. Hibbert slides into the vast expanse of their available cap space, and the Lakers (I suspect) give up little impacting them anytime soon. Hibbert has his flaws. Since making a second All-Star team in 2014, his play has been wildly inconsistent. He’s not as prolific a rebounder as a man his size should be. Broadly, Hibbert has been a wreck offensively for the last few seasons — his 44.8 percent mark from the floor in ’12-’13 is his best over the last three.
Were none of these things true, the Pacers would happily have paid him this year.
Importantly, though, Hibbert is still elite level rim protector who will be a big help to Julius Randle on the frontline and erase many of the mistakes made by the puppy/old dog backcourt of D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, and Kobe Bryant. The Lakers completely lacked defensive structure last year, so plopping Hibbert in the middle is a significant improvement. His fit offensively is a different story, but truly is the least of Byron Scott’s problems.
The Lakers are better today than they were yesterday, and have enough space (about $5 million, according to the eggheads) to troll whatever’s left on the free agent rolls, or see if anyone else wants to offload another player.
The bad news?
In an offseason where, once again, it has been made abundantly clear free agents want to join products that are, if not finished, well on the way. Greg Monroe chose the Bucks because they’re playoff ready, and should improve over the next few years. Milwaukee doesn’t have the cachet of Los Angeles, but the guy wants to see the postseason for the first time in his career. That’ll happen far faster in Wisconsin than here. Hibbert, while a decent enough consolation prize for the Lakers after losing out on basically all of free agent humanity, does absolutely nothing to answer the same, critical question free agents are going to ask next summer:
Who am I going to play with?
Hopefully Russell, Randle, and Clarkson develop, and make the franchise more appealing. But it’s insane to believe Kevin Durant is going to sign in L.A. next summer based on the promise of those guys. They can be traded, but giving up too many in any one deal leaves the Lakers with gaping holes hurting their viability as a destination for stars. If Hibbert plays well, are the Lakers going to pay to keep him? Doing good work finding players on one year deals does little good if those players simply use the Lakers to get better money down the road. He could be trade bait, but the Lakers have done a horrible job over the last few seasons extracting value from future free agents. Hard to trust they’ll reverse the trend.
I’d rather have three years of Ed Davis at about $7 million and another $15 million or so to do I please than one year of Hibbert. At some point, the Lakers have to start building a squad going beyond the three rookies and a pristine payroll sheet. Say what you’d like about the quality of their analytics – the Lakers would need statistical Svengalis to convince someone like LaMarcus Aldridge he’d be better here than San Antonio. The reason L.A.’s basketball pitch was weak is simple: There is no answer to those questions. They’re a restaurant selling ambiance, beautiful waitresses, and a nice wine list. Nice features, except ultimately when people go out to eat they want good food. The Lakers barely have a kitchen, let alone a well-conceived menu. They’ve leaned on cap money — “payroll flexibility,” in their terminology — but over the next two offseasons those dollars become less valuable as the cap rises and nearly every other team has money to spend.
Instead, Lakers have spent another summer making long-odds casts for big fish while the smaller, more attainable ones — those potentially providing the infrastructure and assets needed to build a team — swim away. The ’15-’16 product is a little better now, but the ’16-’17 squad, the one the Lakers should be more concerned with, isn’t.
That’s the part they don’t seem to understand.