The other day I wrote about the truth behind the Derek Fisher, Steve Blake, Chris Duhon rumors. In short, the Lakers are looking at every opportunity to save money and both Blake and Duhon are paid exorbitantly when you factor in luxury taxes. Since I posted it, additional information has come out to explain the timing of those rumors. Last Monday, Leandro Barbosa told the Boston Herald that he and his agent had had extensive talks with the Lakers before he signed with the Celtics. Putting all the pieces together, my guess is the Lakers wanted to sign Barbosa (not Fisher) for the veteran’s minimum so long as they could find a take for either Duhon or Blake. That’s probably why they leaked that Blake and Duhon were available when they did. Dan Fegan, Barbosa’s agent, probably gave the Lakers a deadline to sign his client and when they couldn’t find a taker in time, he opted to accept the offer from Boston.
This is all a little telling as to what the Lakers strategy will be when it comes to player movement and in-season transactions this year. The fact that a nice chunk of minimum contracts for veterans is paid for by the league and they still didn’t sign Barbosa is a little bit discouraging. It’s a little surprising that the Lakers wouldn’t just eat the $1.24 million remaining on Earl Clark’s expiring contract–$2.48 million with the luxury tax–in order to make room for Barbosa. Either they don’t want to pay the $2.48 million or they think Clark might actually contribute this season. Not to burst this guy’s bubble, but Earl Clark isn’t very good and I’m pretty sure that Mitch Kupchak knows it.
Now it wouldn’t really be fair to call the Lakers cheap because they have the league’s highest payroll. There’s always the possibility that they’d be willing to eat Clark’s deal for the right player and Barbosa might not fit that criteria. I can’t say that I was disappointed to find out that the Celtics had signed Barbosa. I’m not really a fan of his anymore. What bugs me is that the Lakers and Barbosa had mutual interest and the only thing that prevented a deal was, in all likelihood, the Lakers unwillingness to spend a couple million dollars.
So what does this all mean for the season? What happens if there’s a glaring need on this team and there’s nobody on the current roster to fill it? Let’s take a look. Players can be added to a roster in three ways: via draft, free agency, or trade. We can forget about the draft because the next one isn’t until after the season. But what about the other two?
If you were to look at the list of available free agents there really isn’t anyone that could make an immediate impact. There are former All-Stars like Kenyon Martin, Josh Howard, and Michael Redd , there are journeymen and old guys like Erick Dampier and Ben Wallace, recent draft flops like Jonny Flynn and Shawne Williams, and those with character issues like Delonte West and Sean Williams.
But that’s not all.
There’s always the possibility that Kupchak could add a veteran on an expiring contract who gets waived or bought out by a non-playoff team during the season. The Lakers have never really benefitted by signing any of these guys. While other teams have signed guys like Sam Cassell, Boris Diaw, Jalen Rose, Mike Bibby, and Mikael Pietrus, the Lakers have only ended up with Ira Newble and a washed-up Jim Jackson.
The difference between now and years past is that the Lakers no longer run the triangle offense and they now have Steve Nash. The triangle offense was a bit too complicated to teach someone with just a few weeks to go before the playoffs started and Nash is so well-liked and unselfish that he could be the difference between a guy signing with the Lakers or signing elsewhere.
Even if the Lakers start the season with 15 guys, rookies Darius Johnson-Odom and Robert Sacre have contracts that don’t become guaranteed until January 10. In other words, it wouldn’t be difficult to clear a roster spot if the Lakers wanted to sign the right free agent.
As far as the guys who are currently on expiring contracts and playing for teams not likely to make the playoffs, the list up until this past weekend had Kevin Martin at the top. But Martin now belongs to the Oklahoma City Thunder after he was part of the package the Rockets traded to the Thunder for James Harden. Even if Martin were available I don’t think the Lakers would have had the best chance to nab him. I’m not sure he would have even topped the Lakers wish list of the guys who might be available. That list starts with Toronto’s Jose Calderon. The Spanish point guard is clearly not returning to the Raptors after losing his starting job to newcomer Kyle Lowry. Calderon’s history with Pau Gasol, the Lakers need for an adequate back-up for Steve Nash, and the possibility of re-signing him beyond this season might be enough to convince Calderon to make the move out west. Calderon will pass the $50 million mark in just NBA career earnings this season. Surely, he’d prefer the chance to win a title with his fellow countrymen than chase a mid-level deal next summer to start for one of the league’s bottom-feeders.
If Calderon tops the list, number two on the list would have to be Detroit’s Corey Maggette. The Pistons didn’t unload Ben Gordon’s contract only to re-sign Maggette past this season. And while Detroit seems to be building a nice little team through the draft, they’re not a playoff team just yet. What makes Maggette a strong possibility for the Lakers is his relationship with Kobe Bryant and the fact that the two share the same agent. Maggette is one of the few guys in the league who has actually had his name, Kobe’s name, and the word “friend” in the same sentence. It’s not a secret the two have worked out together in the past and he probably wouldn’t mind having a chance to play for a contender in a city he spent eight years in while playing for the Clippers.
Other guys who could be bought out in time to sign on with other teams are Samuel Dalembert, Mike Dunleavy, Jr. and Beno Udrih of the Bucks and Daniel Gibson of the Cavs. Dalembert’s shot-blocking could be an asset to any team in the league, especially for a team that might need to match up with the Lakers’ height in the playoffs. I’m not sure any of those other three guys would make a huge difference on a contending team.
Next Page: What About Trades?