It has only been a couple of days into free agency and the rumor mill has been in high gear around the league. While other teams, notably the Brooklyn Nets and the Atlanta Hawks, have had a productive few days of making roster moves, the Lakers have remained quiet. In fact, the only confirmed deal has been the re-signing of second-year point guard Darius Morris to a one-year deal worth $962,195 on July 2nd.
Free agency in 2012 is proving to be very challenging for the Lakers, who are already are trying to trim the financial fat of their player contract costs. In a perfect world, the Lakers would have been able to acquire free agent Deron Williams. Heck, forget a perfect world. In the previous collective bargaining agreement, the Lakers could have easily afforded to offer a max deal to Williams. However, with a new severe luxury tax system and a dramatic increase in revenue sharing, the Lakers simply cannot afford to go after whoever they want and entice whoever they want with max, guaranteed contracts.
Welcome to the new CBA era of professional basketball.
The truth is the Lakers cannot afford to pay more than their $3.09 million mini mid-level exception to any potential free agents. With a lot of teams, such as the Phoenix Suns, Houston Rockets, and the Toronto Raptors, emerging from the list that are able to offer free agents more money and even max contracts, the Lakers are essentially working to make financially savvy moves with their hands tied, while still aiming to improve the team as a whole.
Whether or not you are willing to take Jim Buss’ word of a plan to not make any major changes to the core of the team, we can all agree there needs to be improvement to some area of the roster because getting ousted in the second round of the playoffs is getting old to me, and I bet you would agree. Since, we could all use a break from the Dwight Howard saga, let’s look at a move that would help a definite need to the Lakers: their bench.
Anyone familiar with the Lakers understands that the bench was dismal last season. In fact, improving the Laker bench is widely considered the team’s top priority to address during this off-season. When news broke a few days ago that the Lakers were interested in the Golden State Warriors’ Brandon Rush, it appeared as if Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss were taking a step towards enhancing the Lakers bench.
The Lakers are in dire need of capable and consistent shooters, especially off the bench. Last season with Golden State, Rush averaged 9.8 points, 3.9 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game. He had his best season in terms of field goal percentage and three-point percentages at 50.1 and 45.2 respectively. In fact, his 45.2 percentage from the three-point line was good enough for sixth best in the league. Compare that to the Lakers’ team three-point percentage of 32.6 or Steve Blake’s three-point percentage of 33.5, and he would be regarded as the Lakers’ best three-point shooter.
Most importantly, the presence of Brandon Rush spreads the floor, which would greatly benefit the Lakers offense. However, there are of course some negatives that come with Rush’s game. He lacks speed and a defensive mentality, as he has shown struggles to defend wing players in his four years of NBA experience. Rush is currently ranked 217th in the league in total defense. Rush also limits his game to knockdown shooting and, unlike Matt Barnes who isn’t expected to return to the Lakers, does not cut or drive to the basket.
The Warriors have reported that they want to keep Rush and have made the first move in proving that. Last week, the Warriors’ made a qualifying offer to the 6’6″ guard of $4,089,058 to make Rush a restricted free agent. This means that the Warriors can now match any offer from other teams for Rush in order to retain him if they wish to do so. This stands as an obstacle for the Lakers if their interest in Rush turns into serious talks, but the opportunity to acquire the twenty-six year old is still alive.
For the Lakers, this means implementing a sign-and-trade in order for Rush to wear purple and gold. The positive news for the Lakers is that the Warriors, among several other teams, have expressed interest in the Lakers unrestricted free agent Jordan Hill. Hill declined his option of $3,362,527 in order to test the free agency market. The Lakers do hold partial Bird-rights for Hill, which allow them to exceed the salary cap in order to re-sign Hill.
After being acquired from the Rockets for Derek Fisher at the trade deadline last season, Hill averaged 4.7 points and 4.4 rebounds in seven regular-season games with the Lakers. In the playoffs, Hill bumped those averages up to 4.8 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. Potential injury problems and off-court legal issues may stand in the way of the Lakers making a full commitment to Hill. The Lakers did express a desire to re-sign Hill, but have yet to make an official offer.
Brandon Rush would certainly help to improve the Lakers bench and outside shooting needs. Acquiring Rush will be a challenge for the Lakers based on the Warriors’ desire to keep him in Northern California and with the Warriors’ move of making him a restricted free agent. However, if the Lakers strongly want to pursue this acquisition, it remains possible.