America turns 240 years old on Monday and I’ll tell you what, with a lot of the rhetoric of late, she doesn’t look a day over 190. But the American Dream is alive and well, as evidenced by the NBA’s free agent bonanza of the past two days.
With the new collective bargaining agreement having increased the salary cap by a wide margin, teams have to throw a lot more dough around to lure free agents. There is a fair argument to be made that nobody who plays basketball for a living should earn $35 million a year, but if the money is being generated, I’d much rather see it go to the players than remain in the owners’ pockets.
I like to take some light jabs at the Lakers from time to time, mostly because it gets my readers a little perturbed. I think there are more passionate Laker fans per square mile on Kauai than there are in the greater Los Angeles area. So when they go through any stretch of incompetence — like, say, right now — it’s just good, clean family fun for the rest of us.
So I say this with all due respect for a great franchise with a rich history and invested fans: What in the world are the Lakers doing?
We knew contracts were going to sound ridiculously inflated and these new numbers will take some getting used to. But I don’t think any of us were prepared for one of the first contracts out of the gate to be four years, $64 million for Timofey Mozgov.
I actually like Mozgov, so I don’t totally enjoy all the shade he’s getting for signing a huge deal. He was productive in Denver and he was really good two years ago for Cleveland. But he had a bad surgery last year and turned into one of the worst centers in basketball. So not only did the Lakers decide to ignore his lack of production, ignore his injury and ignore what they just went through with an immobile center in Roy Hibbert, they decided to give him a four-year deal.
And they did it before the market had even been set and before anyone else had come off the board. And they did it when the league is going the other direction and centers barely played in the NBA Finals.
Then they decided to give Luol Deng a four-year, $72 million deal. Again, I don’t dislike Deng. He’s a great character guy and he showed last year in Miami that he might still have something left in the tank. But he’s already 31 years old and he’s a 33 percent career three-point shooter on a team that has some serious spacing issues.
Will he be a good mentor for Brandon Ingram? Probably. But I have a feeling that years two, three and four on that deal are going to seem like they’re paying for an $18 million babysitter.
Despite winning just 17 games last year, the Lakers aren’t without hope. They have a nice foundation with Ingram, D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson, whom they just re-signed. But they might not have a first-round pick next year (it goes to Philadelphia if the Lakers aren’t in the top three; they also sent their 2019 first-round pick to Orlando), so it could be another bad season with no reward.
With a lack of potential lottery picks over the next few seasons, they probably should have been looking at overpaying younger players, rather than shilling out big money to a pair of players past their prime and not suited for the modern NBA.
The saddest detail of all may not be who the Lakers targeted, but that they seemed to acknowledge that no legitimate stars wanted to come to town. They snagged Mozgov about four minutes after midnight, which was essentially punting on third down.
It’s a brave new world in the NBA marketplace. Laker fans may want to down some Soma and think about the good old days.
David Simon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.