The Los Angeles Lakers were one of the first teams to strike in this year’s free agency period, reportedly agreeing to terms with veteran center Timofey Mozgov. The deal is reported to be a four-year pact worth $64 million. For most fans, paying Mozgov an average of $16 million annually is a head-scratcher, especially since he played less than 80 minutes in this year’s playoffs and so many bigger names were available.
But here’s the cold hard truth.
Yes, the Lakers are one of the league’s premiere franchises. Yes, the Lakers have a past filled with championship trophies. Yes, the Lakers play in one of the most desirable markets in the NBA. But let’s be clear: Los Angeles has won a combined 65 games over the past three seasons. To put this in perspective, the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs won more games in this past season alone.
The Lakers, as a franchise, are in a critical state of rebuild. The team is entering a new era with future Hall of Fame guard Kobe Bryant walking away from the game. The club is also under new leadership, with rookie head coach Luke Walton taking over the bench.
As hard as the Lakers tried to lure top guys into town for a free agency visit, the club just didn’t receive any traction. Top free agents such as Al Horford, Hassan Whiteside and Dwight Howard were inaccessible. Securing the autograph of a superstar such as Kevin Durant was a pipe dream – at best.
Before the Lakers can dream of signing big names, the team must improve their on-court talent level. The club has an interesting mix of youth with D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle, Larry Nance Jr. and, now, Brandon Ingram. However, the club is lacking veterans who have proven to be productive.
While most won’t be able to wrap their heads around the Mozgov signing for some time, you have to remember he is an upgrade over last year’s starter Roy Hibbert. Mozgov was buried on Cleveland’s bench for the majority of this past season, but he also started the campaign less than 100 percent after surgery.
If you look at Mozgov over the course of his career, his numbers have been solid when given a consistent allotment of minutes.
When given 10-19 minutes: 5.4 points, four rebounds, 0.8 blocks, 52 percent from field (143 games played)
When given 20-29 minutes: 9.4 points, 6.5 rebounds, 1.3 blocks, 55 percent from field (126 games played)
When given 30-39 minutes: 14 points, 10.7 rebounds, 1.6 blocks, 58 percent from field (31 games played)
In Los Angeles, Mozgov should become the team’s immediate starter in the middle and his production should be at, or slightly above, his normal numbers in the 20-29 minute range. This is solid production for a veteran role player, especially with your young core still on cap-friendly rookie deals.
The Lakers had to get better and, if healthy, Mozgov improves their rotation. Los Angeles will one day re-emerge as a prime free agency destination for elite players, but for now the franchise must rebuild their credibility and make moves of this type.
Batum, Hornets Agree to $100 Million Deal
According to multiple reports, forward Nicolas Batum and the Charlotte Hornets have agreed on a five-year deal worth $120 million.
Charlotte returned to the playoffs last season and outside the continued development of guard Kemba Walker, Batum was a driving force in the team’s ascent in the Eastern Conference standings.
Locking up Batum long-term was general manager Rich Cho and the Hornets’ top priority entering free agency.
Batum averaged 14.9 points, 6.1 rebounds and 5.8 assists in 70 appearances last season, which was his first in Charlotte. Batum’s importance was magnified due to forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist only appearing in seven games last season due to injury.
The Hornets recorded 48 wins last season, but lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Miami HEAT in seven games.
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