NBA PM: Paying Jordan Hill
The Los Angeles Lakers’ “big” move at the trade deadline was to acquire point guard Ramon Sessions from the Cleveland Cavaliers. To do so cost the Lakers a first-round pick but equally they were able to move out two unproductive players (Luke Walton and Jason Kapono).
To make room for Sessions, Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak traded away long-time veteran, and frequent but aging hero, Derek Fisher to the Houston Rockets.
It was a major shake-up to the Lakers to lose Fisher, who has since been re-routed to the Oklahoma City Thunder, where he could meet L.A. in the second-round of the playoffs if both the Lakers and Thunder can win two of the next five games apiece.
In return for Fisher (and another first-round pick), Kupchak acquired center/forward Jordan Hill, who initially couldn’t get off the bench ahead of Troy Murphy and Josh McRoberts. He was also fighting through a sprained MCL, which kept him sidelined for a couple weeks.
Eventually, he got his opportunity to play, breaking out in a double-overtime tour-de-force against the Thunder in a 114-106 Laker victory.
Hill played 35 minutes, contributing 14 points, 15 boards and three blocks. Andrew Bynum was not at his best and Jordan was on the floor to close the game (including both overtime sessions).
Now, he’s firmly entrenched himself as the team’s first big off the bench. Lakers head coach Mike Brown indicated recently that he expects Hill’s role to remain constant throughout the postseason.
Once again Kupchak has acquired a player who might have seemed like an afterthought or throw-in, who suddenly proves to be a valuable asset. The same could be said of Shannon Brown, Trevor Ariza or even Laron Profit (before injury).
Hill is currently under contract for $2.86 million. Because the Rockets did not pick up his team option for $3.6 million, he will become an unrestricted free agent this summer.
Looking ahead, it’s hard to anticipate how well the Lakers will do this postseason and how much they’re willing to spend over the summer. If Hill continues to put up numbers off the bench (8.0 points and 10 rebounds in 22.5 minutes per game this postseason), he’d presumably be a piece the Lakers would hope to retain.
Hill is in a similar situation as Devean George, dating back many years to when the Lakers declined George’s rookie contract option before the season, but then chose to re-sign him. Since he was eventually paid more than the declined option, it cost the Lakers their Mid-Level Exception (MLE) and a shot at any other MLE-level free agents that summer, such as Chauncey Billups.
Under the new collective bargaining agreement, the Lakers don’t even have a true MLE. The taxpayer’s version of the MLE caps out at $3.09 million.
The most the Lakers can pay Hill is the amount that the Rockets declined at $3.6 million. Because they still have his Bird Rights, the largest contract they can offer would be $20.9 million over five years.
While a team with cap room can easily outspend the Lakers, non-taxpaying teams armed with the full MLE would have four years and $21.4 million to offer.
Another option for Hill might be a two-year deal with the Lakers at $7.5 million. The second ($3.9 million) could be a player option. Upon opting out, Hill and the Lakers would be able to circumvent this summer’s salary restriction. At that point, they’d have full Bird Rights and the means to pay him a lucrative, long-term deal.
Certainly it’s early in Hill’s career with the Lakers. Los Angeles will have to look closely at their budget this summer with the ever-increasing luxury tax and a significantly beefed-up revenue sharing system (of which they’re a major giver not a taker). Such decisions won’t come until the summer and the team hopes to have a lengthy postseason run.
Additionally, Hill has to deal with a recent assault accusation. The legal issue is expected to be addressed after the season. As is the law of the land, innocent until proven guilty, the Lakers are moving forward with the hope that Jordan will be free of this issue without complication.
Lawson More Aggressive
The Denver Nuggets were unable to get a split in Los Angeles but their four-point loss in Game 2 was a more-credible showing than in the opener.
The play of point guard Ty Lawson proved to be a problem for the Lakers. He finished with 25 points on 11-17 shooting (64.7 percent) from the field and seven assists.
Nuggets head coach George Karl made it clear before Game 2 that he needed Lawson to be more aggressive for the Nuggets to beat the Lakers.
“I want you to touch the paint at least ten times in the first quarter,” said Lawson of his coach’s instruction.
The difficulty the Nuggets need to address is slowing down the Lakers’ attack. Lawson may have scored 24 points, but Kobe Bryant had 38 and Andrew Bynum had 27. So far this series, it’s been two wire-to-wire wins for Los Angeles.
“At one point in the game, we’ve got to be up,” said Lawson. “It’s hard just battling back the whole game.”
Guard Arron Afflalo knows his team needs to find answers quickly.
“There’s only so much you can improve in the postseason before you’re out,” said Afflalo. “From 2-0 on up, I still don’t remember us being up one point on this team. So we’ve yet to have this team in a position where they need to catch up to us.”
Game 3 is on Friday in Denver.
Gasol Accepting New Role
Upon acquiring Pau Gasol in 2008, he immediately became the team’s primary inside option. Immediately, the Lakers became contenders with three-straight NBA Finals appearances (two titles).
Last year Gasol, struggled through the playoffs and was badly outplayed by Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Mavericks.
Since then, the team tried to move him for Chris Paul and shopped him leading into the trade deadline, but ultimately decided to stand by 31-year old forward/center.
In the meantime, center Andrew Bynum has become an All-Star and arguably the top center in the league (at least with Dwight Howard out after back surgery).
Gasol has been forced to adjust his game, settling into the role of third option offensively.
“Whatever is needed out there, I’m trying to do it,” said Gasol. “I don’t get as many looks as I used to, especially down in the post because Drew is taking up a lot of that and being effective.”
Pau has become more of a consistent jump shooter, stretching his range out to the three-point line. He’s also arguably the team’s best passer, leading the team with 6.5 assists per game this postseason.
“I’m just trying to make our offense work, get a little movement and get guys easy shots,” said Gasol. “I try to take advantage of my opportunities and also use my skills and my talent to get guys involved and facilitate. That’s what I’ve been trying to do. ”
Gasol has been especially frustrating for opposing head coach George Karl.
“Gasol doesn’t put great numbers up but he’s probably their best passer out there on the court,” said Karl. “He just kind of understands what the hell is going on about as well as anybody on the court. For a 7’1″ guy to do that, it’s pretty incredible stuff.”
The difficulty for Gasol is staying aggressive when he’s not getting nearly the touches he used to in the post.
“I think being aggressive gets me going, gets me a little more involved, gets me more active on both ends of the floor. So I have to balance it out,” said Gasol.
Kobe appreciates what Pau has given up.
“Championship teams have always been built on players who can sacrifice for the betterment of the group. He’s obviously sacrificed his touches but his aggressiveness is not going down,” said Bryant. “When you look at his assist numbers, his rebounding numbers – he’s such a big factor for our team – his ability to facilitate a lot of things for our guys.”
Bynum has had his best season to date, leapfrogging Gasol and even at times Bryant as the team’s most efficient scorer.
“It was basically Bynum’s showcase season with Kobe Bryant surprising everybody, playing with an incredibly energized body that we didn’t think was there last year,” said Karl. “And Gasol kind of orchestrating it as a playmaker and smart dude at high post at 7’1″ that can put a double-double on any team he plays against. And the other guys fill in the blanks and they do it pretty well.”
Kobe believes the Lakers are a championship contender.
“It’s tough when you play against us because there’s legitimately three guys on the post that you have to double-team,” said Bryant. “For Andrew, he’s continually getting better at it and making great reads which is going to help us tremendously the better he gets at it.”
Under Mike Brown, the Lakers have improved defensively. They seem to be too much for the Nuggets to handle but the change of venue may help Denver.
“I think they’re getting comfortable with Coach Brown’s kind of defensive mentality but I’m looking very much forward to Friday night,” said Karl.
If the Lakers do advance, the Thunder (if they defeat the Mavericks) may be a far-more challenging foe than the Nuggets.
2012 NBA Draft Early Entry List
The NBA released its Early Entry List for the 2012 Draft.
The list includes 66 players and is headlined by Kentucky’s Anthony Davis, who is expected by many to be the top overall pick in June.
Other noteworthy names: Harrison Barnes, Bradley Beal, Andre Drummond, Michael Kidd-Gilchrest, Jared Sullinger, Austin Rivers and Fab Melo (among many others).
2012 NBA Draft Lottery
On Thursday, the NBA announced the 2012 NBA Draft Lottery will be held at the Disney/ABC’s Times Square Studios in New York on May 30 at 8 p.m. Eastern.
Out of 1,000 combinations, the following teams will have the following chances at the top pick:
Charlotte 250 (25.0%)
Washington 199 (19.9%)
Cleveland 138 (13.8%)
New Orleans 137 (13.7%)
Sacramento 76 (7.6%)
New Jersey 75 (7.5%)
Golden State 36 (3.6%)
Toronto 35 (3.5%)
Detroit 17 (1.7%)
New Orleans 11 (1.1%)
Portland 8 (0.8%)
Milwaukee 7 (0.7%)
Phoenix 6 (0.6%)
Houston 5 (0.5%)
While the Bobcats have the best odds, there’s also a 75% chance they won’t get the #1 selection.
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