Lakers: No Trade is a Good Trade

As we approach the Thursday NBA trade deadline, the buzz surrounding Suns point guard, Goran Dragic and the Lakers gets louder. While Dragic would be a nice addition to the talent depraved Lakers, trading for him would be the worst possible move they could make.

The Lakers should have one objective for the remainder of the 2014-15 season: lose. Lose as many games as they can. They need to forget about just keeping their top-five protected draft pick and do everything they can to get land in the top three.

Acquiring Dragic would improve the team and would almost ensure that they win a few games more than they would without him. Trading for him would be an act of insanity given the fact they could sign him as a free agent this off-season.

The Lakers need this draft pick more than they need to win four extra games. Why help Phoenix anyway? By landing Dragic, the Lakers could very well hand over the 1st rounder they gave to Phoenix in the Steve Nash deal.

If the Lakers decide to make any trade deadline deals, they should be for draft picks. Mitch and Jim need to commit to the current roster and let the free agent process play out during the summer.

Dodgers Upgrade With Grandal

To most fans, the Dodgers appeared to have lost the Matt Kemp trade with the San Diego Padres. Heck, most Dodger fans would be hard pressed to name the player Kemp was traded for.

Along with Clayton Kershaw, Kemp was the face of the franchise – a Dodger from the beginning. In his prime (2011), Kemp single handily kept the Dodgers in the playoff hunt and barely lost the MVP to the performance-enhanced Ryan Braun.

How could the Dodgers trade Kemp for a catcher most fans have never heard of? Especially after a monster second half to the 2014 season? Kemp had swagger. He flipped the bat after home home runs. He dated Rihanna. He posted MVP numbers. He played center field. He was a Dodger, born and bred.

For all of the things Kemp was, he was not a catcher.

The Dodgers had a potent lineup last season ranking first in OBP, third in AVG and sixth in runs. They accomplished all of that without having a catcher. Well, they had three guys playing the catcher position and all were solid defenders.

However, the catcher position was an automatic out. It was downright painful to watch AJ Ellis, Drew Butera and Tim Federowicz flail at the dish. The only good news regarding Butera and Federowicz was they powered Dodger Stadium from the wind of their swings and misses.

Usually, Ellis would handle the load, taking every 5th or 6th day off for rest. This was the case until he missed a 34-game stretch in April and May followed by an 18 game absence in May and June.

It’s easy to see how injuries affecting his production and giving him reprieve for batting .191 last year is warranted. After all, he is a 33-year old, .242 career hitter with an OBP of .343.

However, Ellis is in his third year of decline:

At Bats: 423, 390, 283

AVG: .270, .238, .191

As much as fans love how Ellis works with Kershaw and works the count, the Dodgers had to address the catcher position.

In a perfect world, the Dodgers would have traded Andre Ethier for Grandal, but they did what they had to do with their most valuable trade chip. Here’s a look at the facts:

  • Dodgers had five outfielders: Kemp, Puig, Crawford, Van Slyke and Ethier (6 if you count Joc)
  • Dodgers had three catchers: Ellis, Butera and Federowicz
  • Dodgers catchers ranked 29 out of 30 teams offensively
  • Dodgers outfielders ranked 10th
  • Ellis, Butera and Federowicz combined to bat .181/.283/.544 and 7 (avg/obp/ops and hr)
  • Yasmani Grandal batted .225/.327/.728 and 15
  • Grandal is a switch hitter
  • Kemp is 30
  • Grandal is 26
  • Kemp has a contract worth north of $105M
  • Grandal isn’t eligible for arbitration until 2016
  • Grandal now spends half of his games at Dodger Stadium – not PETCO Park
  • Kemp has missed 157 games from 2012-2014
  • Grandal missed 50 games for PEDs
  • Grandal ranks as a top pitch framer
  • Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi are infatuated with metrics
  • Pitch framing is an important metric
  • Grandal was the 12th pick in the 2010 draft
  • Kemp can’t play center field and is declining as a defensive outfielder

The Dodgers traded from a position of strength (OF) to upgrade their most glaring weakness – catcher. With both players switching home ballparks, it wouldn’t be a stretch to project similar home run totals next year.

Opposing pitchers now have to worry about the 8-spot in the Dodgers lineup, which may not be Grandal. If he grows into his prime, Grandal could bat bat 6th or 7th. Platooning Ellis and Grandal gives the Dodgers a top-10 platoon at the position, while Kemp’s replacement, Joc Pederson should provide above replacement-level defense in center.

Yes, Kemp has a long history with the Dodgers and it is sad to see him go. But, the Dodgers needed a catcher more than they didn’t need a 5th outfielder. Grandal is a massive upgrade and will provide greater roster flexibility and offensive balance for the next 4-7 years.

Lakers – Moving on Up in the 2014 NBA Draft

We are four games from the midpoint of the 2013-14 NBA season, and the Lakers are 14-23, which is bad enough for the eighth-to-last spot in the league. Or, if you’re a realist, it’s good enough for the 8th pick in the 2014 NBA draft. Please note, this does not take into account where teams will land in the draft lottery. The good news is, is that they are only 2.5 games out of third slot and a higher chance of hitting the jackpot with either the 1st or 2nd overall pick.

It’s no secret that the Lakers are bereft of any real talent or young assets so any selection in the 2014 draft will be a much needed building block into the laying the foundation of the next dynasty. Here’s a look at our top eight prospects that can make a real impact for the Lakers.

1. Andrew Wiggins – Athletic on both ends of the floor. Could score more, but doesn’t need to with such a stellar supporting cast.

2. Jabari Parker – Scores from anywhere on the court and is averaging over seven rebounds.

3. Julius Randle – A solid big averaging a double-double.

4. Marcus Smart – When’s the last time the Lakers had a lightning-quick point guard that could score at will?

5. Joel Embiid – A 7-footer that can move. Embiid is just starting to scratch the surface of his potential. Think Serge Ibaka – but taller.

6. Dante Exum – A long, athletic point guard that is toying with the notion of attending college. He won’t.

7. Aaron Gordon – Size and athleticism. Think of an unrefined Blake Griffin.

8. Zach LaVine – Don’t let his youthful looks and slight frame fool you. LaVine can create his own shot and has range.

Kobe won’t be back in action for at least another 2-3 weeks and even when he is, there’s no guarantee that the Lakers can play consistent winning ball. It’s only a matter of time before the Kings, Celtics and Jazz surpass them in the standings, which is a good thing.

Should Lakers Give Peace a Chance?

If I told you that there was a 36.5 percent chance that there would ever be actual, world peace, the future would look grim.

Segway to Metta World Peace’s field goal percentage of 36.5. Last year, Kobe Bryant was the shot-cyphon shooting 43 percent, making only 10-23 shots per game. World Peace is not only missing his shots, but he’s taking shots away from his more-efficient teammates. WP has made 31 shots in 85 attempts and is averaging 11.8 points per game – his highest as a Laker.

I like Metta as a teammate, and I like him as human, but I don’t like his shot. He’s shot: 1-8, 4-5, 3-10, 7-11, 3-12, 3-14, 6-11, and 4-14. His shooting percentage has declined every year as a Laker and is currently a career low. In the five losses thus far, WP is shooting 30 percent (15-49).

I must admit, it was oddly amazing to see his slam on an alley-oop dunk against the Kings, and he does appear to be more nimble than this point in the season last year. But that doesn’t excuse the fact that he has taken only three fewer shots than Dwight Howard, who is 55-88, or 62.5 percent from the field. There simply aren’t enough basketballs to go around, and like it was with Kobe last year, WP must defer to more efficient teammates.

Still a capable defender that can disrupt a play or two, MWP isn’t the one-on-one defender he once was. Add Mike D’Antoni’s high-flying offense that encourages quick shots, and lots of threes. That’s like putting a kid in a candy store and telling him that he can’t have any candy. Good luck with that.

You can’t reason with MWP on the court. There’s no way anyone is going to tell him that he needs to shoot less. If Kobe hasn’t hinted it before – it ain’t going to happen. The only way to limit his shots is to limit his minutes. It’s up to D’Antoni to cut MWP’s minutes by at least 10-12, while giving more time to Jodi Meeks, Chris Duhon, Devin Ebanks, Earl Clark, and Jordan Hill.

Hey, I don’t mind World Peace, as long as it’s in moderation.

3 Things Hanley Ramirez Brings to the Dodgers

Like finding a hundred dollar bill in your pocket, or waking up next to a super model, the Dodgers acquisition of superstar shortstop Hanley Ramirez was as pleasant of a surprise Dodgers fans could hope for.

Not only did the offensively-challenged Dodgers snatch up one of the most talented players in baseball, they did it in the middle of the night under everyone’s nose. Surprise blockbuster deals seem to happen often in Los Angeles. From Manny Ramirez, to Pau Gasol, Chris Paul, Albert Pujols, Steve Nash, and Hanley, big moves usually come often, and unexpected.

The addition of Hanley is a much-needed shot of offensive firepower to a squad that lacked impact bats in the middle of the lineup. Kudos to Stan Kasten and Ned Colletti for pulling off such a move, because the timing couldn’t have been better. Hanley brings many qualities to the Dodgers, and if you boil them all down and crystallize them, they can be summed up in three parts.

Production 

It’s no secret that the Dodgers have one of, if not the worst offensive infields in all of baseball. James Loney and Juan Uribe have turned the hot corners cold, and Dee Gordon’s poor on base percentage (.280) , resembles more of an off-base percentage.

Mark Ellis and Jerry Hairston Jr. are quality big leaguers, while Luis Cruz, Juan Rivera and Adam Kennedy should be confined to spot starts – not regular at bats. You already know this, but here are the numbers:

Juan Uribe: .196/2/17/.255 (148 AB)
James Loney: .248/2/47/.303 (274 AB)
Jerry Hairston: .299/4/23/.367 (201 AB)
Mark Ellis: .262/3/13/.353 (191 AB)
Dee Gordon: .229/1/17/.280 (301 AB)
Juan Rivera: .256/5/33/.294 (211 AB)
Adam Kennedy: .250/1/15/.331 (144 AB)
TOTAL: .248/18/165/.311 (1,470 AB) / (357) = 4.1

Compare those stats to:

Hanley Ramirez: .249/14/49/.325 (357 AB)

People who focus on what Hanley isn’t are missing the point. They’re not realizing how anemic the Dodgers offense/infield is. So what that his batting average is fifty points lower than his career average. He hits for power, drives in runs, steals bases, scores runs, can play third or short, is only 28 years old, and makes less money than Joe Mauer. Yeah, Mauer still plays professional baseball.

Simply put, Hanley will produce more than all other starting Dodgers infielders combined.

Headaches for opposing pitchers

Hanley Ramirez Dodgers 1
Hanley’s bat will be a welcome addition in the Dodgers lineup. (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

When opposing pitchers game plan for the Dodgers, they need only worry about two hitters: Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier. Gordon can be meddlesome if he gets on base, and Mark and A.J. Ellis are smart hitters who can work the count. Other than that, the Dodgers lineup is pesky at best.

With Hanley in the fold, the Dodgers can keep pitchers on their toes. Kemp and Ethier will see better pitches, and if Hanley hits in the five-hole, expect more runs for the two and more RBIs for him. Essentially, Hanley gives the Dodgers one of the most formidable trios in all of baseball, and opposing pitchers will have to take note.

Star Power

This is L.A., the home of stars. Magic Johnson is an owner, Jack Nicholson a season ticket holder, and Kobe Bryant is one of the best ever. Hollywood became Mannywood, and most undoubtedly will morph into Hanleywood.

Matt Kemp has a big personality, but this town is bigger. Hanley is an outgoing guy in a community that will rally around a Latino star. Ramirez was coddled by the Marlins, who helped create a diva that relied on his talent and infectious smile, while giving less than 100 percent.

Who knows how he will respond, but let’s keep one thing in mind. This is the Dodgers. This is Kemp’s team. This is a brand new start. A change of scenery (it could be much, much worse than L.A.), a winning culture, and a franchise that’s much bigger than any one player should help keep Ramirez realize his lost potential.

For Dodgers fans, who are still recovering from the dark days of the McCourt era, the Ramirez acquisition is a bright as the shortstop’s big smile.

Jamison brings much needed depth to the Lakers.

Antawn Jamison
Jamison has the opportunity to lead the Lakers bench in scoring. (Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images)

By Nathan Oliver

Antawn Jamison has agreed to a one-year deal with the Lakers, bringing much needed depth and scoring punch to the Purple and Gold.  The Lakers ranked dead last in bench scoring with a paltry 20.5 points per game.  Jamison nearly matched that by himself, averaging over 17 points in 33 minutes on the lowly Cavs.

Matt Barnes did an admirable job off the bench and was one of the few shining spots of the reserves. While everyone else in the hoops world has been concentrating on Dwight Howard, my interest has been focused on talented role players like Jamison, Jermaine O’Neal and Courtney Lee. As it stands, acquiring Dwight Howard is irrelevant if the Lakers don’t have players that can hold a lead when the starters take a breather. Hopefully the Lakers can resign Jordan Hill, who, along with Devin Ebanks should take big steps forward this year. However, even big steps from those two won’t be enough.

While bench scoring isn’t the only key to bringing home hardware (the Heat finished third-to-last in bench scoring with just under 23 points), being able to rely on your bench to score is extremely important. It’s no secret that the second unit squandered leads into deficits, adding minutes to a group of starters that needed rest. The Lakers are long in the tooth; last year they were the third oldest team in the NBA. Next year, the starters will need more rest, so it becomes critical to have players who can protect leads.

Jamison brings a scorers mentality, and a veteran presence to the locker room, which along with Steve Nash, looks to fill the void left by D-Fish. By signing Jamison, the Lakers make a move that looks small on paper, but might pay huge dividends come playoff time. Getting him for the league’s veteran minimum is pure Buss family maneuvering. It looks like there is hope for Jim Buss yet; he may have learned a thing or two from his old man.

Dwight Howard to the Lakers is the wrong move

Howard’s talents are not needed in L.A.

For those of you who are sick of the Dwight Howard drama, I’ll make this short and sweet. The Lakers should not acquire the exceptionally talented diva for three reasons.

Let’s state the obvious here: Howard doesn’t want to be here, he’s recovering from back surgery, and the Lakers have the second-best young center in basketball. So why does everyone think the Lakers would attempt to make that deal?

First and foremost, as a Lakers fan, I don’t want any player who doesn’t want to be here. This is L.A., the home of Magic, Kareem, Baylor, West, Worthy, Chamberlain, Shaq and Kobe. The Lakers hold the standard for class and winning. Los Angeles is the media capital of the world, where stars are born and images explode.

If Howard would rather take his talents to Brooklyn, by all means, go for it. Apparently winning championships and playing alongside greatness isn’t what Howard wants. That’s cool. We just won’t break our back to get you.

Speaking of breaking backs, how is yours feeling Mr. Howard? Can you guarantee that you’ll be 100 percent healthy by the start of the season? How about one- to two-months into the season, or even by the All-Star break?

Nobody knows what’s up with your back and it would be foolish to trade for a player who is coming off of major surgery. Ankles, knees and backs are career killers and I’d rather not see the Lakers trade for broken players.

When it comes to broken players, Andrew Bynum is no lock to play in all 82 games next year, but at least he’s healthy now. And the last time I checked, Bynum was widely considered the second best center in the NBA behind Howard.

Nobody thinks that the center position is one of weakness on the Lakers, so why risk messing with it? It’s not like the Lakers are going into next season with Joel Pryzbilla or Theo Ratliff at the five.

With the addition of Steve Nash, the Lakers addressed their most glaring need and turned it into a strength. Add some pieces to the bench and this team is a major contender to win the title next year – without Howard.

What Andrew Bynum’s Max Contract Means

As expected, the Lakers exercised their $16 million team option on Andrew Bynum, keeping the enigmatic center around for at least part of the 2012-13 season. But what after that? Will Bynum be wearing purple and gold for the rest of his career?

Los Angeles Lakers Center, Andrew Bynum
Will the Lakers sign Andrew Bynum to a max contract? (Garrett Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images)

Like every off-season, especially one fraught with so much discontent, the Lakers find themselves at ground zero of the rumor mill. Apparently, Bynum will be traded for Dwight Howard, or Pau Gasol for Deron Williams. All of the predictions, speculation, and hearsay amounts to one big steaming pile of Troy Murphy.

I’ll spare you the baseless conjecture and shed some light on what seems to be driving the Lakers decision making heading up to the tight salary cap restrictions of 2013-14 – money.

Understanding the type of contract Bynum will be seeking might provide a bigger picture to the Lakers long-term plans, with personnel and finances.

The new CBA’s salary cap implications won’t go into effect until the 2013-14 season when the Lakers will have committed approximately $61 million to Kobe Bryant, Gasol, Steve Blake and Metta World Peace (all in the final year of their deals).

We won’t know for sure until the salary cap is released in July, but it’s not expected to change much from the $58 mark of 2011-12. Like last year, the salary was still soft ($1-for-$1 over the cap), and will get harder once the 2013-14 season starts, with an increasing penalty scale of:

$0M – 5M $1.50-for-$1
$5M – 10M $1.75-for-$1
$10M – 15M $2.50-for-$1
$15M – 20M $3.25-for-$1

As wealthy and willing to spend as the Lakers have been, I’ll bet that they’ll mind the upcoming luxury tax penalties with extreme prudence.

What is a Max Contract?

Under the new CBA, max contracts are limited to five years, and players with 7-9 years of experience (Bynum) will be eligible for a maximum of $11 million, or 30% of the cap, whichever is worth more. In this case, 30% of the current cap is $17,413,200.

We will use the current cap figure of $58 million because there is no way to project its growth four and five years in advance. However, I do expect the cap to grow in small increments.

Back to Bynum. Thirty percent of the current salary cap over five years, is approximately $87 million. That’s not a bad deal as far as the Lakers are concerned considering that they will have paid him $58 million for four years.

Based on what Bynum will earn next year ($16 million), it’s safe to say that a raise to $17.4 million is the logical next step. If you compare Bynum’s current contract of four years and $58 million with a projected max contract of five years and $87 million – it would be safe to say that the Lakers would be getting their money’s worth.

I say that because if you add a fifth year onto Bynum’s current contract for the same amount he’ll be paid for the 2012-13 season ($16 million), the total would be $74 million. That’s approximately $13-15 million less than the yearly payouts under a projected max contract.

Now if you add the first year of Bynum’s estimated max deal with the final years of Bryant and Gasol’s contracts, you have:

2013-14
Kobe: $30,453,000
Pau: $19,285,000
Bynum: $17,413,200
Total: $67,151,200

Let me remind you that the new luxury tax threshold will be in effect and the Lakers will pay at least $1.50 for every $1 they spend over the salary cap – which should be hovering around $60 million. In this case, the Lakers will be $5 – $10 million over, enacting a $1.75-for-$1 penalty for just these three players.

Injuries and Production

Los Angeles Lakers Andrew Bynum 2Throughout his seven-year career, Bynum has been the very definition of injury-prone. During the previous three seasons, Bynum has played in 179 of 224 games, including all 60 games last year.

He was a non-factor in both championships, and has appeared in every game of a season only twice (2006-07 and 2011-12). It is safe to assume that despite Bynum’s emergence last year as a top-tier center, the Lakers are still wary of his ability to stay healthy.

People forget that the seven-year veteran is only 24 and will turn 25 just before the 2012-13 season. If the Lakers lock him into a five-year deal, they will have him under control through the 2017-18 season when he turns 30. Providing that he stays healthy during those five years, the Lakers can enjoy the ripened fruits of his career.

And in case you forgot about how good that fruit tastes, Bynum averaged 18.7 points, 11.8 rebounds, 1.9 blocks, and 35.2 minutes last year, while starting for the All-Star team and earning All-NBA Second Team honors.

The only way to prove that he’s worth a max deal is to play. Bynum will have to produce at an All-Star level next season if he wants a huge payday.

The Next Step

Will the Lakers wait to see if Bynum holds up during the 2011-12 season, or will they sign him before the season starts, knowing that they will be hard-pressed to find another center of his caliber on the open market?

With the projected max contract Bynum will fetch, there is a greater chance of the Lakers trading for Luke Walton than retaining Bryant, Gasol (who turns 32 in July), and Bynum for the 2013-14 season.

Will they trade Pau? Will they let Bynum go? Will Bynum stay healthy for an entire 82-game season? Will they amnesty World Peace or Gasol? I expect the Lakers to shop Gasol to free up cap space, while building their team around the younger and budding talent of Bynum.

Even if the Lakers trade Bynum for Howard, and Howard agrees to sign a max contract, the Lakers will be faced with the same financial conundrum.

Whichever way you slice it, the Lakers will be forced to make a financial decision based on Bynum’s long-term health and the trade market for Gasol.

Matt Kemp: Out at least one month

According to team sources, All-Star outfielder Matt Kemp will be sidelined at least a month with what is described as a Grade 1 strain of his hamstring.

Kemp re-injured his hamstring while scoring on Andre Eithier’s double in the first inning against the Brewers May 30. Visibly upset, Kemp broke a bat over his knee in the dugout before entering the clubhouse.

This is another blow to the NL West-leading Dodgers, who called up rookie second baseman Alex Castellanos from Triple-A Albuquerque. Kemp joins Juan Uribe, Justin Sellers, Mark Ellis, and Juan Rivera (Rivera will be activated Friday) on the DL.

Dodgers Call Up Prospect Alex Castellanos

And another one bites the dust…

Matt Kemp came off of the disabled list and then went back on it quicker than you can say Castellanos. No matter how you slice it, having Kemp go down is a major blow to the Dodgers. Not to worry, there is a silver lining. The Blue Crew called up promising rookie infielder/outfielder Alex Castellanos from Triple-A Albuquerque to play second base.

Acquired from St. Louis in the Rafael Furcal deal last summer, Castellanos has been putting up stellar numbers at every level in the minor leagues. He hit a combined 24 home runs in 125 games for the Dodgers and Cardinals Double-A clubs last year, while batting just over .320. Due to a hamstring injury, Castellanos was limited to only 21 games this year for the Isotopes where he batted .361 with 4 home runs, 12 RBI, and 7 stolen bases.

Dodgers Alex Castellanos

A 10-round pick by the Cardinals out of Division II Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina in 2008, Castellanos was moved from his natural position at second base to the outfield. The Dodgers moved him back to second base, where his defense shined, increasing his value.

Due to multiple injuries to Kemp, Juan Uribe, Justin Sellers, and Mark Ellis, Castellanos will get plenty of opportunities at second base. At the moment, the Dodgers are using a platoon of rookie Elian Herrera and veterans Adam Kennedy and Jerry Hairston (who are also getting time at third). Herrera will platoon with Tony Gwynn Jr. in center field depending on the pitching matchup.

The challenge for most rookies is reaching base and limiting strikeouts. Castellanos posted an OBP of .392 last year in both stops, and had a .465 mark thus far in Albuquerque. In terms of making contact, Castellanos has a strikeout rate between 20-21% in 2011 and 2012.

Replacing Kemp’s bat in the Dodgers lineup will be nearly impossible and will be a team effort. Hopefully, the Dodgers pull together and Castellanos holds on to second base for years to come.