The Lakers have dreamed big in free agency the last few years, but they’ve struck out on the biggest stars. Then, after missing out on players like LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, the Lakers have settled for scraps with the next tier of free agents already committed elsewhere.
What are the Lakers doing wrong?
Though teams aren’t technically permitted to contact free agents until their previous contracts expire — when the calendar turns from June 30 to July 1 Eastern each year — tampering is commonplace and selectively enforced. But Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak takes a different approach.
Said one player agent, who has dealt with Kupchak on several contracts, “He’s the only GM in the league who won’t engage at all before 9:01 p.m. [PT] on the first night of free agency. Then when he calls to express interest, there’s no stickiness to it.”
According to sources, Kupchak was reluctant to allow Mozgov to be tempted by other offers, giving him a four-year, $64 million deal just minutes after free agency began.
I still find it hard to believe such a large contract was agreed upon so quickly. But, if I were Mozgov and someone offered me $64 million, it would take only minutes to accept. Because of the moratorium, the contract couldn’t be finalized for another week, anyway. There was still team to work out the fine print.
Kupchak’s approach is commendable. The onus should be on the NBA to set clear and enforceable tampering rules and allow everything else. But that doesn’t appear to be happening any time soon, and in the meantime, the Lakers are falling behind. Not only do pre-July 1 conversations help make inroads with free agents, those talks reveal information that can be useful when formulating a plan.