West Coast Sports Guest Expert: Alex Vejar
Alex Vejar is a reporter for the Antelope-Valley Press. He has covered the Lakers, Clippers, Dodgers and more for the newspaper. Vejar shared some of his thoughts on the upcoming NBA Free Agency period, which begins July 1, via email.
Q: You’ve covered both the Lakers and Clippers this past season, for those who have never covered an NBA game, what do you remember most about your first impression of the press room at the Staples?
A: My first experience was an ESPN game of the Clippers vs. the Spurs, and I wasn’t even really there to cover the game. I was there to write a Clippers notebook and a feature on Dewayne Dedmon of the Spurs, who is from the city in the coverage area of my newspaper. Everywhere I looked, there were reporters I knew and respected, such as JA Adande, Brad Turner and Ramona Shelburne. I was constantly watching these people pass by and telling myself, “Oh my god, that’s Ramona. And there’s JA.” I was fanboying to myself practically the whole time.
Q: Overall, what are you looking forward to most when free agency opens on the first?
A: I love the craziness of it all. I’m a heavy Twitter user, so I’m constantly refreshing to see what deals have happened, who got traded where, and so on. I’m also going to be reading a lot and listening to podcasts so I can stay up to date on all the analysis of what goes down. That part of it is fun for me.
Q: Speaking of free agents, the Clippers have Chris Paul and Blake Griffin both testing the market? Can the Clippers keep both? If not, who is the priority? Blake or Chris?
A: Well, part of that changed Wednesday morning when Paul got traded to the Houston Rockets for like six players and a draft pick. So we know the answer there. That deal was interesting to me because Rockets GM Daryl Morey proved his genius once again. He’s always an executive to advocate getting the players first and figuring out the rest later. For Paul, he couldn’t make it happen with the Clippers. And with the Golden State Warriors being what they are, I think you’ll see teams try to get multiple stars just for the opportunity to compete in the playoffs.
Which leads to Griffin. Part of me thinks the Clippers will offer him the five-year max deal, especially now that Paul left. To me, they can’t let
go Griffin, who’s their de facto best player on the roster. On the other hand, the Boston Celtics have been interested in him for some time and the Denver Nuggets like him, too. Plus, Griffin has shown he’s prone to injury. So if the Clippers have doubts, Griffin could easily walk. I just think it’s too much money to leave behind. Griffin likes L.A. and he might want to pull a Russell Westbrook and decide to take over a team that just had its star player leave.
Q: What should the Clippers backup plan be if they lose either Chris, Blake or both superstars?
A: They’ve lost one in Paul, and got some good return back. Patrick Beverly is younger and plays good defense, and the Clippers addressed Paul’s shooting prowess with Lou Williams and Sam Dekker. The also got a 2018 first-round pick and some other guys. But that doesn’t move the needle at all in terms of competing with the Warriors. They need another All-Star-level player to pair with Griffin, but if Griffin signs for the max, the Clippers will go over the salary cap with that deal alone. They still need to fill out the rest of the roster, and with JJ Redick likely gone and various guys from last season on one-year deals for low prices, I don’t see how the Clippers making any significant moves. They just don’t have the assets to entice other teams.
If Griffin leaves, the Clippers could make a play for Paul Milsap, Gordon Hayward or Paul George, all versatile forwards on their previous teams. But again, those players don’t help you beat Golden State. In my opinion, if Griffin also leaves, the Clippers should blow it up, trade players for picks and young players, and just start over.
Q: As for the Lakers, they are heavily rumored to pursue Paul George next offseason. Could they make a play for another marquee free agent this offseason? Who are some great fits for the Lakers this offseason?
A: I’m actually in the tiny camp of people that
don’t want Paul George to sign with the Lakers. Maybe I’ve been seduced by the idea that the Lakers should mirror the Warriors and create stars of the guys they drafted. But even the Warriors got Kevin Durant after winning 73 games last year. So my argument is admittedly flawed.
I think if George wants an expedited road to the NBA Finals, he shouldn’t go to the Lakers. He should play in Boston. That said, the Lakers like making the splashy deals, and George is an LA native. So in that sense, the fit makes sense. He’s already said he’d prefer to join the Lakers, and it seems like players who publicly say where they want to go end up there in one way or another. But I don’t think the Lakers should give up Brandon Ingram to get George. Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson, sure. The Lakers had a better chance of trading for him before the Draft. Now that it’s come and gone, it appears the Lakers are banking to land George in free agency next summer when LeBron James is also available.
If the Lakers wait a year for George, there are still things they can do. Griffin opted out of his deal, so staying in LA while getting a change of culture could be attractive for him. But the Lakers need defenders and shooting. Redick is available, as is Kyle Korver. Those guys can help spread the floor for Lonzo Ball. Tony Allen is available as well, as is Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. So the Lakers have options. They’re not LeBron-level options, but there are guys out there who can contribute to the team immediately.
Q: Will the Lakers focus on veterans again, or are there any young free agents you think they should add?
A: The Lakers are young enough. They’d benefit from players who have some playoff experience and are still contributing on a consistent basis. Unless they wrangle a deal for Anthony Davis or Kristaps Porzingis. Then forget everything I just said.
A: The way I see it, the Warriors need those guys, and need them badly. It’s been reported that at least seven teams want to make a run at Iguodala. Seven! He prefers to stay with the Warriors but definitely has the leverage if he wants to make more money, He made $11.1 million last season, and there are teams out there that would definitely pay him more. The Warriors can’t lose him.
Livingston is more expendable than Iguodala by comparison, but Livingston’s size and length are key to the Warriors. Livingston provides a steady option when Steph Curry sits. He also made only about $5.8 million last year. The Warriors could easily give him a bump in salary and retain his services.
Q: Do you see the Trailblazers, Suns or Sacramento making any major moves in the free agency?
A: Portland has the second-highest payroll in the NBA, and are projected to be over $36 million over the salary cap. Their main players are under contract for at least the next three years. So if the Blazers would do anything, it’d have to be via trade. Their best bet would be trading guys like Alan Crabbe, Meyers Leonard and/or Evan Turner, but Turner and Crabbe have high salaries, and their market value probably isn’t enough to land anyone big.
Phoenix is a different story. The Suns are projected to have almost $30 million in cap space. To me, anyone on that team other than Devin Booker is fair game for trade packages. But there are plenty of players out there on the market who the Suns can get. Phoenix could use for a formidable and versatile big man. I think Danilo Gallinari fits that mold. Pau Gasol is also available. They could make a play for Ersan Ilyasova, who made only $8.4 million last year. PJ Tucker is out there as well. And if they wanted to make a big splash, the Suns could try to land Milsap, whose brother, Elijah, is already on the team. There’s also plenty of wing players available such as Joe Ingles, George Hill and Johnathan Simmons. The Suns have plenty of options.
The Kings are in full rebuild mode, and that became apparent when they traded DeMarcus Cousins to New Orleans. They’re very high on the players they drafted this season, so I don’t see them trying to make a big signing this summer. That said, they have over $60 million in cap space. But Sacramento isn’t really a free-agent destination, despite their nifty new arena. And no players on their current roster will entice many teams to deal them a quality player. Add the constant uncertainty that is the Sacramento front office, and that spells a mostly silent summer for the Kings.
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