The Los Angeles Lakers have agreed to re-sign free agents Nick Young and Jordan Hill, according to reports from CBSSports.com and Yahoo! Sports. Young will return on a four-year deal worth $21.5 million over four years, the last of which will be a player option. Hill was brought back on a two-year, $18 million deal with a team option in its second year.
Neither deal is especially heartening for the Lakers, who surely had grander designs in mind for their cap space. Hill is the better player of the two, an impressive box score stuffer who averaged 16.7 points and 12.8 rebounds per 36 minutes last season. An annual salary of $9 million, though, is a hefty price to pay for a player who has never before logged more than 21 minutes a night over the course of a season. Hill does well in bursts, where his energy and athleticism make him one of the most productive rebounders in the league. In this coming season, though, the Lakers will need Hill to fill more minutes than ever before to account for a dwindling lineup. Pau Gasol already has one foot out the door. Chris Kaman has agreed to sign with the Trail Blazers. That leaves Hill, rookie Julius Randle, sophomore Ryan Kelly, and benchwarmer Robert Sacre to fill the bulk of the power forward and center rotation. These are dark times in Lakerland, indeed.
The short-term and team option built into Hill's deal make it a tolerable investment, though its size represents a reality check to those who expected L.A. to return to the playoff hunt immediately. Carmelo Anthony will not be signing with the Lakers, as the team's cap maneuverings have all but assured. And frankly, why would he want to? There may be greater off-court earning potential in Los Angeles than in most other markets and more glamor in playing for the Lakers than with most other teams, but the prospect of helping Kobe Bryant (who is coming off of two major injuries at 35 years old) to drag a bare-bones roster to mediocrity just isn't all that intriguing to highly competitive players. And so the Lakers' cap space instead goes to the likes of Young and Jeremy Lin – the combination of which will bring the Lakers near enough to the salary cap to prevent any other major signings.
Young's spendy, four-year deal, then, is all the more discouraging for what it signals in terms of the Lakers' offseason renovation. Between his new deal, Lin's salary, the five other players under contract and the cap holds for Hill (who doesn't need to be re-signed into cap space due to his Bird rights), Randle and the remaining roster spots, L.A. will already be committed to around $60 million for next season. Some minor moves can still be made in the space that remains and some solid player can be acquired by way of the $2.7 million room exception. More room (bringing the Lakers to around $9 million in total) could be had by exercising the stretch provision on Steve Nash's contract. Otherwise, those provisions earmarked for the acquisition of another star are largely accounted for with no such star in sight.
In those terms, Young – beloved though he may be – has to be something of a disappointment. He was better for the Lakers last season than he was largely given credit for and more efficient with his shooting than he had been in previous spots. Young seemed ready to fall into a role as a reserve gunner for a team in need of such a thing, provided his limitations as a defender and tunnel-visioned approach could be properly considered. The Lakers don't really have the infrastructure to accommodate those particular needs, nor do they have room to build up a better roster around him. Yet they'll pay Young around $5 million annually for the next four years almost by default – he is familiar, he's a productive scorer and his re-signing won't completely doom L.A.'s chances of chasing free agents in 2015 and 2016. Such is the fruit of Bryant's two-year, $48.5 million extension, which has tangentially deprived the Lakers of any plausible playoff contention and left the front office to chase after stopgaps and pipe dreams.
Grade: C-minus. Hill and Young are perfectly decent players who happen to be overpaid on these terms. Some credit to the Lakers, though, for not clogging up the cap sheet for future seasons beyond Young's deal.