By Ben Golliver
Raja Bell has been stranded for months and his former coach just might be his best lifeline.
The Lakers are interested in the Jazz reserve guard, who has not played this season following a dispute with coach Tyrone Corbin over his role last year, according to a Yahoo! Sports report. Bell started alongside current Lakers guard Steve Nash under L.A.'s new coach Mike D'Antoni throughout the Suns' "Seven Seconds or Less" era.
Bell is still under contract with the Jazz, but the team has allowed him to stay away this season until he finds a suitable offer and the two sides can execute a buyout. Once Bell has secured a contract for the veteran's minimum elsewhere, the Jazz will buy out the difference on the remaining $3.5 million on his 2012-13 contract. Bell wouldn't lose any money between the buyout and joining a new team. Utah has allowed Bell and his agent, Herb Rudoy, to search out deals elsewhere.
There are a number of moving parts to account for if a Bell/D'Antoni reunion is going to work.
Bell, 36, averaged 6.4 points, 1.4 rebounds and 1.1 assists in 23.4 minutes per game last season, the fewest he's played in a decade. The year ended with Bell at odds with Corbin over his role on a relatively young team. Unable to trade his $3.5 million expiring contract during the summer, Utah simply moved on, signing guard Randy Foye to a one-year deal worth $2.5 million. With Jazz draft picks Gordon Hayward and Alec Burks on the roster, too, Bell's complaints were sure to fall on deaf ears. Buying him out of the last year of his deal was an option throughout, but Bell had no particular reason to give the Jazz a discount on the $3.5 million owed to him, and the team had no reason to rush the process, as expiring contracts can come in handy for trade purposes and there was always a chance that someone would come along with interest in Bell, interest that might just lower his buyout price and save Utah some money in the process.
The Lakers could be that team, but they currently have a full 15-man roster. To make room for Bell, they would need to trade or waive a player. Trading someone to a team that has an open roster spot and cap space would be the preferable (and cheapest) route, but the Lakers' bench isn't exactly full of exciting commodities. Waiving a player means eating his salary, adding Bell's minimum salary in full, and paying the luxury taxes associated with a higher payroll figure. At that point, the obvious question becomes: is Bell even worth it?
The positives of adding Bell are pretty straightforward. He played three-plus seasons with Nash in Phoenix, he understands D'Antoni's system inside and out, he will be fully motivated to play for a contender, especially after he's been in limbo for months, and the Lakers' bench can use an experienced, defensive presence and a career 40.6 percent three-point shooter, even if his best days are years behind him. Adding a veteran like Bell in midseason is a win-now move for a team in win-now mode.
In addition to the "Is he worth it?" question, there's the available playing time issue. Between Nash, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace and who plays the lead ball-handling roll behind Nash, there aren't all that many available minutes on the perimeter. Jodie Meeks, a 25-year-old scoring guard, has been in the rotation, and D'Antoni sang Meeks' praises at his introductory press conference. There is the question of Devin Ebanks, though, as the reserve forward hasn't appeared in a game since a November arrest on DUI charges, although his benching is reportedly a "basketball decision" and not a disciplinary action. If Ebanks wasn't in the long-term picture, the addition of Bell would make more sense. As it stands, the Lakers would need to envision Bell as a meaningful upgrade over Meeks in order to proceed. Meeks is averaging 4.0 points in 11.1 minutes per game, and shooting 34.1 percent, so that's not an inconceivable conclusion.