Lakers Balancing Their Economy

Throughout the 2008-09 NBA season and particularly just before the Feb. 19 trade deadline, several teams seemed to be cutting salaries for purely economic purposes. Here’s why the Lakers weren’t one of them:

This basketball season, much has been made about the impact of the nationwide recession that’s adversely affecting so many people not just in America but around the world.

Owners throughout professional basketball have made deals that appear, at least on the surface, to have just as much to do with their respective economic situations as on-the-court performance (see: pre-physical Tyson Chandler).

““I think the country’s economic struggles will have an effect on the business of basketball and the NBA.” said Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchack. “It is obviously a tough economic environment right now with a lot of uncertainty going forward. It is essential that all NBA teams and the NBA in New York pay close attention to the economy and how it may affect this great game in the short term so as to ensure its success in the long term.”

Certainly so, but let’s pause for a second … How has the economic letdown specifically affected the Lakers?

Well, with the Feb. 19 trade deadline passing, L.A. made two separate moves, first sending Vladimir Radmanovic to Charlotte for Shannon Brown and Adam Morrison and subsequently exchanging Chris Mihm with Memphis for a future draft pick.

“We did a couple of deals that we think solidifies our roster a little bit and gives us some flexibility down the road,” Kupchak said. “For obvious reasons, we’re very comfortable with our team and we didn’t look to tinker with the core.”

Economics, basketball or both?

At first glance, one might suppose that these deals were made for financial reasons, simply to save money both in the present and future. While that thought process may have some truth to it, L.A.’s goal has not been to chop salary in order to save money, but rather, to chop the salary of guys that weren’t contributing in a major way.

That’s a significant difference.

“Dr. Buss and Jimmy Buss have never indicated to me to make a move other than a basketball move,” Kupchak explained. “Players that play will continue to be paid, and paid accordingly to how they’re valued in the league. (But) if you have players that aren’t playing and you feel comfortable with your depth situation, then you may look to make a move with those players.”

Let’s rephrase: In essence, if a player’s not burning up the hardwood with major minutes – as had been dictated to Mihm and Radmanovic by Phil Jackson’s rotation – it makes little sense for an organization to pay that player a major paycheck. As such, Kupchak’s goal is to turn such players into assets that either free up money for contributors or bring in prospects or draft picks. In fact, we saw exactly the same sentiment when L.A. declined to match Golden State’s offer sheet on Ronny Turiaf, as the cost and Turiaf’s expected playing time – production aside – didn’t balance out.

On the other hand, let’s take the Pau Gasol deal with Memphis last February, where a player demanding a very high salary was expected to earn it with minutes on the floor. That philosophy fits into L.A.’s plan quite nicely, particularly with the strong support of a loyal, paying fan base.

“Dr. Buss has always fielded the best possible teams within reason,” Kupchak concluded. “He wants to win. I think his record as the owner of the Lakers speaks for itself.”

There’s no arguing that Gasol’s worked out for the Lakers in the regular season, not when considering that the Lakers have won 69 games and lost 15 with Pau in the lineup (82.1 percent) as of Feb. 25.

Yet and still, the general business plan of making sure the players earning the bulk of L.A.’s payroll are the ones truly contributing on the floor won’t be fully realized until, or if, the Lakers are able to win the NBA title.

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