Below is a Q&A on the Lakers’ offseason with NBA TV analyst Rick Fox, who is hosting a show titled “Fox After Dark” airing Saturday, Sunday and Monday at 9:30 p.m. PST. The show will feature a behind-the-scenes look at the NBA Las Vegas Summer League as well as interviews with NBA personalities and celebrities, including New Kids on the Block’s Donnie Wahlberg and Danny Wood, rapper Common, Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s Terry Crews, illusionist Criss Angel and the cast of VH1’s basketball drama Hit the Floor, among others.
How would you analyze the Lakers’ free agency period?
Fox: A lot went down. Most of it was centered on LeBron James’ decision to go home. That was really the big piece that toppled the rest of free agency. Pau Gasol went to Chicago, which makes them stronger. Carmelo Anthony stayed home in New York. I think for me the storylines were the shift to Cleveland for LeBron and the future potential top free agents coming in and joining him and where does the Heat go from here. Obviously they’re not going to fold a tent. But I don’t think they’re expecting to make such an adjustment so quickly.
As far as the Lakers, I thought there was potential for them to lose Jordan Hill and Nick Young to free agency. Those are young talented players in the organization that had really good years. They probably wanted to continue to build some of that back. In bringing Jeremy Lin, they were obviously in need of a healthy point guard. He played in a big market in New York and he understands what that is like. I think he’ll be received well by Lakers fans. The draft picks definitely helped considering we lost a ton of them in a trade for Dwight Howard and Steve Nash.
Historically, the Lakers have built through free agency. But it just seems it’s harder to get players to be patient enough to be unrestricted free agents. Even then, the advantage goes to the teams that can pay them the most money. It’s hard for a player to leave money on the table with a no real guarantee of winning a championship. You still have to go out and compete and pursue it. I think the era of making free agent moves at least in this collective bargaining agreement is real slow. That puts the Lakers in a really difficult position where you have to build through trades and drafts. Unfortunately to trade with pieces, I don’t think that can happen. Players will have to develop to warrant getting a player of All-Star development in a trade.
Are these defections from star players a sign the Lakers don’t have the lure to attract a big free agents, or unique circumstances with each player?
Fox: From a business standpoint, Pau was offered three years and $29 million. But he left for Chicago, who can compete in the Eastern Conference and has a chance to go to the Finals. For him, it was about finding the right situation where he could contribute to and compete for championships. Guys aren’t just going to leave L.A. out of desire. I think it speaks more to the uncertainty of who the coach is and the direction of the team. But they chose to make a run at LeBron and Carmelo. That put the Lakers slowly behind in the pursuit of some of the secondary guys.
But do you still like that the Lakers swung for the fences even when you weigh the consequence?
Fox: Oh yeah. It’s L.A. and the it’s the Lakers. That’s what they’re supposed to do. That’s what I ‘d expect them to do. I wouldn’t expect anything else. Carmelo went back home and got the additional $30 million and LeBron wanted to go home to Cleveland. You can’t fault both of those guys for going into situations where they felt most connected. Either one of them now has a brighter chance at winning a championship next year.
What do you make of Kobe Bryant speaking pretty pragmatically recently about the Lakers’ rebuilding approach and how it differed from what he said earlier this season that he would not tolerate a long rebuilding process?
Fox: I can’t speak for Kobe. I don’t think his desire to win a championship has changed in any way, but I think he has a greater understanding of what’s going on. I’m sure he did at the time, too. Kobe isn’t a guy who doesn’t understand the full scope or range of affect it has. When he signed his contract, that affected free agency. Having played with these guys in the Olympic games, he was probably in conversation with them on a day to day basis. Maybe he felt it was a long stretch for them to make those moves in the first place as well.
If that’s the case, you think Melo is going to stay in New York and LeBron’s chances of coming to L.A. aren’t going to happen, then you may be discussed and judged unfairly for taking the biggest contract of his career. But quite frankly he earned that money in the course of the career and he is worthy of it. You can argue he won’t be the Kobe of old. But still from a value standpoint, he’s helping them market wise and brand wise.
Why do you think the criticism surrounding his contract is unfair?
Fox: I don’t think it’s his position to build the team. If the Lakers were really concerned about that, they wouldn’t have given him that money. I don’t think they would’ve given them that money. I really find it hard to believe that with the success they had and Mitch Kupchak being there that they would’ve made a decision to hamstring themselves financially in free agency and giving Kobe that money if they didn’t think he was worth it and they’d wouldn’t be able to piece together a team. It makes me hard to believe that.
Could you also make the argument that the Lakers wouldn’t have even been in a position to pursue LeBron or Carmelo if not for Kobe?
Fox: Yeah. I’m sure. I agree. It’s easy to point fingers. Would it have been hard for Kobe Bryant to say no to $48.5 million when he knows what value he brings to the franchise as a whole? You risk losing him because somebody would have given him that, maybe a few million less. But he would have gotten it somewhere. Then there is no guarantee that any of these guys would come to L.A. anyway.
When you see LeBron make the move that he made, it was clear he was going to go back to Cleveland. At that point, you have no chance chasing LeBron. Why would Carmelo leave New York if he would face the same position in L.A.? He wouldn’t have the ability to win a championship, and then he’d have to wait to attract free agents. There’s only so many guys you move heaven and earth in hopes that they come your way.
LeBron’s that guy and he’s in love with Cleveland. Beyond that? It’s a debate. Is Carmelo that guy? Is Kevin Love that guy? You would move heaven and earth for Kevin Durant. But Kevin Durant is going to have an option to renew his deal in Oklahoma City and I don’t think he has been unhappy there. So you’re saying if you sit around and wait for him to be an unrestricted free agent, you can’t guarantee he’s coming to you.
Can you envision any scenario where the Lakers make the playoffs?
Fox: Well with what they right now, no. But that doesn’t mean they can’t make a deal and make some moves before the deadline that would get them into the playoffs.
With all the holes in the roster, what do the Lakers need the most?
Fox: Who’s their second superstar to Kobe? You don’t win a championship in this league unless you have two stars. You need a second superstar and the Lakers don’t have a second superstar. I don’t know where you get it from. The one other superstar has 17 years on his body. So I don’t know what’s going to happen the next two years. We may enjoy watching Kobe. But he has to stay healthy. He’ll knock down some individual records and there will be moments of excitement as he chases them. I’d love to see him back on the court resembling somewhat of what we grew and loved. But I don’t know how he feels physically.
Do you think Kobe will manage to stay healthy next season?
Fox: The injuries aren’t going anywhere. When you have the level of victories that you started to obtain and started to have those, your body has been altered. Once you start cutting open stuff, it’s like the door is open and there’s always cold air. His body isn’t cut open. But when you have injuries, it alters everything. It alters what you’re capable of doing.
But you’ll never be on the same level on the floor with a healthy Achilles. He’s going to be a version above the shoulders that was wiser than he was in his first few years. He’s always going to grow in IQ. But the challenge is below the shoulders where physically his body is adjusting to where he’s landing, jumping and cutting and changes that weren’t originally there when you started playing the game. That’s the reality of it. I went through a serious surgery myself when I retired. That changed my game immensely. I know the effects of it. All players, it affects them trying to be what they were when your body now has to adjust not just from an injury, but a serious injury.
What’s your assessment on Julius Randle?
Fox: I interviewed him and I really like him a lot. He’s going to have a bright career. I would’ve loved to have certain guys around him to accelerate that like a Pau Gasol. He would’ve been a big guy to be around. But Kobe will put in the time with him. He’s not really a two-guard, but Kobe will teach him how to be a professional.
Presuming Byron Scott gets the head-coaching job, how do you see him handling this roster?
Fox: I think he’s done a good job of building teams in the past with the Nets and New Orleans. Those were teams in the cellars. He did a good job of building them up and getting them to be competitive and make the playoffs. So I think he definitely carries Lakers pride. That is going to be very helpful with the fans and the patience that it will take for them to be accustomed top where they’ll be. He has a relationship with Kobe already. He’ll be what our fans need. They’ll recognize him as someone who symbolized the better days.
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