After allowing Jarrett Jack to join the Cleveland Cavaliers in free agency this summer, the Golden State Warriors have struggled to fill their backup point guard slot all season. They took a shot Wednesday night at plugging the gap and fortifying their backcourt rotation for the stretch run, agreeing to terms with the Los Angeles Lakers on a deal that will send reserve guards Kent Bazemore and MarShon Brooks to L.A. in exchange for veteran point guard Steve Blake. Talks of the deal were first reported by Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times, with the fast-moving swap's completion reported by Yahoo Sports NBA columnist Adrian Wojnarowski.
News of the trade came down as the Lakers were preparing to take on the Houston Rockets at Staples Center on Wednesday night, and it sounds like it all came as something of a shock even to Blake:
Blake was in his warm-ups for tonight's game when he got called in to say he'd been dealt.
— Mike Bresnahan (@Mike_Bresnahan) February 20, 2014
"Mixed emotions, really," Blake said after changing into street clothes and exiting the arena less than an hour before tip-off of Wednesday night's game against the Houston Rockets after being informed of the trade. "I knew it could happen but didn't expect it to happen, all at the same time." [...]
"The hardest thing is really for my family, really," Blake said. "I got a wife, three little kids and now I'm going to have to spend four months, probably, away from them and so that's going to be the hardest part."
The 11th-year veteran had spent the past four seasons with the Lakers after signing a four-year, $16 million contract as a free agent in the summer of 2010. That deal ends after this season, which could make him a short-lived rental for the Warriors, although Marcus Thompson of the Bay Area News Group reports that "the Warriors are interested in keeping Blake long term" should he prove out. It could make him a valuable one, though, if he can bring his playmaking (averaging a career-best 8.3 assists per 36 minutes for this season) and steady long-range shooting (just a tick under 40 percent from deep in L.A.) and to a Warriors bench that previously boasted little in the way of reliable secondary facilitating.
Offseason addition Toney Douglas didn't pan out, which is why he didn't stick around. His replacement, trick-or-treat Jordan Crawford, has shot just under 39 percent from the floor and 28 percent from 3-point land since coming over from Boston, with nearly as many turnovers (21) as assists (28). Bazemore's shooting was even worse, and his assist-to-turnover numbers were nearly the reverse (20 dimes, 28 cough-ups). Brooks barely sniffed the Oracle Arena court after his trade from the Celtics, and rookie Nemanja Nedovic has largely been a non-factor.
Somebody besides Andre Iguodala has to be able to give Curry a break, and the Warriors are hoping Blake can do so effectively enough to stop the bleeding when Curry heads off the floor. The on-court/off-court offensive efficiency numbers are absolutely staggering — with Curry on the court, the Warriors score at a rate (108.9 points per 100 possessions) that would rank second-best in the NBA, and with him on the bench, they drop down to the sub-basement below dead last (90.3 points-per-100).
Golden State general manager Bob Myers surely isn't under any delusions that a Blake-led offense will match that Curry-fueled efficiency. But if Blake — who's still working his way back to form after missing nearly two months with a torn ligament in his right elbow — can marshal non-Steph forces to be something better than Worse Than Everybody Else By Far, he's a boon for a Warriors team that looked like a potential contender just a few weeks ago but has split its last 10 games to slide to seventh in the Western Conference.
Adding a potential steadying piece with playoff experience that doesn't carry a long-term financial burden is nice. Doing so without parting with any players from your rotation is even better. Doing so without parting with any rotation pieces and without crossing into luxury tax by A) sending out the combined Bazemore/Brooks salaries and B) fitting Blake's salary into the $4 million traded player exception they created this summer in the three-team trade that made Iguodala a Warrior ... well, that's better still. (SB Nation's Mark Deeks has more on how what seems like a simple swap is anything but.)
From the Lakers' perspective, sending out Blake sheds the remainder of his $4 million 2013-14 salary; in doing so, they chop down their luxury tax bill a bit. (CBSSports.com's Ken Berger suggests it's $3.5 million, while ESPN.com's Larry Coon calls it $2 million. Under the old collective bargaining agreement, teams paid a flat $1 in tax for every dollar they spent over the so-called luxury tax line. Under the 2011 CBA, though, teams pay amounts that increase incrementally based on how far over the cap they are on the final day of the season — $1.50 in tax for every dollar spent over the line until you get to $5 million past, then $1.75 in tax for every dollar between $5 million and $10 million over, $2.50 in tax for every dollar between $10 million and $15 million, etc.
The Lakers will still have a ways to go to get under the $71.7 million luxury tax line before the close of the '13-'14 season; shipping off additional salary in the form of big men Jordan Hill, Chris Kaman or big kahuna Pau Gasol before Thursday's 3 p.m. ET trade deadline would seem like L.A.'s best bet of doing just that and dodging the tax this year, which is crucial, since they've paid it in each of the past two seasons and want to get out of the way of the dreaded "repeater tax."
If that sounds to you like all the Lakers get out of this is a little bit less expensive and a little bit worse, well, you've been paying attention. That matters, though, with L.A. tied for the worst record in the Western Conference, hurtling toward the top of the lottery and max cap space, and looking for some more low-cost, high-potential options to help fill out the roster down the line. While wispy gunner Brooks has largely disappointed since coming out of Providence College with the 25th pick in the first round of the 2011 NBA draft, Bazemore — a quick, super-athletic guard with a massive wingspan and a lot of defensive potential — could be worth a look, and his qualifying offer for next season costs only $1.15 million. As gambles go, it might not be a bad one for the Lakers.
In the meantime, though, the biggest actual impact for the Lakers comes in terms of a general increase in bench amplitude. They now employ this guy:
And this guy:
Now we'll just have to hope that whichever Laker teammates are left standing after Thursday afternoon can give them something worth cheering about over the next couple of months.
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