Dave McMenamin of ESPN LA notes that Metta exercised his $7.7 million option to play with the Lakers next season. On its surface, this appears to be no news at all: Metta wasn’t getting anything close to $7.7 from anyone else. In theory then, it was an inevitability that he’d exercise the option. Dig a little deeper, however, and you’ll see that there’s a bit more to this story.
Initially, it’s noteworthy that Metta tweeted the following last night: “I had a great time here in LA!! Love you guys.. You are truly amazing. I have some news!!!” While some thought that tweet insinuated that Metta would not exercise the option on his contract, I’d draw quite a different conclusion. Metta wasn’t signaling an impending exit because he was opting to sign with another team; he simply knows or strongly suspects that exercising the option means that he’s all but sure to be amnestied this off-season.
To get there, you have to look back to February, when to the surprise of many, Metta suggested that he just might not exercise his option. Metta publicly stated that he’d consider allowing the option to lapse in favor of pursuing a longer-term deal. That made some sense for both LA and Metta. Metta’s likely no more than a mini-midlevel player at this point, and if he could secure, say, a 3 yr. $14 million extension, that’s probably more than he’d receive on the open market (taking the foregone $7.7 million into account). He’d also get to stay in LA, which seems to suit him. For the Lakers, extending Metta at a smaller per year salary would’ve meant (1) getting out the far over market value final season of Metta’s contract (and the corresponding luxury tax savings); (2) preserving its ability to amnesty either Pau, Kobe, or Steve Blake; and (3) keeping Metta around on a roster with a glaring hole at small forward with or without Metta.
If we assume that Metta was at least somewhat amenable to that option, we’d have to conclude that either the Lakers were not – because they are set on amnestying him – or that the terms under which they’d be willing to extend Metta were insufficient to induce him to forego the $7.7 million. I suspect it’s the latter. I don’t subscribe to the theory that LA’s ever really entertained the idea of amnestying Kobe, but I do see a slim chance that they’d amnesty Pau, and a very high probability that they’d amnesty Steve Blake. (Despite his late season surge, Blake hasn’t been a consistent performer, has a skill-set made redundant by Nash, is expensive for a backup at around $5 million, will be 33 next season, and thus does not merit the luxury tax payment required to keep him around.) So you’d think that reducing Metta’s salary and preserving the amnesty clause for Blake in particular would have considerable value to the Lakers.
So perhaps LA was willing to extend Metta at say $10 million over two seasons, but wouldn’t offer a third year. If Metta pockets the $7.7, gets amnestied, and secures a contract through even one additional season, he gets pretty close to that $10 million in a hurry. This brings me to my final point (and I realize that I’m well into a hypothetical upon speculation spiral here): LA couldn’t fathom the thought of Metta and his diminishing skills occupying a roster spot for several more years. More so than most, I’m skeptical that Metta’s mini-resurgence last year positively contributed to LA’s win total. He’s a horrible fit on a roster featuring an ancient backcourt, no athletic wings, a dearth of shooters, and several superior players occupying the space in the post he so covets. Unless Metta was willing to make a deal they couldn’t refuse, LA is better served by flanking Nash and Kobe with more youth and athleticism – even at the cost of experience and proven production – and sending Metta on his way.
In any event, I wouldn’t expect to see Metta in the golden armor again.