Lakers get Steve Blake as guard insurance
It all started at a summer home of Lakers owner Jerry Buss, a Tuesday night meeting with General Manager Mitch Kupchak that continued over Italian food at a nearby eatery in north San Diego County.
Players were discussed, as was the possible return of Coach Phil Jackson, and, above all, finances.
In the end, Buss did what he had often done, agreeing to spend money if it would build a stronger team.
Buss gave Kupchak the green light to dip into the team’s mid-level exception, allowing the Lakers to agree to terms Friday with veteran point guard Steve Blake on a four-year, $16-million contract that bought a pass-first player with a decent three-point touch.
The agreement, which came a day after Jackson decided to return to the Lakers for close to the $12 million he made last season, also provided insurance in case Derek Fisher doesn’t return, a distinct possibility as his representatives and the Lakers continued to be out of alignment a couple of days into free agency.
Fisher, who turns 36 next month, wants a two-year deal worth $10 million after making $5 million last season. The Lakers are amenable to a two-year contract, but it will have to be several million under $10 million.
The Miami Heat and Cleveland Cavaliers have expressed interest in Fisher, who “wants to go to a championship team,” said a source close to Fisher who requested anonymity during the negotiation process. “He feels he can be the final piece that can push a team over the top.”
The Lakers hope to meet with Fisher’s representatives next week.
“I don’t think he wants to go anywhere and I don’t think we want him to go anywhere,” Kupchak said. “So there’s a hope that you sit down and work something out, and I believe that will happen.”
Blake, 30, made $4.25 million last season with the Clippers and Portland. He has averaged 7.5 points and 4.3 assists while shooting 39.3% from three-point range in a seven-year career with Washington, Portland, Denver, Milwaukee and the Clippers.
The Lakers can’t comment on the agreement, nor can Blake officially sign with them, until the free-agent moratorium ends next Thursday.
“He’s a solid defender on the ball and has an ‘Ultimate Fighter’ mentality,” an NBA personnel scout said. “He enjoys making an assist more than scoring. He does nothing fancy or with flavor, but rather is solid and dependable. He’s a serious threat against a zone to shoot it on ball reversal. He’s a deadly corner three-point shooter when he has his feet set. He has a strong basketball IQ.
“He has also been a thorn in [ Kobe Bryant’s] side when he played against the Trail Blazers.”
The Lakers had the league’s highest payroll last season ($91.3 million) and have committed $86 million to only eight players next season.
After agreeing to terms with Blake, the Lakers have under $2 million left on the mid-level exception, a spending tool that can be used by all teams that are over the salary cap. The Lakers can sign their own free agents without regard to the mid-level exception.
The agreement with Blake decreases the likelihood that Shannon Brown will return to the Lakers.
Jordan Farmar, who is not expected back, will meet with the Trail Blazers in Los Angeles on Saturday. The Indiana Pacers are also interested in him.
Not Miller time
An NBA source vigorously shot down Internet reports that the Lakers had offered a five-year contract to free agent Mike Miller.
A sharp-shooting small forward with 40.5% career three-point accuracy, Miller averaged 9.9 points with the Washington Wizards last season.
Kupchak had a feeling Jackson would return for one more season, based on phone conversations they had after Jackson retreated last week to his Montana summer home.
“Talking about assistant coaches, giving updates on our players, prospective players, the assistant coaches, Brian Shaw with the Cleveland opportunity,” Kupchak said. “You can tell if somebody’s not going to come back that they’re really not engaged in future decisions for an organization. I felt as if he was engaged and I felt good about where we were.”
Kupchak said it was “very nice” to avoid the free-agent chaos involving LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, among other players.
“We’ve been in the middle several times and it’s great to be on the outside, looking in,” he said.
Times correspondent Mark Medina contributed to this report.
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