Inside the Thomas & Mack Center at the Las Vegas Summer League, two front-office employees from the same NBA organization wondered about the most talented free agent still on the board.
One a scale of 1 to 100, they were asked, how would they feel about Christian Wood, the big man with the smooth jumper and the rough reputation, signing with a team for the league minimum?
One scout quickly gave a score in the 80s, citing Wood’s undeniable talent and usefulness on offense. The other executive snickered. His number was lower.
“Zero,” he said.
Late Tuesday night, the Lakers put themselves high on that scale, agreeing to sign Wood to a two-year deal with a player option for the second year. Wood will make the veteran's minimum, which for him is $2.7 million this season.
In terms of talent versus cost, it’s an absolute bargain.
The 6-foot-10, soon-to-be 28-year-old Wood is one of only a handful of players in the NBA with his size and skills. Last season, only six players 6-10 or taller made at least 37% of their three-points shots while taking more than 250 attempts. Wood was one of them — along with Lauri Markkanen, Brook Lopez, Kristaps Porzingis, Bobby Portis and Michael Porter Jr.
In the modern NBA, and in particular on a team with LeBron James and Anthony Davis, a floor-spacing big is an incredibly important piece. But as with anything found in the deep discount pile, there’s probably a reason why it’s there.
With Wood, there are questions about his ability to function in a team defense — questions that didn’t get answered in a positive way last season when he played for Dallas — and about his willingness to accept his role, with people seeing a gap between what Wood’s best use would be and what Wood would view as the best use of his talents.
The concerns were serious enough that the Lakers were able to land Wood more than two months into free agency. The only perk Wood was able to score in negotiations was the player option in Year 2, an insurance policy for him should the Lakers decide to move on if things don’t work.
The Lakers could waive Wood, eat the salary this season and stretch the remaining portion of the deal over multiple seasons to ease the cap implications. The hope is that it won’t come to that, and that Wood, like Malik Monk and Dennis Schroder before him, will use the minimum contract with the Lakers to play well enough to earn a significant raise.
And since the Lakers began their pursuit of Wood months ago, they’ve had plenty of time to talk it over and come to the conclusion that this is the right spot for him.
While it’ll be Wood’s eighth team in eight seasons in the NBA, there are reasons to believe the timing is right for the partnership.
One, his role should be easier to accept after free-agency interest in Wood was muted despite the impressive skills and statistics. Two, the defensive problems can be somewhat mitigated by surrounding him with better defensive teammates than he had in Dallas or Houston. And three, there’s some internal confidence that coach Darvin Ham’s presence on the sideline and James’ leadership in the locker room can help keep Wood focused.
The signing answers the biggest roster question the Lakers had after their well-reviewed offseason. Despite adding Gabe Vincent, Taurean Prince, Jaxson Hayes and Cam Reddish and re-signing Austin Reaves, D’Angelo Russell and Rui Hachimura, the Lakers still needed to a player who could step in and play with Davis or, more importantly, fill in if he gets injured. Same goes for James.
Wood undoubtedly was the best player available, capable of making the signing seem like a no-brainer.
The risk? That’s a no-brainer too. Locker-room and on-court chemistry are delicate, and Wood could disrupt it.
But with his cheap contract, usable skills and loads of motivation, the Lakers viewed it as a risk worth taking, capping their offseason with the top player still on the board.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.