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Lakers In Full State Of Transition
Posted By Jabari Davis On July 27, 2013 @ 12:00 pm In NBA | No Comments
Privately, the Los Angeles Lakers’ front office has every reason to feel a bit snake-bitten. Publicly, they’ve grinned through the adversity, and presented the same level of self-assurance and confidence the organization has established as its calling card in recent years. But let’s face it, it has been a rough few years for the purple and gold. Beyond the natural and understandable shakeup that would transpire when losing a long-time owner as revered and successful as the late Dr. Jerry Buss, the organization has seen and endured a decade’s worth of turmoil in just a few short seasons.
Not to torture the hearts of Lakers fans, but a quick journey down recent memory lane is necessary in order to paint the complete picture. Following a disappointing 2010-11 season that ended with a surprising four-game sweep at the hands of the eventual champion Dallas Mavericks, the Lakers were dead-set on taking the franchise into a new direction with Phil Jackson retiring. Many of the players preferred a more familiar face and voice in Brian Shaw as Jackson’s replacement, but the front office decided to go with former NBA Coach Of the Year Mike Brown instead.
While some would point to that decision as the catalyst for their recent spiral, a good argument can be made against that notion. The organization determined they would transition from the formula that led to three consecutive runs to the NBA Finals (2008-10), and they actually attempted to trade both Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom for the services of Chris Paul, a move that would have netted them one of the league’s best point guards as well as enough cap space to sign someone like Dwight Howard, or anyone else they may have wanted to partner with an aging Kobe Bryant and in-prime Paul.
Make no mistake about it, “basketball reasons” was the absolute game-changing moment for this proud franchise. Not only were they unable to get a player they truly planned to have and coveted ( a rarity in itself), this development also left the Lakers scrambling. It also directly helped their long-suffering building-mates along the way, since it could be said that the acquisition of Paul was the moment when the Los Angeles Clippers were legitimized as a franchise.
The Lakers positioned themselves with a few maneuvers during the strike-shortened 2011-12 season, and stole the 2012 summer headlines by trading for both Steve Nash and Howard. Pundits and fans alike thought Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss were just circling back to laugh at the field when they followed up those moves by signing Jodie Meeks and Antawn Jamison to end their offseason blitz. Needless to say, many NBA followers at least had those Lakers in the Western Conference Finals, if not competing for a title outright.
Injuries, the hiring of Mike D’Antoni to replace Brown after just five games and players’ unwillingness to accept new roles eradicated any notion of a title for that group, but to no fault of the front office. Quite frankly, they should still be commended for being willing to go for it at all costs. As often mentioned, the Buss family reportedly doled out over $99 million in total player salary for the 2012-13 season alone. Even though a portion of the less-than-patient fan base may not agree, the organization has exhibited more than a willingness to exhaust all efforts to produce a winner.
If cap space, flexibility and an all-around youth movement during Bryant’s final years are the plan, which it certainly appears to be after signing four players below the age of 30 since the start of July, then there are several additional moves that seem obvious, but may be considered somewhat shrewd to others. It’s always difficult to speculate on which players could be traded, and it definitely shouldn’t be taken as a disregard or slight toward the players involved, but when discussing a franchise that has already utilized its amnesty provision on Metta World Peace, the time for over-sentimentality has come and gone, especially considering World Peace played such a pivotal role in that march to the 2010 Finals victory over the Boston Celtics.
The Lakers have always been an organization that, while loyal and fair to their players, would not allow an attachment to the past to blind them or slow their decisions on ‘selling high’ on any given asset, at any given time. No, not to worry, Lakers diehards – trading Bryant or permitting him to walk once his contract is up will not be discussed at this time. Some players have a way of circumventing the natural order of things, and simply have to be paid the respect of being allowed to leave on their own terms. While Bryant does have his fair share of detractors in and around Los Angeles, the majority of Lakers fans between the ages of 18 and 35 literally grew up with Bryant over the past 17 seasons, so the connection is something those on the outside looking in probably cannot truly comprehend.
Nash, on the other hand, remains an asset that one could see being utilized at a given point. Of course, fans and the organization were ecstatic with Nash was acquired, but if you were paying attention to that signing it was clearly a high-risk, high-reward scenario for both parties. Now, trading Nash is the one move that could give the organization total control over an entirely new roster in 2014-15 if they are able to exchange the veteran point guard for a combination of expiring contracts and/or draft picks. Nash is the only player on the Lakers who has a significant, guaranteed contract for the 2014-15 season so trading him would give the front office maximum flexibility as they pursue the next cornerstones of their franchise. Also, Nash has been the consummate professional, but deep down would he truly prefer to finish his career with a rebuilding Lakers team or play the role of nightly hero as he closes things out with the Toronto Raptors?
Again, not trying to speak of these players as chess pieces on a board as there are clearly lives that are impacted by each move, but the speculation is fair, given the recent re-acquisition of Jordan Farmar. Reportedly, Farmar turned down additional money to return to the Lakers. While that certainly isn’t a completely unprecedented move, it would be quite surprising if Farmar made the decision to do that in order to simply compete for the reserve minutes with fellow backup Steve Blake.
Gasol, who is beloved by a large majority, seems to have been in just about every other trade rumor since 2009. Clearly, the organization has shown a willingness to move him in the past, so even though he seems to be a perfect fit to slide back into the center position, fans shouldn’t be shocked if they once again hear his name in the rumor mill over the course of the season, especially considering Gasol showed he has plenty of game left over the final month of last season once he returned from injury. Not to mention, Gasol is also playing on the final year of his current contract, a fact that can motivate a player and make said player more attractive to teams that are also looking to clear additional cap space for the summer of 2014 free agency rush.
Clearly, ‘Plan B’ is in effect for the Lakers’ front office. Beyond clearing space for the free agent classes of 2014 and 2015, they’ve also done an admirable job at putting together a competitive roster. With some predicting a shockingly bad season, it also isn’t beyond the realm of possibility for this team to win about the same amount of games in 2013-14 as they did last year. With so many young, unproven players on the roster working on one- or two-year deals, at the very least this season won’t lack for excitement.
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