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What’s Next For The Lakers?
Posted By Jabari Davis On June 13, 2013 @ 12:00 pm In NBA | No Comments
When we last saw the Los Angeles Lakers in action, they were being unceremoniously ousted from the postseason at the hands of the eventual Western Conference Champion San Antonio Spurs. With their once-prized trade acquisition, Dwight Howard, angrily watching the final seconds of a disappointing season wind down from the locker room after receiving his second technical foul, the Lakers entered the offseason with a level of uncertainty that is unfamiliar to most people associated with the storied franchise. Questions regarding the pending free agency of Howard, health of Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash, and status of head coach Mike D’Antoni rained down upon Staples Center nearly as loudly as the “We Want Phil” chants.
General Manager Mitch Kupchak is in an increasingly familiar position of having to walk a burning tightrope, as the $99.9 million in salary they paid for the 2012-13 season would place the Lakers well over the projected luxury tax threshold of $71.6 million for the upcoming 2013-14 season. Even with the contracts of Antwan Jamison, Devin Ebanks, Earl Clark and several others coming off the books, the Lakers are still on the hook for $68.1 million before the start of negotiations with Howard. In order to re-sign Howard, it is likely to require a five-year, $118 million max contract, while still finding a way to shed undesirable salary in order to acquire complementary players. An unenviable situation, to say the least, but not a scenario Kupchak hasn’t seen before.
Over the past 15 years, the Lakers have seldom placed a priority upon first-round draft picks. In fact, outside of Andrew Bynum, whom they selected with 10th overall pick in 2005, you’d have to go back to the 1996 selection of Derek Fisher to find a drafted player of significant impact. Bryant, mind you, was actually selected by the then Charlotte Hornets, and acquired on draft day. The Lakers are currently relegated to the 18th pick in the second round (48th overall), but that doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t explore all options. Pau Gasol’s contract, while once viewed as a virtual “albatross” due to salary cap restrictions of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, is now believed to be a viable negotiating piece if the Lakers decided to go that route. With Gasol’s late-season resurgence along with his expiring contract ($19.3 million remaining), it shouldn’t come as a surprise that trade rumors have resurfaced. With the aforementioned, severely short-handed collapse at the hands of the Spurs, the writing on the wall could not have been anymore clear: The Lakers need to get younger, add agility and athleticism around the perimeter and find a way to surround both Howard (barring a free agency exit) and returning Bryant (torn Achilles) with a roster that will accentuate their respective skill sets.
If the Lakers are unable/unwilling to move into the first round by using their expiring contracts in a trade, there are still several noteworthy players that should be available. Carrick Felix, Will Clyburn and Seth Curry are a few players the Lakers could conceivably select with the 48th pick.
Felix is a 6’6 SG/SF who should be all over the Lakers’ radar. He would be the perfect addition to this roster, as he is not only explosive from an offensive perspective, but Felix has also shown a natural propensity to play the passing lanes and even make defensive plays at the rim if challenged. He’s also agile enough to defend all three wing positions.
Will Clyburn is a 6’7 SG/SF with the type of raw skill and athleticism that has drawn comparisons to Trevor Ariza and Gerald Wallace. With the size and agility to defend both SG’s and SF’s, Clyburn could be precisely the type of addition the Lakers would pursue. At 6.8 RPG during his senior year at Iowa State, Clyburn is not only an aggressive rebounder at his position, but can also finish around the rim on the other end.
Seth Curry is a 6’2 PG/SG “tweener” that has received many of the same criticisms and questions about how his game would translate to the next level as his brother, Steph Curry. No, not placing him quite in that category, but much like his older brother (and father, Dell), Seth has a quick release and seemingly unlimited range from beyond the arc.
While no one should be surprised by the reports of Bryant actually targeting the opening week of the upcoming season to return from the torn left Achilles that ended what had been a surprisingly physically-resurgent season in 2012-13, the front office needs to address the lack of lateral mobility and athleticism around the perimeter, regardless. The old-guards approach, both literally and figuratively, places the team at a major disadvantage from a defensive perspective, and some would even say it places too much additional pressure on Bryant to act as the primary ball-handler as well. For the Lakers to be successful, finding a method to pair Bryant with a younger and more able-bodied backcourt running-mate is paramount.
If the front office is unable to fulfill these needs via the NBA Draft, there are several free agents that would also fulfill their needs:
Even at 6’0, Will Bynum has a knack for penetrating and getting into the teeth of the defense, and can be a terror in transition. He shot a career-best .469 percent from the floor in 2012-13, and was a decent three-point shooter at .316 percent.
Nate Robinson hosted his very own “coming-out party” during Chicago’s short-lived run in this year’s postseason. Always appreciated for his athleticism, the 5’9 reserve guard averaged 16.3 PPG and 4.4 APG while filling in for the injured Derrick Rose and Kirk Hinrich. Robinson had a tendency to play a bit out-of-control earlier in his career, but seems to be developing into a more sound player as he heads into his ninth year.
At 31 years old, Jose Calderon certainly wouldn’t add youth to the roster, but has been one of the league’s most consistent shooters at the point guard position for years. Keep in mind, if Gasol remains, it has been rumored the two of them have desired the opportunity to play together for years, due to their Spanish National Team ties.
It isn’t about the accolades with Tony Allen, as his stats are never likely to impress you. He plays the type of terrorizing perimeter defense the Lakers are sorely lacking, and does so much to disrupt the flow of an opposing team’s offense that his true impact cannot accurately be measured. Almost sure to take some convincing on Kupchak’s part, as Allen will likely command more than the Lakers can offer on the open market.
After, arguably, the best season of his career, Matt Barnes finds himself in a position of being an unrestricted free agent with options at his disposal. His last stint with the Lakers (2010-2012) was plagued by injuries and systems that simply didn’t fit his skill set, but the current regime provides an entirely different circumstance. Barnes can flourish in an open system, and is still able to provide above-average defense on bigger shooting guards and lighter small forwards.
At 6’9 and athletic, Corey Brewer could actually play both forward positions in D’Antoni’s system. A streak-shooter from beyond the arc (at best), he is above average when out in transition and finishing at the rim.
While Ronnie Brewer doesn’t fulfill the shooting needs the Lakers have, at 6’7 and very mobile, he can provide the type of athleticism off the bench the Lakers haven’t had since Shannon Brown left and signed with the Phoenix Suns.
The Lakers still have the option of using their amnesty clause and can use it on one of the following players prior to the mid-July deadline: Metta World Peace, Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Steve Blake.
As mentioned earlier, much of what the Lakers could potentially do with the roster is contingent upon what direction Howard chooses to go. While the pending free agency and desired “recruitment” process may benefit Howard, it certainly doesn’t help the front office determine what avenue to take in acquiring talent in the manner by which Kupchak has most often utilized. To be clear, Howard has certainly earned the right to pursue free agency, and the organization would probably favor him being 100 percent certain he is ready to be the face of the franchise before committing $118 million over the next five years.
If Howard returns, the team is faced with the tough decision of whether to retain Gasol or attempt to move his contract in order to receive as many contributing parts and assets as possible. In fairness, this is a result of the financial constraints of the CBA, and should not be attributed to Howard’s decision. The Lakers unequivocally would like to re-sign the player they feel is the best center in today’s game.
If Howard were to decide he wanted to leave, contrary to some of the rumors, the Lakers would have the option to move him to a scenario that works for all three parties, just so long as the trade partner is not beyond the luxury tax threshold. The most obvious suitors would be the Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, and Atlanta Hawks. Again, rumors aside, there is no tangible evidence of the organization has even considered these options.
The most commonly discussed Gasol-related rumor over the past several seasons has been a desired deal for ex-UCLA player Kevin Love. Although Love never returned to full strength following a preseason hand injury suffered while training, there are still those that see the potential fit of Love and Howard working even better than Gasol/Howard due to Love’s ability to stretch the floor. The connection between Gasol and Minnesota’s Ricky Rubio (Spanish National Team) has done very little to discourage continued speculation. Gasol has also mentioned how difficult it would be to play another year in D’Antoni’s system on several occasions.
With much of the future completely up in the air, it does little to speculate further regarding the roster. The Lakers have far more options than it may seem, but simply won’t be able to get things in motion until at least the first week in July. One thing is certain, regardless of what Howard does, Kupchak has quite the difficult task on his hands. That proverbial “tight-rope” is daunting, but Kupchak has proven time and time again that he can deliver under pressure. Kupchak knows, better than anyone, just how much of a “what have you done for me lately?” town Los Angeles can be, so we shouldn’t be surprised if he and Jim Buss come out swinging as of 12:01 ET, July 1.
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