Where Do The Lakers Go From Here?
The Los Angeles Lakers face many of the same questions they dealt with last offseason after getting dropped in the second round by the Dallas Mavericks. The Lakers are a high-budget, aging team trying to find a way to get another championship in the Kobe Bryant-era while simultaneously getting younger and avoiding significant taxation under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA).
At least this offseason, the team has a head coach in place and no lockout complicating matters.
As detailed recently (NBA PM: Lakers Facing Real Tax Issues), the Lakers have significant financial concerns ahead. Next season isn’t the true worry. It’s the following year (2013/14) when the graduated tax could easily jump to the $130-$145 million range.
If LA doesn’t make a significant cutback by 2014/15, the repeater tax could push payroll up to $150-$170 million.
Add in $50 million as part of the league’s new revenue sharing and the future of the Lakers involves some sort of salary reduction. It’s inevitable.
The team has a new television deal with Time Warner Cable that is expected to yield $150-200 million per season but it’s still not enough to offset tax penalties and revenue sharing under the new CBA.
Management and Coaching
Quick Note: Look for Coach Mike Brown to be back. There have been hints that General Manager Mitch Kupchak may be eying an exit but he is expected to stay on staff.
At some point the Lakers are going to say they can’t pay nearly $20 million for Pau Gasol to be a third option. That day probably comes this offseason.
Without making subtractions via trade or amnesty, the Lakers have about $78.5 million locked in under contract for the coming season.
Bryant is set to earn almost half of the $58 million salary cap at $27.8 million. Gasol is at $19 million. The Lakers have every intention on picking up the $16.1 million option on Andrew Bynum. Additionally, Metta World Peace, Steve Blake, Josh McRoberts and Christian Eyenga combine to make $15.6 million.
That’s seven players. Andrew Goudelock makes eight, although his $762k isn’t guaranteed.
Point guard Ramon Sessions hasn’t decided yet on his $4.6 million player option. If he does become a free agent, the team has Ramon’s Bird Rights and thus the means to sign him to a large contract.
Matt Barnes and Troy Murphy will be unrestricted free agents. LA has Early Bird Rights on Barnes but given his disappearance the last two postseasons (even if both were injury related), the Lakers may move on.
Los Angeles is likely to make both Devin Ebanks and Darius Morris restricted free agents with qualifying offers.
Finally Jordan Hill’s rookie contract option was declined by the Houston Rockets before the Lakers acquired him. As such, the most LA can pay Hill as an unrestricted free agent is a contract starting at $3.6 million.
An argument can be made that the Lakers should make minor tweaks and hope a full season with training camp and normal in-season practices leads to an improvement over the past two years.
Or not . . .
As a tax team, LA has up to $3.1 million to spend using their Mini-MLE (which maxes out to $9.7 million over three years).
The odds of a Steve Nash, Gerald Wallace, Kevin Garnett, O.J. Mayo, Courtney Lee, Ersan Ilyasova, Ryan Anderson, Lou Williams, Andre Miller, Goran Dragic or any similar player joining the Lakers for that kind of money are slim to none.
Some players who might fit for the minimum up to the Mini-MLE, depending on market, include Jerryd Bayless, Nick Young, Randy Foye, Delonte West, John Lucas, C.J. Miles, Marco Belinelli, Gerald Green, Jodie Meeks, Sam Young and/or Steve Novak.
Brandon Rush would be a great fit but he’s a restricted free agent with the Golden State Warriors. The Lakers expressed interest in Michael Beasley at the trade deadline.
A dark horse to consider might be Brandon Roy, should he come out of retirement and prove healthy.
The Lakers can also bring in up to $9 million in salary via the Lamar Odom trade exception (which expires on December 11th). That exception also can be used in sign and trade.
For example, Beasley can technically be acquired from the Minnesota Timberwolves in exchange for draft considerations via sign and trade (after June 30th). Of course the Wolves and Beasley would both have to agree to it.
Players of interest under contract who fit within the Lakers trade exception might include: Paul Millsap, Mo Williams, Anderson Varejao, Daniel Gibson, Corey Brewer, Al Harrington, Dorell Wright, Kyler Lowry, Caron Butler, Anthony Morrow, Trevor Ariza, among many others. Some and/or most aren’t exactly available.
If the Washington Wizards waive Rashard Lewis (to save about $10 million), he might be an interesting acquisition for LA on the cheap.
Lamar Odom may become available as well although LA can’t re-sign him until December 11th, but then why? The team is looking to get younger, more athletic and Odom, despite a couple of high-quality years, was never a pure shooter.
The tricky part for the Lakers is adding salary over multiple years when really they need to find a way to reduce.
The Lakers are not expected to use their Amnesty Clause on Bryant or Gasol, which leaves only two candidates under the rules: Metta World Peace and Steve Blake.
After a slow start, Metta was a contributor this past year. Of course his ill-advised elbow to James Harden cost him seven games (six postseason) put the Lakers in a dangerous position.
Peace has explored retirement as an option should the Lakers waive him this summer, as a means to prevent other teams from making a claim.
Barring an influx of talent at the three, Peace will probably get another go with the Lakers.
Blake was arguably the team’s second-best perimeter player through the postseason. Steve was a somewhat reliable outside option against the Nuggets but he missed a crucial three against the Oklahoma City Thunder that would have changed the series.
Defensively he was better than Sessions but that probably points more to the overall deficiencies the Lakers have at the position.
The smart money says the LA holds off another year on amnesty since the graduated tax doesn’t kick in until 2013/14.
The odds of the 60th pick in the draft making the team are slim. The Lakers will take the best player left on the board and really there’s no point in even guessing who that might be.
Some of the names linked to the Lakers via workout include: Jet Chang, Marcus Denmon, Charlie Westbrook, Tu Holloway, Ashton Gibbs, Mike Scott and Eric Griffin
LA may look to trade into the first or for a higher second-round pick but there’s no suggestion as of yet that they will.
The Lakers almost dealt Gasol last offseason (Chris Paul) and while they explored other options through the deadline, they didn’t find a trade.
Other than amnesty, most of the options listed above add salary.
The reality is that LA needs to break Gasol’s salary into smaller parts. The team is invested in Bynum (flaws and all).
The Lakers need to get more athletic, quicker and they need to spread the floor with shooters. The difficult part is finding a team willing to take on the $38.3 million remaining on Gasol’s deal.
The Houston Rockets and Minnesota Timberwolves still have interest.
Houston has a long list of assets including Kyle Lowry, Kevin Martin, Luis Scola, Courtney Lee (restricted), Marcus Morris, Chase Budinger, Chandler Parsons, etc.
The Wolves have Derrick Williams, J.J. Barea, Wesley Johnson, Luke Ridnour and Michael Beasley (restricted). They also have Brad Miller and Martell Webster with tiny guarantees on their remaining contracts.
The Brooklyn Nets didn’t get a top three pick and with it may have lost their most attractive piece in the Dwight Howard chase. If Deron Williams decides to leave, the Nets are not interested in a Gasol package.
Now if Deron wanted to try and force his way to the Lakers, it’d be interesting to see if the Rockets or Wolves have assets of interest to the Nets.
Would the Lakers trade Bynum for Howard? That’s tough to get a straight answer on but certainly not if Dwight won’t commit to staying in LA for a long time.
If the Lakers had to pay a mountain of tax in 2013/14, to set themselves up for the post-Kobe era, they’d take that step (for Williams, be it with Bynum or Howard).
It would take a lot from Deron, Brooklyn and a third team to make that happen and that’s probably too much to expect.
Josh Smith of the Hawks wants out but Atlanta isn’t likely to take on Gasol’s contract given the tax consequences with Joe Johnson and Al Horford highly paid.
It’d be a surprise if the Boston Celtics look to trade Rajon Rondo this offseason after his impressive postseason.
The Chicago Bulls have some interest in Gasol but that too would probably need a third team to gain any traction.
The Lakers should put in calls to any number of teams including the Milwaukee Bucks, Washington Wizards, Phoenix Suns, Philadelphia 76ers, Portland Trail Blazers, Sacramento Kings, Toronto Raptors, etc. to gauge interest. McRoberts, Blake and others may be available as throw-ins on LA’s side depending on the return.
What the Lakers can get for Gasol, that’s really the crux of the offseason.
The rest follows – how much to pay Sessions if he opts out? Where should they spend their Mini-MLE? How does the Odom trade exception fit in the picture?
The Lakers have to find their way to financial responsibility. More importantly they need to get younger, cheaper and hungrier players to gain another chance at a title run.