A blockbuster deal with Dallas for Lamar Odom, a five-year $95 million extension to team star Blake Griffin, and “advanced talks” with unrestricted free-agent Jamal Crawford, the Clippers are having the type of offseason that crosstown rivals, the Los Angeles Lakers so desperately need.
After two consecutive second-round playoff disasters, one at the hands of the champion Mavericks, the other by the electrifying Oklahoma City Thunder, it is time for Mitch Kupchak and the LA front office to make some serious moves if they want to remain relevant contenders for a title next season. Tensions haven’t been this high, and rumors this wild, since Shaq (or Dr. O’Neal as of late) demanded a trade in 2003.
Things have already gotten off to a rocky start this offseason. Key acquisition Ramon Sessions opted out of his one-year extension for unrestricted free agency leaving a gaping hole at point guard. Dwight Howard, who was a rumored target for some time, demanded a trade to Brooklyn which subsequently wipes away any hope the Lakers had at trading for this season’s prized free agent Deron Williams. And finally, the Draft proved uneventful for the Lakers who were rumored to try to trade up for a top five pick.
So where does that leave the Lake Show?
The biggest obstacle is the unwieldy salary cap that the Lakers have been hefting around all season. Overpaid and underperforming, with a collectively aged group spells a worrisome future. The amount of guaranteed money tied up in their salary cap could leave LA in a Brian Sabean type scenario where throwing millions at a veteran core (i.e. Zito, Huff, F. Sanchez, Mota, and DeRosa) has at times proven to be as fruitless as a pine tree. Even worse, it handcuffs them from addressing holes in their lineup. As former Laker executive Jerry West explained to the Los Angeles Times:
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"The Lakers have been historically good in going out in the offseason and getting pieces to be able to help them. It's going to be so much more difficult for them because of the high-salaried players they have that are getting older. Would someone want to make a trade with them for a player that's making $18 (million) or $19 million?”
The money situation is so bad in LA, that fans and even some analysts are clamoring for Kobe to take a pay cut.
But beyond the accounting woes and the balance sheet, the Lakers have some on court issues that they need to deal with, starting with their point guard (or lack there of). Sessions can’t totally be ruled out, the Lakers retained his Bird rights and will likely attempt to resign him as unrestricted free agency opens up in July. Other free-agent options include Kirk Hinrich, Aaron Brooks, and possibly Ty Lawson.
If signing a PG falls through the next best option is some sort of deal with the Houston Rockets for a combination of Kyle Lowry, Luis Scola, and/or Goran Dragic but will likely have to give up Pau Gasol, something Vice President Jim Buss says is unlikely. He told the Los Angeles Times that "I think changes are going to be made moving Pau lower to the basket. We can improve that way with a change in coaching strategy rather than a change in personnel." Whoever they acquire will need to be a contributor, not a passenger.
Other issues to address is an enhanced three point game, more depth in the frontcourt (sorry Troy Murphy but you weren’t the solution to either), and more speed to keep up with teams like the Thunder.
The verdict is still very much out on the Lakers’ future. One thing is certain, Jerry West assured, “I know Mitch Kupchak very well and Jerry Buss very well and they'll try to do anything to have a championship-caliber team."
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