Why L.A. Lakers Could Face Troublesome Future
As the Los Angeles Lakers finish off a season in which they've experienced more trials and tribulations than they have in years, fans should continue to expect more adversity as time goes on.
While the Buss family has always been able keep the Lakers relevant in the NBA, changes in the league's collective bargaining agreement and the current state of their contracts could handcuff the franchise moving forward.
With Jim and Jeanie Buss poised to usher in a new era for the Lakers, it has yet to be seen whether they can live up to their father's impressive track record.
Although Jim Buss has been responsible for basketball decisions for a while now, he will now be tasked with leading this franchise forward without the guidance of his father, the late, great Jerry Buss.
Not all of Jim Buss' decisions have been popular. However, the Buss family did construct a team that was heralded as a potential title contender entering the season.
This current incarnation of the Lakers was touted as a juggernaut that could challenge the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder for supremacy in the Western Conference. While they haven't met those hefty expectations, they've shown some flashes of greatness.
However, with an aging core and a temporary lease on Dwight Howard, given his one-year contract, the Lakers are going to have to go through a restructuring sooner rather than later.
The looming prospect of rebuilding a perennial playoff contender and the challenges of doing so while being handcuffed by monetary issues may result in a very troubling future for the Lakers.
1. Is Jim Buss the Right Man for the Lakers?
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Jim Buss has been criticized mercilessly this season as the Los Angeles Lakers have failed to live up to expectations.
While there are some merits to the criticism he has accumulated, there is no doubt Buss has had his positive moments as well.
Buss has been responsible for both the drafting of Andrew Bynum, who gave the Lakers several great years, and the signing of Mike Brown over Brian Shaw and Jeff Van Gundy. While his hiring of Brown was controversial, there was no doubt that picking Bynum with the 10th pick was a good decision.
People can continue to criticize Buss for picking Mike D'Antoni over Phil Jackson; however, he was also responsible for dealing Bynum, whose knee injuries derailed his entire season, for Dwight Howard.
There is no doubt that Buss does not have the love of the fans the way his father did. Magic Johnson himself has given him a vote of no-confidence.
Sometimes, public perception is everything.
With the public viewing Buss' decisions as mainly detrimental to the franchise, and Buss' perceived need to escape the shadow cast by his father, the fans may not be very receptive to a rebuilding process that the team has to inevitably go through.
While Jerry Buss may have been able to utilize enough good will to get the Lakers and their fans through a rebuilding phase, Jim Buss and his relative unpopularity with the fans due to some of his more questionable decisions may ultimately lead to turbulence in the Lakers' future.
2. The Luxury Tax May Cripple the Lakers
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The Los Angeles Lakers are no strangers to spending money to keep their team in contention for a championship.
However, with the Lakers expected to be close to $30 million over the luxury tax, they're expected to pay roughly $128 million in fees this season under the new luxury tax rules.
No matter how wealthy the Buss family is, $128 million for a roster that hasn't even secured a playoff spot is a really troubling sign.
Despite the hefty price they're paying, the new collective bargaining agreement is a lot more expensive.
Basically, the new collective bargaining agreement's luxury tax multiplier increases whenever a team crosses a threshold. Teams are charged a certain amount per dollar they are over the salary cap, based on what bracket that amount falls into.
The Lakers currently have $79.6 million on their payroll for next season.
With only eight players under contract, they're expected to fill out the rest of their roster spots while also offering Dwight Howard a max contract to stay with the Lakers for the foreseeable future.
The luxury-tax threshold under the new collective bargaining agreement is only $73 million. With a roster that hasn't lived up to its potential, spending a gargantuan sum of money due to the luxury tax for a sub-par roster may hinder this team's progress for years to come.
3. The Rise of the Clippers
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Perhaps not as tangible as their inevitable struggles with their roster and the salary cap may be the issues the Lakers will have to handle in terms of in-house competition.
The L.A. Clippers have been surging as of late and are comprised of a strong nucleus of young talent and veteran experience.
It all started with the drafting of Blake Griffin.
Utilizing a big man as their foundation, they were able to acquire Chris Paul and build a team predicated on high-tempo, high-intensity basketball that is exciting and reminiscent of the Lakers' "Showtime" era.
With home-court advantage being almost synonymous with a team winning its division, the Lakers will have to go through the Clippers in order to regain their dominance.
While it's going to take more than a few years of winning basketball to usurp the Lakers' place as the most popular team in Los Angeles, the Clippers are going to garner their fair share of fans and profits from the Lakers' fanbase.
Winning is the most prevalent thing in basketball, and if the Clippers are able to do so at a higher rate than the Lakers, it may lower the morale of a struggling franchise.
With a fanbase that is so used to a winning culture, the more disgruntled Laker fans wouldn't even need to swap arenas in order to enjoy a winning brand of basketball, should the Lakers falter.
4. Dwight Howard's Future
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The Lakers' short-term and long-term futures all revolve around Dwight Howard's future in terms of his decisions and his health.
While Howard definitely has his flaws, there is no question that he is the best big man in the league. Despite his health issues this season, he has still produced and performed at a level that is unmatched by any other big man in the league.
When healthy, Howard is a terror on both the defensive and offensive boards while controlling the paint on both ends with his combination of strength, athleticism and timing.
However, the back injury he sustained prior to this season and his subsequent, early return have hindered his timing and explosiveness.
While definitely still an impact player, his ability to dominate the game is predicated by his athleticism and his timing. Both of these aspects of his game rely on his health and conditioning.
Thus, if Howard's health and form is hindered in any way, he will not be able to perform up to his expectations as a max-contract player.
Perhaps even more threatening than his health is his actual presence.
With the whole circus that was his departure from Orlando, Howard's expiring contract following this season could lead to a similar scenario.
The Lakers gave up their franchise big man in Andrew Bynum for Howard, who has recently garnered the reputation as a coach-killer and a drama queen for his exploits in Orlando. Furthermore, the fact that he left the Orlando Magic due to their inability to win could spell trouble for a Lakers franchise that has been so inconsistent this year.
If Howard chooses to stay, the Lakers will have a building block that is unrivaled when healthy. However, if Howard chooses to leave, the Lakers will have to basically rebuild from scratch despite the constraints they have placed upon themselves due to the new salary cap.
5. Kobe Bryant's Retirement
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While Kobe Bryant hasn't been completely clear about his intentions regarding how long he plans on staying in the NBA, Bryant's most definitive answer is that he plans on retiring after two more seasons.
Bryant has carved himself a Hall-of-Fame career that is unrivaled in the modern era.
However, the Lakers have to deal with the harsh reality that their superstar is nearing the end of his career.
No matter how much the Lakers may struggle, they always knew that they could build around the most offensively dominant and strong-willed player in the NBA.
He covered up many of their offensive flaws with his versatility and patched things up as best as he could in terms of their perimeter defense.
After co-starring with Shaquille O'Neal for his first three titles, Bryant showed his worth and validated his status as a franchise player by winning two more titles as the primary star.
Bryant epitomizes the winning culture that the Lakers have come to embody. If the Lakers had their way, Dwight Howard would take the reins of the franchise after Bryant's departure.
With that being said, Howard's demeanor and style is a stark contrast to Bryant's intensity and focus.
The Lakers would have to deal with conforming Howard to the Lakers' winning tradition while also rebuilding the perimeter and the offense from scratch. While Kobe's isolation plays may not be what most view as a productive offense, recall that Bryant has averaged close to five assists per game utilizing the drive-and-kick, passing from the post and dishing out of a double-team.
While Bryant has been labelled a selfish scorer throughout his career, it is clear that his teammates work off of his offensive dominance.
Though it may not be as clear cut as the way a player like LeBron James makes his teammates better, Bryant's will and work ethic fuels the players around him both on and off of the court.
Losing Bryant would be like losing the heart and soul of the Lakers. They would have no choice but to have a heart transplant, and that could leave the franchise incapacitated if it aren't prepared for his departure.