Predicting What Lakers' Starting Lineup Will Look Like Next Season

Jesse DorseyFeatured ColumnistApril 14, 2013

Predicting What Lakers' Starting Lineup Will Look Like Next Season

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    The Los Angeles Lakers are still trying to deal with the realization that Kobe Bryant is likely out for months with a torn left Achilles after their 118-116 win over the Golden State Warriors.

    With the win, the Lakers did hang onto the steering wheel on the drive to the eighth seed in the Western Conference, but the positives weren't able to outweigh the negatives after the most recent injury for Los Angeles.

    The Lakers have watched as Steve Nash, Steve Blake, Pau Gasol, Jordan Hill, Dwight Howard and Metta World Peace have all gone out for extended periods of time, but there's something jarring about a long-term injury striking down Bryant.

    He's always been the rock, the constant anchor of this team capable of holding them steady in troubled waters when it looks like they could sink. Now the anchor has torn free from the ship, and there's no telling what happens from here on out.

    While there's still a lot of focus left on the job at hand, making the playoffs and seeing what can happen beyond, there's got to be some time to think about the future as soon as possible.

    As of right now, Kobe's recovery time is deemed to be six-to-nine months, which could put the Lakers in a very interesting place this summer.

    Vitti says its a 6-9 month timetable for @kobebryant’s recovery. Asked if that means he’s back for next season, “that’s the plan.”

    — Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) April 13, 2013

    With that question comes a ton of additional questions.

    We've got to take a look at what's going on this summer, how the roster could change and the likelihood that each presumed starter will be around next season.

Los Angeles' Biggest Questions

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    What Will Dwight Do?

    Everything the Lakers do with their roster over the summer depends powerfully on what decision Dwight Howard makes.

    If he leaves, everything becomes an option. If he stays, most possibilities still exist, but it's less likely that there are incredibly drastic changes.

    Hopefully for the Lakers, they get their answer sooner rather than later. Otherwise, they could be in a situation where they've got a roster in limbo.

     

    Could the Lakers Use Their Amnesty Provision on Kobe?

    In short, yes. Is it unlikely? Probably.

    Still, that doesn't take away the fact that the Lakers are going to be paying Kobe Bryant $30 million to presumably play three months of basketball at the most.

    Waiving Bryant with their amnesty doesn't necessarily mean that they don't have to pay him, but it does take his salary off the team's reported salary and likely keeps them from paying tens of millions in luxury tax fines.

     

    Would Trading Gasol, Nash or World Peace Be an Option?

    The biggest player remaining up in the air has to be Pau Gasol. His name has been on the block for months now, and he'll be an expiring contract next season.

    Gasol becomes incredibly tradable, regardless of Howard's decision.

    Meanwhile, it seems as if Steve Nash and Metta World Peace will stick around unless Howard leaves. If he's gone, anything and everything could happen.

Ability to Revamp the Team

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    That's the big concern when it comes to figuring out who will be starting for the Lakers next season.

    Los Angeles has $78 million in payroll already locked up for next season. Given a maximum deal for Dwight Howard and re-signing a few of their free agents, that number is going to creep north of $100 million.

    The Lakers would have nearly double the league's salary cap and somewhere around $30 million more than the luxury tax.

    With that, they would presumably have just over $3 million worth of the mini mid-level exception to spend on free agents, as well as zero draft picks to their name.

    That mid-level exception will most likely give them one decent player, possibly good enough to take over a starting spot in the rotation, but probably a bench player.

    So that's it. If Dwight stays, they're handcuffed unless they end up finding a formidable trading partner for Pau Gasol.

Point Guard: Steve Nash

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    In all likelihood, Steve Nash makes it through the season without being traded. He's an incredibly smart player who knows how to fit into almost any group of players. 

    He remains an incredibly valuable piece of this team, whether it be as the offensive motor, or just a guy who can shoot well.

     

    He's Starting If...

    Dwight Howard stays.

    There's no doubt that Nash remains with the Lakers if Howard does as well.

    He's the perfect point guard to run the pick-and-roll with Howard, and given a summer to heal, shape up and work with his teammates, Nash should come back and have a better season than he did this year.

    That's not to say that he's going to be traded for youth if Howard does leave. It's just that Nash is a definite part of this team's future if Howard stays.

     

    He's Not Starting If...

    There's a roster overhaul.

    Nash is likely gone in the off chance that Los Angeles decides there's something more to be found out of this roster by blowing it apart—using the amnesty on Kobe, trading Gasol and moving to youth.

    He's under contract for two more seasons, and he would be an incredibly valuable piece to any team looking to make a move next season, so the Lakers could find a valuable piece in return.

     

    Odds He'll Start: 80 percent likely that he'll be the starting point guard.

Shooting Guard: Jodie Meeks

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    Jodie Meeks has started a handful of games throughout the season after the Lakers realized that Chris Duhon and Darius Morris aren't the best options in place of the various injured players.

    He can shoot, his defense is not as bad as Steve Nash's, and he knows how to stay out of the way when there's a play being run.

     

    He's Starting If...

    Los Angeles can't find a better replacement.

    Obviously Jodie Meeks isn't a terrific option to start for any team, but he can be a fine fill-in for what the Lakers need out of Kobe's replacement.

    They'll be looking for another guard/forward to add to the team with their mini mid-level exception this summer, but it seems more likely that they find a guy better suited to come off the bench and help insert a bit of offense.

     

    He's Not Starting If...

    There's a trade abound.

    If Pau Gasol is on the move, it will probably mean that they're looking to fluff out their roster with a few younger players.

    Adding a useful big man, while simultaneously picking up a shooting guard or a small forward who can start, would be a fine move to balance out the roster.

     

    Odds He'll Start: 60 percent chance he's the opening-day starter.

Small Forward: Metta World Peace

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    It remains to be seen whether or not the Lakers would be looking to flip Metta World Peace for a younger player, mostly because there's no telling whether there's a legitimate market for him or not.

    World Peace is owed over $7 million next season if he exercises his option (he'd be crazy not to) for another year on the team, which would definitely mean he's the team's small forward.

     

    He's Starting If...

    The team doesn't explode.

    World Peace is probably right in line with Steve Nash as far as a sure thing for the starting lineup goes in October.

    His contract seems just a bit too high for any other team to desire giving up much that would interest the Lakers, and if he gets traded, it makes more sense for it to happen at the 2014 trade deadline.

     

    He's Not Starting If...

    There's an injury or a blockbuster.

    World Peace could very well be used as cap fodder if the Lakers end up trading a handful of players, whether it be in a sign-and-trade scenario with Dwight Howard or a deal to move Pau Gasol.

    If not for that, World Peace would likely have to be injured for him to miss out on opening day next season.

     

    Odds He'll Start: 80 percent he's patrolling the perimeter.

Power Forward: Pau Gasol

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    Pau Gasol will be the name thrown around the most in regards to an offseason trade that could be a quick revamp to the Los Angeles roster.

    He's on an expiring contract, and he has proven that he's still a very valuable ball player since he returned to the starting lineup.

     

    He's Starting If...

    Los Angeles stands pat.

    Dwight Howard would likely have re-signed, the notion of a roster overhaul seems less appealing than it does right now, and a likely replacement doesn't seem to be floating around on the trade block.

    Gasol and Howard can still very much learn how to play together, and if the Lakers want to be much of anything next season, it would revolve around a ton of post play featuring them picking and rolling with Steve Nash.

     

    He's Not Starting If...

    There's a taker.

    Gasol as an extremely skilled big man who can still shoot, play physical in the post, pass and rebound. There are a ton of teams who would be interested.

    Of course, he's also coming off an extremely injury-plagued season. That will definitely tamper down the interest a bit.

     

    Odds He'll Start: 70 percent chance for more running hooks and neck-beards.

Center: Dwight Howard

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    If you forced me to forage a guess about him, I would say that Dwight Howard returns to Los Angeles with a maximum contract next season.

    Really, the biggest draw is whether or not he wants a true maximum deal, as there are other teams that might give him a better shot at winning a championship.

     

    He's Starting If...

    He decides he's a Laker.

    Howard can become the next leader of the Lakers a year sooner than he thought if he pens a deal with Los Angeles over the summer, getting to take over the team immediately.

    In fact, he's got to realize that the team is his right now, and it's time for him to figure out whether it's a good feeling or not.

     

    He's Not Starting If...

    He decides he's somebody else.

    That's really what Howard's free agency is about isn't it? He's either a Laker or a basketball player on one of the 29 other teams.

    Looking from the outside in makes it extremely evident that there's something special about playing for the Lakers, especially for centers, at least as far as perception goes.

    Howard has a chance to be that next great big man on the Lakers, but he could be a great big man anywhere.

     

    Odds He'll Start: 75 percent that there's more Hollywood Superman.