The 2012-13 Los Angeles Lakers rolled the dice and lost big.
The team’s attempt to resurrect aged talent without depth culminated with the inevitable disappointment of an opening-round sweep to the San Antonio Spurs.
It was surprising that the Lakers even pushed into the postseason as a No. 7 seed. The season was marked by a coaching change five games in, endless injuries to older stars and far too much losing to match preseason expectations as the latest superteam.
The early exit, coupled with Kobe Bryant’s season-ending surgery, is just the first sign of the potential collapse of a once-elite franchise that is now fully dipped into mediocrity.
This offseason presents even more reasons to cringe for Los Angeles.
The Lakers hope to sign free agent Dwight Howard to a long-term max contract, but whether Howard even wants to return remains in question.
Dwight Howard gives first of many no-comments over next few days. What about your Lakers future? "I haven't thought about it."— Mike Bresnahan (@Mike_Bresnahan) April 27, 2013
But if they can bring back the talents of Howard, as has been reported likely to happen, it might be the only move they can accomplish.
The contract situation for next season, according to HoopsHype, is as follows:
|Metta World Peace||$7,727,280 (player option)|
|Jodie Meeks||$1,550,000 (team option)|
That arithmetic tells a miserable tale for the Lakers, especially when you add in the $20 million-plus that Howard will earn if he returns.
The Lakers are in trouble.
As Larry Coon explains on ESPN Insider:
Life below the tax line? A fond memory at best. Cap room? A pipe dream. These teams have hoarded expensive players and have massive payrolls to show for their efforts. As a result they are not only over the tax line, they are also above the apron -- the point at which further system restrictions take effect.
Take the Lakers as an example. Their $79.6 million payroll, while alarmingly high, is at the same time deceptively low. Dwight Howard is hitting free agency this summer, and is the centerpiece of the team's transition plans to the next generation of Lakers basketball. If they re-sign him -- and the team has gone all-in on the assumption that it will -- another $20 million will be tacked onto that $79.6 million, which will nudge their total past the $100 million mark once all is said and done.
If Los Angeles settles with that roster—and it is $30 million over the luxury tax—they would owe roughly $85 million in tax, ESPN LA's Ramona Shelburne recently wrote.
According to a Greg Price and the International Business Times, next year's cap is expected to be very similar to this season's $70.307 million, with the penalties as follows:
The penalties for non-repeater rates go:
$0 to $4.9 million over pays a rate of $1.50 for every dollar above the cap
$5 million to $9.9 million over pays a rate of $1.75 for every dollar above the cap
$10 million to $14.9 million over pays a rate of $2.50 for every dollar above the cap
$15 million to $19.9 million over pays a rate of $3.25 for every dollar above the cap
$20 million and above pays $3.75 and an additional $.50 for every additional $5 million
It's unclear how the Lakers improve in the future, when they will return equal or less than the same underachieving level of talent of the 2012-13 season. It seems likely that the team will move Gasol—if they can.
Pau Gasol slightly more open than Dwight Howard to discuss his Lakers future: "What happens next is totally up to the team and management."— Mike Bresnahan (@Mike_Bresnahan) April 27, 2013
But moving Gasol and his contract likely won't bring much heralded talent in return.
Can the Lakers return to elite status while Kobe Bryant is still playing?
The Lakers could amnesty Bryant, but it seems 99 percent implausible that the team would allow Bryant to play in anything but the Lakers Purple and Gold.
World Peace, on a player option, might be the more likely choice to amnesty.
Either way, the season that was originally gambled on the legs of aging talent has resulted in the biggest disappointment in Los Angeles since Bryant tried to do it on his own without Shaquille O'Neal.
And that might not change. There are more questions than answers, and it might be a few uncharacteristically cold years for the Lakers until they can rebuild a respectable amount of depth and talent again.