With a Shakespearean tragedy of an NBA season now mercifully behind them, so much uncertainty follows the Los Angeles Lakers this summer that one can only wonder if the worst is, in fact, over. Yet, of the several questions that will be hotly debated, here are the four most noteworthy.
Between injuries, age, free agency, the luxury tax and the pending 2014 LeBron James summer sweepstakes, who is the most important piece to the Los Angeles Lakers moving forward?
The answer is Kobe Bryant. Despite tearing his ACL at the tender age of 34, few doubt he will eventually return, but questions of how soon and at what cost will continue to fuel speculation that the organization may legitimately entertain amnestying him. Know why they won't though? Allow me to defer to the good and holy book of common sense, which states in chapter four, verse nine:
Let not thou head be as thick as the statue of which thou shalt build to immortalize an individual, and lest it be tarnished by the sin of amnesty, for which an unspeakable revolt would ensue because thou is a blithering idiot.
Funny as it may sound, the only guaranteed return that Lakers fans can hold onto at this point is of the same guy who is currently battling a career-ending injury and is due upwards of $30 million next season. By the way, that's why they call him the black mamba.
What will Dwight Howard's future hold with Los Angeles?
In a perfect world, the Lakers would use him as the principle guy in a sign-and-trade deal to get another superstar who is actually worthy of having the torch passed to him from Kobe. Perhaps someone like Chris Paul, for instance.
In reality though, and despite all the devastation and heartache that Dwight has had to "deal" with all season long, he'd be crazy to leave LA. They can offer him the most money, the most tradition, the most celebrity, the brightest spotlight and, to be quite frank, just as much of a shot as winning in the juggernaut Western Conference as any of the teams that will be throwing money at him can.
The cold hard truth is that Dwight really can't do as much for the Lakers as they can do for him. Try as he might, he will never be as dominant as Shaq, as competitive as Kobe or as charismatically cutthroat as Magic. At the end of the day, the best thing Dwight has going for him is that he is the easiest big fish the team can catch at this point.
What should the Lakers do with Mike D'Antoni?
Replace him in favor of Phil Jackson, or Phil's understudy, Brian Shaw.
But the real red flag here is that too many "coincidences" tend to happen around him. For instance, both Jeremy Lin and Kobe suffered season-ending injuries under his helm after playing heavy minutes for their respective teams.
Or what about the fact that the Los Angeles Lakers dropped from being a three seed in last year's playoffs to a seventh seed this year, while the New York Knicks jumped from No. 7 to No. 2 in that same span? The common denominator: Mike D'Antoni.
Another interesting note, courtesy of Bill Simmons:
After the Lakers lose today, Mike D'Antoni will be 1-14 in the playoffs since the infamous Diaw/Amar'e 1-game suspension happened (in 2007).— Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) April 29, 2013
What should the Lakers do about Steve Nash and Pau Gasol?
Based on Gasol's impressive and inspired play in Kobe's absence (which is partially a testament to Mike D'Antoni finally learning how to use him) and the fact that his huge contract will expire right before the summer of LeBron, he likely isn't going anywhere.
Steve Nash is another story. Unlike Howard, Nash was a consummate professional from start to finish this year, but it appeared as though his age finally caught up to him, nagging injuries and all.
At this stage of his career, he seems best suited to be a backup. He came to LA to compete for a championship, but because of what happened to Kobe, the Lakers are clearly in a transitional period.
As the only player under contract past 2014 and due a little over $9 million next year, it would only seem logical that the Lakers explore either amnestying or trading him, assuming he doesn't preemptively decide to retire.