Full Roster Predictions for LA Lakers Next Season

Howard Ruben@howardrubenContributor IMay 4, 2013

Full Roster Predictions for LA Lakers Next Season

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    Well, gee whiz...Dwight Howard is doing it again.

    By saying he won't be rushed into making a decision on where he'll play next season, Howard is essentially holding the Los Angeles Lakers hostage, much like he did a year ago with the Orlando Magic.

    Thanks, Dwight.

    Howard is also holding the prognosticators hostage—I'd like to turn this assignment over to him but, then, it might be hard to find D12 now that the season has ended and he promised to "get away from basketball for awhile".(via Time Warner Cable Sports Net)

    In truth, the Lakers roster for 2013-14 will start falling into place once Dwight Howard tells us all what he plans to do.  If he leaves Los Angeles for Houston, Dallas or Atlanta, then players like Pau Gasol are all but assured of remaining with the team.

    If Howard signs a new, five-year, $118 million max contract with the Lakers, the team will probably make very few moves to improve the current roster.  They could seek to trade Gasol and his expiring $19.3 million contract, with the hope that someone will send back a missing piece (active outside shooter in the mold of Atlanta's Kyle Korver or New Orleans' Ryan Anderson), and/or a first-round draft pick.

    A third scenario has Howard signing and Gasol remaining with the Lakers, while management decides to take a big financial hit for one more year before most of their payroll disappears and opens up new possibilities to retool in 2014. 

    This third scenario is how I see it playing out this summer in Lakers Nation.  And because of that, much of the nucleus from this past season will be in uniform when camp opens this October. 

    The Lakers will likely say goodbye to Antawn Jameson, Chris Duhon, Devin Ebanks and possibly Robert Sacre.

    Who will go and who will stay?  We'll start to know more after July 1, when Howard will probably make yet another one of his big decisions.  Let's see just how close we might be to getting the Lakers' new roster right.

1. Kobe Bryant: Come On, This Is Kobe Bryant.

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    It wouldn't be the Lakers if there wasn't controversy.  But to possibly think that Kobe Bryant might not be with the purple and gold next season is pretty darn ludicrous.

    Sure, the Lakers could exercise their amnesty clause and take $30 million off the books for 2013-14 by giving Bryant his walking papers. 

    Kobe could, as some have suggested, go sign with a team in China or Italy for $20 million and basically double his already astronomical salary, before returning to L.A. with a new deal for 2014.

    It's plausible, right?  But, not probable.

    Bryant is saying that he'll be ready to go when the Lakers open camp in October.  If there is one player on this planet who can make such a bold prediction and then make it come true, it's Kobe Bryant.

    My gut tells me that Bryant comes back to the team sometime in December, but nowhere near 100 percent.  He'll play his way into basketball shape and still average about 20-24 points a game.

2. Dwight Howard: It All Depends on D12

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    Trying to predict where Dwight Howard ends up next season is like trying to guess where interest rates will be in six months. 

    First among the questions would be: Who coaches the Lakers next year?  Will it be the current coach, Mike D'Antoni?  Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak already has gone out on a very thin limb and made that prediction, declaring several times that D'Antoni is not going anywhere.

    Kupchak told the L.A. Times on April 18: "Yeah, he's back. I think he's done a great job.  There's been no discussions otherwise."

    Howard has always wanted to play for Phil Jackson, though when he was traded to the Lakers the coach was Mike Brown.  Howard and Jackson are apparently big Twitter buddies—so how much pull does have D12 have with management to make such a change?

    And, if the answer is very little, then will that be enough to send Howard packing?  The initial feeling is no.

    Dwight Howard will not leave $30 million on the negotiating table.  He has to realize that he has Los Angeles fans in the palm of his hands.

    If Howard truly wants to win championships and do it under the bright lights of one of the elite professional sports cities, then he will do it in Los Angeles.

3. Pau Gasol: A Laker...for Now.

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    It's always easier to spend the other guy's money.  In the case of Pau Gasol and the Lakers, it may not make financing sense to keep him in Los Angeles for another season, but the prospects of winning a title with a healthy Lakers lineup that includes him may be too hard to resist.

    Keeping both Gasol and Dwight Howard could end up costing the Lakers an extra $85 million in luxury tax money next season.  Their total financial obligation could approach $200 million, which, on many levels, is not smart business.

    But the Lakers also have a multibillion dollar television deal with Time Warner Cable, so why not bet the house money on what you already have on the floor for one more year?

    I'll guarantee this: If the Lakers move Gasol in an attempt to save money and get younger, make no mistake, he will come back to haunt this team.

    Gasol worked his injured tail off to get back on the court for L.A. prior to the end of the regular season. 

    With their playoff season on the line, the old Gasol played lights out on the final day in a must-have win over the Rockets. He recorded 20 rebounds, 17 points and 11 assists in a thrilling 99-95 win over the Rockets.  With Kobe Bryant on the sidelines.

    Bryant is adamant about wanting Gasol back with the team this fall.  He stressed to L.A. Times reporter Mike Bresnahan:

    I understand the cap situation so that's always a concern, but all I can do is just voice my opinion. ... Obviously I'm not the one that has to cut the check. To me, it's a no-brainer. We need him to get to where we need to go."

4. Steve Nash: Guaranteed Money for Two More Years: He'll Be Back

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    Steve Nash had what could be considered the worst season in his 17-year career.  That won't happen again.

    Will it?

    Well, when you are 39 heading into the 2013-14 season and coming off a rash of nagging, painful injuries that kept you out of 32 games, you begin to wonder if maybe this isn't the beginning of the end.

    But, Steve Nash is determined to come to camp in great shape and there is little reason to doubt him.  Although he has endured back issues for a number of years, Nash is still able to give a strong 30-plus minutes a game.  The Lakers will need all of that from this future Hall of Fame point guard.

    Nash ended this season averaging 32.5 minutes, but his assist totals were down to 6.7 per game, down from the 10.7 he produced the year before in Phoenix.  He averaged close to 13 points on 50 percent shooting, including 44 percent from three-point range.

    A healthy Steve Nash for a full season will be a great asset for a Lakers team that is truthfully in transition.

5. Steve Blake: He's Finally Comfortable Playing for the Lakers

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    In the last year of his contract, Steve Blake is almost guaranteed to return to Staples Center.  At $4 million, the 32-year old point guard looks like a relative bargain.

    Though saddled with his own injuries that forced him to sit out 37 games, Blake was around and healthy at the end of the season when the Lakers needed him most. 

    During April, Blake averaged over 39 minutes in eight games, 12.6 points, five rebounds, four assists and shot 41 percent from beyond the arc.

    With Steve Nash closing in on 40 and uncertain over his health, the Lakers are glad to have Blake in the fold for at least one more year.

6. Darius Morris: LA Native Will Stick Around at Least One More Year

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    The third-year guard isn't going anywhere and the Lakers need him for insurance. 

    Darius Morris brought athleticism and improved defensive skills to his point guard play in 2012-13.

    The L.A. native has done everything asked of him and never complained after Mike D'Antoni inexplicably benched him for much of the season. 

    With a depleted Lakers back court near the end of the season, Morris got his chance in the playoffs and responded: 14 points and four assists per game over the final three losses to the San Antonio Spurs.

7. Andrew Goudelock: MVP of the D League Is Ready for Prime Time

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    One of the many mistakes made by the coaching staff and front office of the Lakers this season was in keeping Andrew Goudelock under a rock and playing in the Developmental League for most of the season.

    The Lakers assumed that, with Steve Nash, Steve Blake, Chris Duhon, Kobe Bryant, Jodie Meeks and Darius Morris, they had more than enough firepower in the back court to start the season.  The problem was that Nash, Blake, Meeks and even Bryant suffered through an assortment of injuries. 

    Los Angeles could have used the sharp shooting Goudelock after the All-Star break as they made a desperate push to make the playoffs.

    “I definitely think I’ve come a long way,” Goudelock said via ESPNLA.com and Dave McMenamin. “From getting cut [by the Lakers in training camp], going to the D-League for the whole season, winning the MVP and then coming back and getting significant minutes [in the playoffs] . . . It was crazy.”

    Goudelock was brought back to the Lakers with two weeks left in the regular season.   After Bryant went down with a torn Achilles, Goudelock found himself playing significant minutes.  He averaged 17 points and 37 minutes in the final two playoff games, both blowout losses to the Spurs. 

    Goudelock will be on an NBA roster to start 2013, hopefully with the Lakers.

8. Jordan Hill: Missing in Action but Ready for a Big Comeback at Age 25.

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    The Lakers have invested in Jordan Hill and, at just 25 years of age, there is no reason to expect he'll be anywhere else but Staples Center to start the new season.

    When he's healthy, Hill brings length, youth and athleticism in bunches to the Lakers.  These are all attributes that Kobe Bryant suggested the team stock themselves with in the coming months.

    In four NBA seasons, the 6'11" center has never averaged more than 16 minutes per game, but that may change in 2013.  If, as expected, the Lakers either do not resign Dwight Howard or lose Pau Gasol to trade or amnesty, then Hill automatically becomes the second big man behind either D12 or Pau.

    Hill suffered a torn labrum in his left hip and underwent surgery back on January 23.  He was working out by the end of the regular season and actually got in some playoff action for the Lakers, though he really should have stayed off the court and not risk hampering his recovery.

    Hill should be healthy by the time training camp opens in October.  He will be in the second of his two-year contract with the team and make a reported $3.56 million.  A contract year usually bodes well for the player and the team—there's that extra motivation.

    For Jordan Hill, a big year could translate into a big contract when he becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2014.

9. Robert Sacre: Not a Big Investment for a Great Teammate and Cheerleader.

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    The 60th pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, Robert Sacre spent his rookie season shuttling back and forth between the Lakers and the Developmental League.

    He wasn't given much chance in the Mike D'antoni system, where the coach rotated among just 7-8 Lakers per game over the course of the regular season.

    The Lakers are likely to hold onto the 6'10", 260-pound center for a couple of reasons.  Big, physical centers are hard to come by and Sacre comes cheaply ($473,000 this season, probably the same next year).

10 Earl Clark: Sign Him or Lose Him.

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    A former first round draft pick by Phoenix and afterthought in the deal that brought Dwight Howard to the Lakers from Orlando, Earl Clark languished on the pine this season, until getting an opportunity in January.

    With injuries to Howard, Jordan Hill and Pau Gasol, Clark was asked to step up and play significant minutes for a thinning Lakers squad.

    Clark made the most of his minutes, breaking out against the Spurs on January 9 with 22 points and 13 rebounds in 27 minutes.  This from a guy who previous to this year had averaged a career high of 12 minutes per game at Orlando.

    Clark was on fire for much of January and February, averaging 10.3 and 10.9 points per game, respectively.  He also brought down 8.4 and 7.8 rebounds, all while playing 28 and 33.5 minutes. 

    By March Clark was burnt out.

    The real Earl Clark probably exists somewhere between those 12 and 30 minutes.  With an offseason of conditioning, there is no reason why this athletic, 6'11" power forward with a soft, mid-range jumper can't be a double-digit scorer on a regular basis.

    With their financial constraints, the Lakers will try and keep Earl Clark in purple and gold next season.  The chances are 50-50 he'll resign.

11. Jodie Meeks: A No Brainer at a Great Price

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    Assuming Mike D'antoni is still the Lakers Head Coach, Jodie Meeks should remain a member of the purple and gold.

    The Lakers constantly talk about wanting to get younger.  Well, they have unproven youth all around them and Meeks is a good example.

    The 25-year-old third-year shooting guard is an ideal fit for the D'Antoni run-and-shoot, spread offense.  Meeks can light up a scoreboard in a hurry with his streaky shooting skills.

    Meeks needs to pick up his shooting percentage next season.  A career 40 percent shooter, he hit 39 percent of his shots this past season, including 36 percent from three-point land.  

    Meeks did have some major highlights to warrant a repeat performance in Los Angeles.  Against Denver on December 30, Meeks hit seven of eight three-pointers and scored 21 points in just 17 minutes as the Lakers beat the Nuggets, 122-103.  He had a season-high 24 points in a six point win over Washington on December 14 and finished the season with 26 double-digit scoring games.

    Meeks also improved his defense and was one of the team's most passionate, aggressive defenders down the stretch as the Lakers fought for a playoff spot.

    Meeks will earn $1.5 million in 2013-14, so there is no big financial burden with this roster spot.  The Lakers are hoping he'll blossom into a more consistent threat.

12. Metta World Peace: He'll Exercise Player Option

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    It remains to be seen how much game is left in Metta World Peace.

    After undergoing major knee surgery to repair torn cartilage, MWP returned to the team just 12 days later after originally being told it would take 6-8 weeks before he could step out on a basketball court.

    If nothing else, you have to applaud the Lakers small forward for his grit, determination and passion in wanting to help his teammates.  MWP was not ready to come back but the Lakers needed all hands on deck for their stretch run to the playoffs.

    MWP will turn 34 in November—he is no longer the big scoring threat the NBA knew him for, but is still considered one of the team's main defensive stoppers. 

    And keep in mind that, before he was injured, MWP was averaging close to 34 minutes and 12 points per game, the most of his four-year career with the Lakers.

    MWP will exercise his player option ($7.7 million) this coming season.  So, unless the Lakers use the amnesty clause on him—and that is a very real possibility—expect to see MWP back for one more try at a world title.

13. Luke Babbitt: Could Be a Steal of a Deal

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    What's another few million dollars when your overhead for the season is already bloated beyond recognition?  Why not pursue an excellent outside threat in free agent Luke Babbitt?

    The 6'9", 225-pound forward can provide much-needed instant offense on the perimeter for the Lakers and, at just 24 (in June), he would bring youth, length and athleticism to a team sorely lacking in all three areas.

    In a seven point loss to the Lakers on April 10, the Portland Trailblazer forward scored 12 points on 4-5 shots, all from beyond the arc.  And while he hit on just 35 percent of his long range jumpers this season, Babbitt did connect on 43 percent from downtown the year before.

    There's plenty of upside to acquiring a player with this sort of potential.  Babbitt made $1.89 million with the Blazers this season and is now an unrestricted free agent after the club declined its option.

    Babbitt would make for an excellent role player on a team that is in desperate need of a stronger bench.

14. Anthony Tollivar: Another Decent, Young Role Player

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    Without high draft picks, the Lakers must be creative this off season as they attempt to build a stronger foundation for the future.  Anthony Tolliver could be one of those players who can make a difference over the next few years.

    At 27 years old, the 6'8" forward is considered more of a role player than anything else.  Still, he brings length and athleticism to the aging Lakers who are in need of both.

    Tolliver is a free agent after playing one season with the Hawks, where he averaged four points in 15 minutes per game. 

    Tolliver also shot 34 percent from three-point range and did have a season (2010-11 with Minnesota) where he hit on 41 percent of his long-range jumpers.

    Salary is not an issue with Tolliver.  He made $915,000 this year and is an unrestricted free agent.  Look for the Lakers to make a play for him in the offseason.

15. Erik Murphy: Florida Forward and Second Round Draft Pick

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    The Lakers have one draft pick in the second round next month.  They may use it on Erik Murphy, a sharp shooting, 6'10" forward from the University of Florida.

    According to the NBA Insider from ESPN.com, Murphy is considered a:

    • Stretch four
    • Excellent shooter with 3-point range
    • Mobile for a big man

    No one is touting this young man as a big defensive stopper but, then, that is not what the Lakers need.  Mike D'Antoni needs shooters—lots of them.  Erik Murphy can shoot and score.

    Murphy hit on 45 percent of his three-point shots at Florida this season, 52 percent overall.  He averaged 12.2 points per game for the Gators and if there was one negative about him, it was that he did not shoot enough.

    Murphy can play center or forward, but he is better suited to play forward in the NBA.  If Murphy is available when the Lakers pick comes up, expect L.A. to take him.