Have Kobe Bryant (left) and Pau Gasol (right) played their last game together?
After a disappointing showing during the 2012-13 regular season and playoffs, the Los Angeles Lakers need a blueprint for a terrific offseason.
Indeed, the Purple and Gold have multiple important decisions to make. Addressing them promptly will decide the future of the franchise and also determine their ability to contend for a championship in the short-term.
Make no mistake, every move the Lakers make in the 2013 summer will be with an eye on building a contender as well as trimming payroll.
Per Hoopshype, they project to have one of the biggest team salaries in the league and should in effect exceed the luxury tax level despite only having eight players under contract going into next season.
Teams must pay a penalty for every dollar their team salary exceeds the tax level. In addition, for every season a franchise spends in luxury tax territory, the amount they must pay increases for consistently exceeding the limit.
Larry Coon did a great job of breaking this down in his NBA Salary Cap FAQ. Thus, the Lakers will be forced to do something they’ve never done before: build a title team on the cheap.
Here are the questions they must answer before diving into the construction of a championship roster.
Mike D'Antoni, 2012-13 Lakers coach. But also in 2013-14?
Mike D’Antoni joined the team after the start of the 2012-13 regular season and consequently was not afforded with the possibility of a training camp with his players.
Hence, he spent the bulk of the campaign figuring out which player combinations gave him the best chance at wins. Much of the thought process on offensive and defensive strategy occurred during games because D’Antoni never truly got an opportunity to sit down and thoroughly assess his team.
The 2013 offseason gives him time to tweak things and figure out his roster. Then again, the prolonged adjustment period between players and coaches could lead the front office in a different direction.
A head coach capable of managing stars and playing through the post might be what the Lakers need. This isn’t to suggest a move is needed on this front, but rather that the franchise must decide who their guy is going forward.
Keeping D’Antoni means the roster must be tweaked for the sake of reflecting his philosophy. Relieving him of his duties, on the other hand, could be synonymous with keeping the team intact.
Kobe Bryant tore his left Achilles late in the regular season, and the timetable for his return is set for somewhere between six and nine months. The former date would be incredibly optimistic and place his return at the start of the 2013-14 season.
Which begs the question: Could Bryant miss the entire 2013-14 regular season?
If such is the case, the Lakers might be better off using the amnesty provision on him. The collective bargaining agreement allows teams a one-time opportunity to waive a player and prevent his salary from counting against the cap.
Bryant will earn a little over $30 million during the 2013-14. However, if he is injured, the Lakers might be better off cutting him if there is a chance he misses the majority of the year.
The move would drastically reduce the Lakers payroll and possibly remove them from the luxury tax level depending on the players they sign afterwards if they go forward with the decision.
It’s a difficult move, mind you. The use of the amnesty can only be done during the July moratorium (between July 1-9, 2013). This obviously speeds up the front office’s thinking.
However, considering it will happen early in the offseason, the Lakers will be free after the fact to shape the team based on whether he is coming back in 2013-14 or not. Let’s not forget, if Bryant is going to sit out the entire season, he can rejoin the Purple and Gold for the 2014-15 campaign.
No matter what ownership and management decide, this is the most important player decision the Lakers must make going into the 2013 offseason.
Steve Nash in a Lakers uniform. But for how long?
This one might be harsh, but should the Lakers keep Bryant on the team for the 2012-13 season instead of using the amnesty provision on him, Steve Nash is the next name on the list.
He is a 39-year-old point guard that played 50 games during the 2012-13 campaign because he battled numerous injuries.
When healthy, he is one of the best shooters in NBA history as well as a gifted playmaker. However, his age suggests he might continue breaking down during the 2013-14 season.
He will make north of $9 million during that period and consequently will factor heavily in the Lakers’ salary cap. As a result, the Lakers’ 2013 offseason blueprint revolves around the amount of games the team believes Nash can suit up for.
The new reality for the Purple and Gold is getting quality talent at a reasonable cost. That’s just not the case with Nash based on 2012-13.
If the amnesty provision is not in play, the next best thing might be trading him away for low draft picks or young players that have shown a little promise.
Lakers' center Dwight Howard.
The Los Angeles Lakers acquired Dwight Howard in the summer of 2012 with the idea of him becoming the present and future of the Los Angeles Lakers.
Injuries robbed him of mobility and explosiveness during the 2012-13 campaign, which kept him grounded for most of the year. With that said, when healthy, he is one of the five best players in the league.
That’s why despite a disappointing season from the former three-time Defensive Player of the Year, the Lakers must go all out to retain his services.
Mitch Kupchak can sell Howard on the five-year contract worth near $120 million, the climate, the city, the franchise’s winning tradition and on Kobe Bryant.
The Bryant equation could be a huge one. If available to play in 2013-14, Bryant could be the focus of all of the negative attention and pressure when the Lakers lose, an issue Howard has had trouble handling.
Marc J. Spears of Yahoo Sports obtained that information from the big man himself:
Howard said he loved the city of Los Angeles, but added it can be difficult to be a Laker when things are bad.
The presence of an athletically diminished Bryant could in fact be the focus of the season as opposed to Howard’s shortcomings. Also, the five-time world champion has always embraced the pressure of playing in Los Angeles and could teach the big man a few things on this front.
Obtaining Howard’s signature is the biggest step in building a title contender for this team. Although there is no certainty currently on whether he will ever regain his physical peak form, anything remotely close makes the team a force to be reckoned with in the Western Conference.
A perfect offseason for the Lakers undoubtedly involves Howard.
Pau Gasol saying adios?
A funny thing occurred in the final month of the 2012-13 regular season: Pau Gasol regained his All-Star form. He looked like one of the best big men in the league and reminded the masses he helped Kobe Bryant win back-to-back titles.
In the process of reclaiming his dominant form, he made it easier for the Lakers to trade him.
Although many agreed that Mike D’Antoni misused Gasol, there was a sentiment growing that he was washed up. A big man who had lost his confidence and will make north of $19 million in 2013-14 would have been incredibly difficult to trade.
However, the Spaniard consistently flirted with triple-doubles late in the 2012-13 season and turned himself into a matchup nightmare. His performance has turned him into an extremely valuable trade commodity.
That’s important given the Lakers’ need to shed salary. Unloading Gasol should be relatively easy, but more importantly, the franchise will bring back quality talent in return.
Pulling the trigger one way or another on these moves will set up the Lakers for a perfect offseason. They will have some financial flexibility as well as a clear-cut direction on the types of players they must acquire going forward.