With Dwight Howard professing his interest in the Houston Rockets as a possible destination and the fact that the Dallas Mavericks are going to give him a strong pitch, it is clear that the Los Angeles Lakers could face the harsh reality of being without both Kobe Bryant and Howard.
However, for a franchise that is so accustomed to success and competing for championships, several moves are going to have to be made regardless of whether Howard decides to re-sign or not.
Possessing both a flawed roster and a flawed system, the Lakers are going to have to completely re-tool and prepare themselves for next year's offseason, when they will have a lot of cap space to work with.
Assuming the Lakers are going to pool all of their efforts into re-signing Howard and rebuilding their franchise around him, they are going to have to make some crucial changes to their personnel in order to woo their temperamental superstar back.
Mike D'Antoni has to go.
Consider his run-and-gun system in full effect.
With Steve Nash and Amar'e Stoudemire in their primes and a bevvy of respectable shooters surrounding them, the Phoenix Suns could never get over the hump under Mike D'Antoni.
The Phoenix Suns roster that D'Antoni coached was the ideal roster for his system and they still couldn't get it done.
The system itself is not ideal for winning a title.
Consider the champions of the past few years. The Miami Heat run an uptempo system as well, but they only went over the hump once LeBron James found his groove in the paint and utilized his post game.
The Dallas Mavericks had Dirk Nowitzki and Tyson Chandler manning the high post and the interior respectively, while the championship Lakers had Andrew Bynum and Gasol dominating the interior.
Before that, the Miami Heat had Shaquille O'Neal anchoring the middle.
The point is that most championship teams have a dependable interior presence and Mike D'Antoni just doesn't like to utilize that aspect of the game.
Firing Mike D'Antoni and finding a suitable replacement (i.e. Nate McMillan or Brian Shaw) is the first thing on the Lakers' list this offseason.
Although Pau Gasol may be the Lakers' most versatile player, there is no doubt that his presence takes some shine off of Dwight Howard's game.
While Howard and Gasol played well together down the stretch, they never developed the rapport that Andrew Bynum and Gasol developed.
Although the lack of chemistry may be due to the relatively short time they've played together and a lack of training camp, Howard doesn't have the interior skills that a player like Bynum had in the paint.
Without the ability to utilize anything other than brute strength in the paint, it would be very hard for Howard to develop with Gasol the same type of two-man game that Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph developed in Memphis.
Keeping Gasol may be more prudent in the long-run, seeing that his contract only has a year remaining before coming off of the books. However, in order to establish that Howard is the franchise cornerstone henceforth, using the clause on Gasol will clear up the paint for Howard as soon as next season.
After relieving Mike D'Antoni of his duties and clearing the paint for Dwight Howard, the most important aspect of L.A.'s offseason is re-signing the enigmatic big man.
While it is unclear whether Howard can develop the skills needed to truly be an offensive terror in the paint, it is clear that a healthy Howard is a dominant defensive anchor that can keep L.A. competitive.
However, even if the Lakers sign a coach that would tailor the Lakers' system around Howard, the onus is on the big man to develop a dependable post game that the Lakers can rely on.
Despite his relative shakiness on offense, there is no big man in the league more talented than a healthy Howard in terms of athleticism, strength and physical presence.
Although their youth and relative inexperience was apparent this season, Earl Clark and Jodie Meeks showed flashes of potential this season.
While Meeks is a reputable defender with a sweet shooting stroke, he lost his way in Mike D'Antoni's system last year despite being an athletic shooter who should have been a tailor fit for D'Antoni's offense.
His inconsistent offense mitigated his playing time, which didn't allow him to stay on the floor for prolonged minutes and impact the game with his stingy perimeter defense.
Retaining Meeks and allowing him to develop as a serviceable role player would be a good move for a Lakers team that lacks athletes and young prospects.
On the other hand, Clark blossomed as an athletic slasher and adequate three-point shooter in the extended minutes he received this season.
Despite the inevitable roster shake-up that has to occur down the line, the Lakers will need athletic role players like Clark to round out their roster and provide energy off of the bench.
Assuming that Dwight Howard receives over $20 million for re-signing and that Earl Clark gets re-signed for what he made last season, the Lakers would be sitting at close to $81 million after considering amnestying Pau Gasol.
Another assumption that could be made is that Howard will re-sign for the full five years that the Lakers can offer him and that Clark will sign on for more than a season.
This leaves only Steve Nash, Clark and Howard under contract for the 2014-2015 season, where the Lakers will have just over $30 million in contracts.
Therefore, the key the thing to remember about signing free agents this season is the fact that the Lakers just need to tide themselves over until the 2014 offseason, when they will have the cap space and the means to completely rebuild around Dwight Howard.
With Kobe Bryant most likely on the injury list for a major portion of next season, the Lakers may need three free agents to round out their roster.
The key to this portion of the offseason is to sign some serviceable role players that can tide the Lakers over until they can completely reconstruct their roster in the next offseason.