Will Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol play for the Lakers in 2014? Should they?
Hollywood is the epicenter of drama, so it's no wonder the Los Angeles Lakers are always surrounded by it.
This offseason promises more of the same as the NBA's signature franchise faces a crossroads.
There are burning questions regarding the team's three biggest stars and also their head coach. Who will stay and who will go? Or rather, who should stay and who should go?
And will it be enough to avoid a repeat of a disastrous 2013 campaign?
Let's delve into L.A.'s five most-pressing queries in the offseason.
This one is really out of the Lakers’ hands. It’s up to the notoriously fickle Dwight Howard as to whether he wants to stay in L.A. and continue the tradition of dominant Lakers big men or hop on someone else’s trendy bandwagon.
The Houston Rockets appear to be the main competition for Howard’s services right now. They’re young, flashy and on the rise. Howard would definitely make them a contender—especially if they can turn Omer Asik (expendable with Dwight on board) into another piece that fits.
What happened to all the clamor over Howard wanting to be the alpha dog? He’s in line to succeed Kobe Bryant soon with the Lakers, but in Houston he would play second fiddle to the younger James Harden for as long as both remain on the team.
There’s a small, but noisy, contingent of fans and media members who think the Lakers should let Howard walk and good riddance. That’s definitely not the way L.A. should go.
Howard has proven capable of being one of the three best players on the planet and still has his prime years in front of him. The Lakers don’t have the cap flexibility to go after top free agents, so they better pony up to retain Howard.
In short—Mike D’Antoni.
A lot of the blame for the Lakers’ shortcomings has been heaped on D’Antoni, but he’s innocent of a large portion of it. He was brought in after L.A. stumbled coming out-of-the-gate, facing quite a difficult task.
Considering all the injuries and turmoil he had to deal with, D’Antoni did okay. He found a rotation that clicked and had the Lakers playing .700 ball over the second half of the season.
Until D’Antoni has a full offseason and training camp to completely integrate his systems and philosophies, the jury is still out. It will be hard to judge him even for next year because who knows how many games he will have to coach without Kobe Bryant on the floor.
Anybody not named Phil Jackson is the wrong man for the job in the eyes of the Lakers faithful, but Jackson isn’t a realistic option. Once you accept that, who else would you want on sideline? There aren’t any unemployed coaches out there with a championship track record.
The least the Lakers can try to do is build some continuity and chemistry and give D’Antoni a fair shot to see what he can do with this team.
Using the amnesty provision to remove Kobe Bryant’s enormous salary from the cap sheet sounds like a prudent move, but in reality it isn’t so feasible.
Everyone keeps throwing out 80-85 million as the number of dollars the Lakers would save by cutting Bryant. But they still have to pay his $30 million wage bill and would presumably sign another player or two. All of a sudden the savings gets cut in half.
Even if Bryant’s contract is jettisoned, the Lakers would still be over the salary cap if they re-sign Dwight Howard, so it’s not like it frees up money to go splurge in free agency. At best it opens up the mid-level exception for them to use, but those contracts tend to always be among basketball’s worst, and would clutter up a cap sheet that would be fairly clean after 2014.
Bryant himself may take the move as a slap in the face. He may even feel strongly enough to not wait on the Lakers’ pleasure and re-sign at season’s end, but attach himself to another team in title contention to stick it to the organization that would dare cut him after 17 years of loyal service.
If Bryant is able to make his return with a good chunk of the season left, then waiving him would essentially remove the Lakers from contention even if he was willing to honor a silent agreement to return to L.A. in 2015.
In the end, amnestying Kobe is a high risk/low reward ploy that the Lakers should not attempt.
What this question really boils down to is whether the Lakers should look to move Pau Gasol this offseason.
They should put him on the trading block without question, but need to be cautious of pulling the trigger on a deal.
For the right price, L.A. should trade Gasol. Mike D’Antoni’s system works better with one big man, and last season bore that out as the Lakers struggled when Gasol and Dwight Howard shared the floor. In fact, they were outscored by their opponents per 100 possessions when their twin towers were out there together.
If the Lakers can get back either a package of role players who fill holes or some combination of young talent and draft picks, Gasol is as good as gone.
Due to L.A.’s cap situation, there won’t be much difference between next year’s squad and the one that barely squeaked into the playoffs only to be annihilated by the San Antonio Spurs in round one.
That said, there are some moves the Lakers can make to re-tool the roster.
The obvious move is a Pau Gasol trade, as discussed earlier. The right package of role players would actually help a Lakers team that sorely lacks depth, athleticism and floor spacing much more than Gasol could in his diminished role.
Los Angeles’ front office will also have to nail free agency. The only contracts the team can hand out are for minimum wages, but there are several under the radar guys on the market who can make an impact for the Purple and Gold.
Dwight Howard could be a totally different player after putting another offseason between himself and the surgery on his back that hampered him throughout last season. Howard getting back to the level he was at two years ago would take the Lakers up a notch.
A training camp under their coach and more time to get to know one another’s games should only help as well.
But really it all depends on the health of Kobe Bryant. The Lakers will be in a situation similar to the 2013 Chicago Bulls, who grinded out a moderately successful season that could have blossomed into a title run if Derrick Rose came back healthy enough to lead them through the postseason.
In that same vein, if Bryant is able to return to the form that got him named to his 11th All-NBA first team this season, the Lakers could go from run-of-the-mill playoff fodder to legitimate title contenders.