Multiple suitors will entice Howard, and someone other than the Lakers may be successful.
Should this occur, the Lakers must select from among a host of poor options and unpleasant-sounding alternatives to replace the elite talent they will have lost.
With Howard on another team, the Lakers have very few alternatives in the 2013 offseason. Indeed, despite his departure, the Purple and Gold will still be over the salary cap and flirting with luxury tax territory according to Hoopsworld’s salary summary.
Hence, they would have a mini mid-level exception estimated at roughly $1.59 million to sign a free agent. There are a couple of players that might be available at this price, although it’s quite likely they would have to take pay cuts.
Here’s a quick list:
- Marco Belineli
- Daniel Gibson
- Anthony Morrow
- Dorell Wright
- Mickael Pietrus
- Randy Foye
These players don’t necessary tip the balance of power into the Lakers’ favor, but the goal is to tread water in 2013-14. It should not come as a surprise when the Purple and Gold fail to go after big names in the 2013 summer, given their financial commitments.
Given the monetary constraints, there is a strong possibility the Lakers will not be able to re-sign Earl Clark. He was a productive player in 2012-13 and probably flashed enough potential for a team to pay a little over market value for his services.
Consequently, the Laker front office will need cheap players that can rebound and defend with both Howard and Clark gone. Jordan Hill will be the backup center and a good one at that.
Nonetheless, D’Antoni will require an additional big guy to help the team cope with fouls and injuries. The Lakers should take a look at the likes of Chris Wilcox, Elton Brand and Ryan Hollins.
Howard’s exit hypothetically leaves the Purple and Gold with a core of Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol. One could argue that on paper the trio should be formidable enough to execute Mike D’Antoni’s high-paced offense.
The Western Conference is the home of most of the elite big men in the league, but the departure of Howard would prevent the Lakers from matching up with the frontcourt talent of other contenders.
Consequently, going small could very well force teams to downsize against a faster Laker unit.
A Laker team built more on speed, passing and timing undoubtedly would be at its best with Gasol playing center. The Spaniard’s multifaceted game makes him an ideal pivot man under D’Antoni.
Gasol is threat in the high and low post with his scoring, shooting and playmaking. He opens up the floor both for shooters and players driving to the basket. And, because he is such a deft passer, he is also a threat in pick-and-roll action.
The big man is great at finding open teammates, and when working with Bryant and Nash—also excellent passers—Gasol keeps the offense flowing by sharing the wealth.
With Gasol playing center, the Lakers morph into a quick-hitting offense that takes advantage of transition opportunities and scoring chances early in the shot clock. Given D’Antoni’s love for the three-point shot, it stands to reason the Lakers would take their fair share of them and also stretch the floor by having Gasol take them as well.
The Spaniard converted 28.6 percent of his three-point tries in 2012-13 and shot the same percentage on corner threes, albeit on a mere seven attempts. In 2011-12, with a larger shot sample, Gasol shot 38.9 percent on corner treys, per NBA.com’s advanced stats tool.
In other words, he is a fantastic option in the pick-and-roll, but camping him out in the corners is a great way to pull opposing big men away from the basket.
It’s worth noting that Gasol’s play on the perimeter also opens up the low post for Bryant to operate. The five-time NBA champion was simply unstoppable with his back to the basket in 2012-13, as evidenced by his 55 percent field-goal shooting (per Synergy Sports).
Also, Nash’s injury concerns make Bryant a prime pick-and-roll option for next year, given his superb ball-handling skills coupled with his shooting and passing.
It’s worth noting that, in the event of Howard leaving the Lakers, it will put a tremendous amount of pressure on L.A.'s three-headed monster (Bryant, Gasol and Nash), which battled injuries throughout most of the 2012-13 season.
D’Antoni has the reputation of relying on his star players more than he should and running them into ground. In his time coaching the Phoenix Suns and New York Knicks, he favored playing his big guns heavy minutes during the regular season, as Steve Nash and Amar’e Stoudemire can attest.
Thus, he more than likely will be tempted to go that route in 2013-14, especially if Howard is suiting up for another team. However, he should consider revisiting that approach what with the injury concerns.
Gasol, Nash and Bryant will enter a new season with health questions and all three players could be sidelined if these issues are not properly managed. Without Howard, the margin for error and catastrophe is incredibly small.
The coaching staff must keep the minutes of the trio around the 35-minute mark to ensure limbs do not fall off during games. Otherwise, the Lakers will enter contests with their big three in street clothes far more often than they’d like.
Lakers General manager Mitch Kupchak must retain Howard for both the present and the future. However, if the superstar departs via free agency, the front office may very well keep the current roster intact in an effort to maintain the team's 2014 projected salary cap space.
This means the current group of Lakers will suit up in 2013-14 and keep the team interesting with an entertaining brand of basketball. At the conclusion of the season, the Lakers will be thrust into a free-agency frenzy, whereby they retool the roster and acquire talent for the future.
That task falls on D’Antoni’s shoulders. A Howard exit would unquestionably prove to be a huge failure on the Lakers' part, but keeping the team competitive and interesting might suffice in terms of attracting quality talent going forward.