Kobe Bryant is out indefinitely after having surgery to repair his torn Achilles, and although he says he’ll be ready for the start of the season, LA can’t count on that. The Lakers could lose their two best players after a monumentally disappointing 2013 season.
However, there is still hope. Next season may be a wash, but in 2014 the Lakers may return to their perennial greatness. Why?
The NBA recently gave teams a projection of $58.5 million for next season's salary cap and $62.1 million for the summer of 2014.
The Lakers are waiting for the decision of center Dwight Howard, who will hit free agency in July. If he re-signs, he could make up to $22.05 million for the 2014-15 season.
If the Lakers kept Howard but shed every free agent, including Bryant, Nash and even their 2014 first-round draft selection, they'd have approximately $31.2 million in cap space. (Note that the league includes an empty roster charge on a team's cap for open spots up to 12 players, $507,336 each in 2014.)
James would be eligible for a deal starting at $20 million, leaving the team with about $11.7 million in space to keep shopping. With that, the Lakers would still have the ability to sign a high-level free agent to join Howard and James.
Imagine James and Howard both in purple and gold. Now that would be a super team—the best player in the world and the best center in the NBA, both in their respective primes, playing on the same team. James would make Howard significantly better offensively than Bryant could, and opponents would have nightmares about driving into the paint with those two monsters swooping in on them.
This idea hasn’t really come up during the circus that is Howard’s free agency. There is widespread speculation that he will not come back to LA, but general manager Mitch Kupchak and Bryant are both confident that D12 will be a Laker in 2014, according to ESPN Los Angeles.
James is a complete mystery. He has made no indication that he will opt out of the deal, nor has he given Miami any sign that he will spend the rest of his career with the team. Loyalty won’t really be a factor in this case, as James left the Cleveland Cavaliers and the state in which he was raised for the lavish beaches of South Beach to team up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
If the Lakers can somehow hold on to Howard this summer, nabbing James will be their next goal. It’s a reach, because every team in the league would like to sign the best player on the planet, too.
It won’t be easy, but if any team can pull this off, it’d be the Lakers.