The Lakers have some crucial decisions to make regarding the fates of their top players, including Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard.
The Los Angeles Lakers are at a crossroads.
A mere eight months ago, they were challenging the Miami Heat for the NBA “on paper” championship. But after a tremendously disappointing season, they’re staring at an offseason full of crucial decisions.
With no cap flexibility, the Lakers can’t simply spend their way back into contention. Space must be cleared and contracts maneuvered in order for the team to revamp the roster.
That leads to questions surrounding the future of L.A.’s star players.
The coaching situation, which has been in a relative state of flux since opening night in 2012, is not exempt from scrutiny either. The team must take a hard look at the entire organization in order to get back to the mountaintop.
Here’s a look at what how the Lakers should address their most pressing offseason issues.
Up until about a week ago, this was a simple question. Do the Lakers re-sign Dwight Howard or let him walk in free agency?
Duh, you re-sign the guy who’s the odds-on favorite to be the best center in the league for the next half-a-dozen years.
A trade with the Clippers is something the Lakers should definitely explore. As unseemly as it is to hand the Clippers a superstar, the Clips have the young assets that the Lakers need to build their future around.
If the Clippers are willing to part with a package of Blake Griffin and Eric Bledsoe in exchange for Howard, the Lakers management shouldn’t hesitate to pull the trigger.
Two hyper-athletic talents under the age of 25 would be a fair haul for Howard. Griffin is nearly as good as Howard already, with the potential for so much more. Bledsoe has shown glimpses of a load of untapped potential as well.
Trading Howard for a Griffin-Bledsoe combo would be the best course for the Lakers. If that doesn’t materialize, then the Lakers should go ahead and ink Howard to a max deal. Losing him for nothing would be a disaster.
Using the amnesty provision to shed Kobe Bryant’s onerous $30 million salary next season sounds like a prudent move, but it doesn’t really get the Lakers anywhere.
Even with that hefty contract off the books, the Lakers would still be over the cap if they retain Howard. They’d have a tiny sliver of cap room if they flip Howard for the Griffin-Bledsoe package mentioned earlier, but not enough to make any appreciable difference.
The best thing you could say is that the full mid-level exception would become available to the Lakers, but those contracts tend to attract past-their-prime veterans who become cap-clogging burdens almost before the ink dries on their new contracts.
Yes, the organization would save a boatload of luxury tax dollars, but the savings aren’t as great as they seem considering they still have to pay Bryant his $30 million and would have to sign other players to fill out their roster.
But the biggest repercussion could be a breach of trust with Bryant himself. He was the face of the franchise for 17 years. Letting him go immediately after an injury he sustained while playing 47 minutes a game trying to drag the Lakers to the playoffs might not go over so well.
Kobe may not want to sit out an entire season waiting for the Lakers to offer him a new contract in 2014, especially if he feels he can come back and play most of next season.
Bryant is all about building his legacy. Wasting an entire year waiting on the Lakers’ pleasure to offer him a severely-reduced contract doesn’t quite fit into that picture. He may feel slighted enough by being cut to even join another team in contention to stick it to his former employers.
Amnestying Bryant is a risky move without much reward that the Lakers should not make.
It’s tough to say, really. The circumstances surrounding the team last year did not give Mike D’Antoni a level playing field.
First off, he took over the team 10 games into the season, without the benefit of a full training camp to get his players acclimated to his system and philosophies.
Then, there were the injuries.
D’Antoni almost never had all four of his future Hall-of-Famers in the lineup at the same time. That quartet only started together six times with D’Antoni at the helm.
That said, D’Antoni didn’t exactly give the fans and media nothing to complain about.
He alienated Pau Gasol almost on arrival and never found a way to get his two big men to play well together and press his biggest advantage.
He also was in the process of running Kobe into the ground. Even if Bryant hadn’t torn his Achilles, surely at some point soon the effects of playing nearly every minute of every game down the stretch would take their toll.
Overall, the jury is still out on D’Antoni. He should remain the coach for now, but he is definitely on notice for this upcoming season.
The decision on Gasol is largely a domino effect from what the Lakers ultimately end up doing with Howard.
If Howard stays with the team, and D’Antoni still can’t figure out how to maximize the Gasol-Howard tandem, the Lakers would be better off flipping Gasol for a package of role players who can provide some combination of shooting, defense and athleticism while bolstering L.A.’s woeful bench.
Another option is to trade Gasol to a team with enough cap space to just absorb his contract without sending back any salary (like the Cleveland Cavaliers). This is a route the Lakers can choose if Bryant remains out for longer than expected and they begin to fade from the playoff picture.
Shipping out Gasol in such a salary dump would net the Lakers a draft pick or two and keep their cap sheet clean heading into the summer of 2014, where they can take a run at another max free agent (LeBron James, perhaps?).
Should Howard leave or be moved in the aforementioned Clippers scenario, hanging onto Gasol would be the best course for the Lakers.
Bryant is the most controversial amnesty subject, but players like Metta World Peace are why the amnesty provision was introduced into the last CBA.
World Peace is coming off of his best season wearing the purple and gold, but he was still a below-average NBA player, clocking in with a 12.5 PER. He has an early-termination option, but even the former Ron Artest isn’t crazy enough to eschew $7.7 million in guaranteed money.
While cutting World Peace is as logical a move as there is, it really gets the team nowhere.
Without his contract on the books, L.A. would still be well into luxury tax territory. They wouldn’t be freeing up enough room to sign players to anything more than the minimum contracts they were already allotted.
Also, while World Peace is no longer much of a factor on the court, he’s still better than anything else the Lakers have behind him. Replacing him with someone on a minimum deal is likely a wash.
With L.A.’s depth being what it is, even an overpaid World Peace is a necessary piece.