The Los Angeles Lakers are coming off a year in which they faced heavy scrutiny for falling short of massive, championship expectations. After getting swept in Round 1 of the NBA playoffs, the organization finds itself in a precarious position, which is compounded by the team's tight cap situation.
As reported by Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times, this is the first offseason since the new collective bargaining agreement was struck in 2011.
Under the new CBA, teams above the "tax apron" are prohibited from acquiring sign-and-trade players, though are able to ship sign-and-trade players to other teams.
The luxury tax that teams are hit with is extremely penal if the franchise is above the tax apron. Pincus notes that the tax threshold is expected to be at $71.5 million, but there is an allowance of an additional $4 million, which constitutes the tax apron.
Thus, the Lakers can have a maximum of $75.5 million in player salaries for 2013-14 to avoid the luxury tax.
So what does all this mean, exactly?
Basically, if Howard is brought back into the fold for an expected $20.5 million and the Lakers don't shock the world by letting Bryant go, LA is looking at approximately $100 million in salaries for next season.
Not only do the Lakers have to pay those $100 million in salaries, but they are taxed for every dollar over the projected cap they go, and would have to dish out an additional $80 million in luxury tax expenses.
With the careers of both Bryant and Nash winding down, and the colossal disappointment of last season, this upcoming year could be the last shot the Lakers have in quite some time at raising the Larry O'Brien Trophy.
What will be the Lakers' fate in 2013-14?
It's going to be hard enough for Bryant to get ready after tearing his left Achilles tendon, but the scenario for head coach Mike D'Antoni's bunch is more pressure-packed than ever.
If such a substantial amount of money is utilized to bring Howard back into the fold, keep Bryant and the rest of the current nucleus intact—including Metta World Peace—and the team falls short or even misses the playoffs again, the Lakers could be looking at years of rebuilding.
Both Bryant and star power forward Pau Gasol are also unrestricted free agents after next season, which indicates that the Lakers' reign as a perennial title contender is coming to an end for the foreseeable future.
Even before the extremely pivotal 2013-14 campaign begins, the Lakers' brass have some seriously difficult decisions to make.
However, the pressure is on either way. If all the stars stay put, nothing less than a championship will do. Should Howard go to another team, LA will still likely be over the cap and the expectation to still make a playoff push in what could be Bryant's final season.