It’s obviously important for the Purple and Gold to retain Howard’s services, but they must also tailor the roster to his strengths. Before discussing available players on the market, a little housecleaning is in order.
Unless Howard decides to give the Lakers the royal hook up by taking a hometown discount, the front office will sign the superstar to a deal in the neighborhood of five years, $118 million. His starting salary in 2013-14 will hover around $20.5 million.
The Lakers are more than likely already over the luxury tax (a figure that should be determined at the end of the 2013 July moratorium) given the deals they already have on the books.
The addition of Howard’s contract raises the player salaries for 2013-14 to just about $98 million. Because the Lakers in this scenario are over the luxury tax apron, they cannot acquire players via sign-and-trade.
Instead, Kupchak can only rely on the taxpayer mid-level exception (also referred to as the mini mid-level) of $3.183 million. It can be split up amongst multiple players, and the contract length cannot exceed three seasons.
In terms of the talent needed to fit alongside Howard, the Lakers are best served going after triple-threat types.
The three-time Defensive Player of the Year is a terrorizing interior force whenever he catches the ball going to the basket. Synergy Sports tells us the Laker center converted 79.6 percent of his field-goals as the roll man in pick-and-rolls during the 2012-13 campaign.
In straight post-up situations, though, his conversion rate dropped to 44.5 percent. Howard is a good post player, but he is a little slow and mechanical in his movements down on the block.
Hence, opponents can bother him by sending defenders his way when he puts the ball on the floor and then quickly retreat back to shooters. The key is to make the big man indecisive.
The Lakers can offer Howard some relief in these scenarios by acquiring players that are both shooters and playmakers. Indeed, it’s difficult even for the best defenses to leave great shooters open from long range.
Also, playmaking is important because defensive gurus are adept at taking away open looks from shot-makers. Players who can put the ball on the floor and create plays for themselves or others will give Howard more space to operate in the low post.
Ideally, the Lakers must target free agents that fit both roles. However, because the number of available players capable of handling both tasks is limited, some of the targets might be a little less qualified in one of these areas.