As the Los Angeles Lakers partake in "Plan B" following the departure of Dwight Howard, it seems one of the most interesting conversations is figuring out just how far they will fall from their 45-37 finish a year ago.
Howard's 17 points and 12.4 rebounds per game won't be coming back, and as the best two-way player that the Lakers had on the floor, it's hard to imagine the team replacing everything he brought to the table.
Of course, the departure of Howard also means being rid of a distraction while being able to run the offense solely through Kobe Bryant, once he does come back.
There's no worry about trying to force the team together to make a championship run, but there's also no giant man in the frontcourt waiting to send shots back from whence they came.
It's exceptionally hard to put a value on what Howard gave the Lakers in 2013 while simultaneously remembering the strife that came along as well.
So how far will the Lakers fall? Is there a possible playoff run from a scrappy squad lurking, or should they just sit out this season and retool for the 2014 offseason?
First we're going to have to take a look at what the offseason has presented them so far.
- F/C Chris Kaman (Free Agent)
- G Jodie Meeks (Team Option)
- C Ryan Kelly (Draft)
- C Dwight Howard (Houston Rockets)
- F Earl Clark (Cleveland Cavaliers)
- F Metta World Peace (Amnesty)
- F Antawn Jamison (Los Angeles Clippers, tentatively)
- G Chris Duhon (Waived)
With that, we can say for sure that the Lakers will have all of Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Steve Nash, Meeks, Kaman, Kelly, Steve Blake, Jordan Hill and likely restricted free agent Robert Sacre on the 2013-14 roster.
Obviously that's just nine players. Plus they're liable to grab a few players from their Summer League squad, which has yet to be completely revealed but will include Marcus Landry (Carl Landry's brother), Elias Harris, Kenny Boynton Jr. and Michael Snaer.
That's not a huge list of options.
Beyond that, according to Ramona Shelburne of ESPN, Los Angeles has been rumored to be targeting Lamar Odom, who could only be offered the veteran minimum from the Lakers, same as any other free agent.
The Lakers have six roster spots left to fill, all of which must be fluffed out from Summer League scrapings and minimum-level free agents.
The main fork in the road for determining the peak for Los Angeles is Bryant, who has spent his summer recovering from a ruptured Achilles tendon.
Originally the timetable set for Bryant's return was a six-to-nine-month window, which would put him back in purple and gold between mid-October and mid-January. Most recently, Bryant has shot for a return sometime in November or December. His estimation could mean he misses just a few games or somewhere in the realm of 20 or 30.
A bigger concern isn't when he'll come back; it's how long it will take him to return to form when he does get back, if he can get back to his former level at all.
Beyond that, there's got to be some level of concern with Gasol, who played in just 49 games last season, and Nash, who showed up in 50.
The three main players who will dictate Los Angeles' fate during the 2014 season aren't injury-prone, but they're a combined 104 years old.
Meanwhile, Kaman has played in just 252 of a possible 394 games since 2009.
Who Are They?
In short, this team has to score or it'll never have a chance to win.
Losing World Peace and Howard means the Lakers will be without their two best defenders from a team a season ago that was 20th in the league in defensive efficiency.
Who is their best defender now? Jordan Hill? Pau Gasol? Robert Sacre?
Both Steves are beyond bad defenders, Kaman is hardly a rim protector, Gasol's body has turned him into a slow old man, Jodie Meeks is average on his best days, and Bryant has become indifferent defensively.
There are no elite defenders left to grab, and they'll hardly have the shooters or the youth (although Kelly is intriguing) to make a Mike D'Antoni offense work to its fullest.
This team is a complete disaster, at least as far as working into a system is concerned.
Forty wins seems the biggest stretch possible, but the Lakers will probably land somewhere in the realm of 30-35 given the risks embedded into their roster.
Even so, I'll give a squad with Kobe a bit of credit and look forward to a 37-45 season with eyes on the under. It's silly to expect any more from a group like this, and even my 37-win vision could be a bit too generous.
Hopefully for the Lakers' sake, the 2014 offseason is nicer to them than 2013 has been.
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