The Lakers were still the Lakers.
The team still had Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol, and in the days following Howard's departure, general manager Mitch Kupchak made some great moves by bringing in Chris Kaman, Nick Young, Jordan Farmar and Wesley Johnson.
ESPN analyst Skip Bayless insists that Los Angeles actually improved with Howard's departure, and although that is a very bold statement, the Lakers are going to be so much better next season than seemingly everyone expects.
Bryant’s doctor tweeted that the Black Mamba is on pace to be back by the season opener after tearing his Achilles last year. In 2014, he will look to build off of a career year in assists (his six dimes per game was the highest since 2004-05) and the third-highest scoring average in the NBA (27.3).
The loss of Howard really hurts, but the Lakers added some solid pieces to play alongside Bryant and Gasol.
Though they may have improved in recent weeks, the Lakers are far from being complete.
There is still a ton of time left in 2013’s wild offseason, and the Lakers will undoubtedly use that span to get as good as they can be when the 2014 season tips off.
Here are some other players that L.A. should consider pursuing in order to bolster its roster.
Chris Douglas-Roberts was cut by the Lakers in the 2013 preseason, but his ability to play either the 2-guard or small forward spot, his four years of NBA (as well as overseas) experience and his proficiency on the offensive end should earn him a contract with the Lakers.
Last season, Douglas-Roberts played in only six games with the Dallas Mavericks and contributed around two points per game. However, over the course of his career in the NBA, the former Memphis Tiger has put up per-36-minute numbers of 13.4 points. In addition to scoring, Douglas-Roberts has career per-36-minute averages of 3.8 rebounds and 2.2 assists.
Is he the next Kobe Bryant? No—but he can help the Lakers win and will give them depth at the shooting guard and small forward positions.
Signing him should be a no-brainer.
Ronnie Brewer or Kenyon Martin
Following Douglas-Roberts, the next player that the Lakers should pursue is Ronnie Brewer.
The team amnestied Metta World Peace this week and now lacks perimeter defense. Signing Brewer to a cheap deal could actually be the perfect replacement for the loss of MWP, and the former Utah Jazz swingman (who was traded by New York Knicks to the Oklahoma City Thunder this past season) would bring a bit more athleticism than World Peace did.
If a deal with Brewer can’t be inked, the Lakers could also pursue Kenyon Martin. Despite his age (35 years old), he proved to be a tremendous steal for the Knicks after the team signed him later on in the 2012-13 season. K-Mart put up 7.2 points and 5.3 boards per game and brought an unparalleled energy to the court each time he checked in.
With Gasol and Kaman as the primary frontcourt players, the Lakers could use a little bit more toughness down low. Signing a quality defender and high-energy player like Brewer or Martin would be a wise move for L.A., a team that lacks tenacity.
Side note: If the team could reach a short-term minimum deal with either Brewer or Martin, it wouldn’t affect Los Angeles’ plans for next offseason, should they decide to pursue LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony.
Outside of Bryant, the Lakers don’t have a lot of guards who can create shots for themselves. Signing Josh Selby from the team’s summer league squad would greatly benefit L.A., as well as give them an additional shooter in Mike D'Antoni's up-tempo offense.
Selby has been erratic in his two NBA seasons with the Memphis Grizzlies, but coming to a winning culture like L.A. could be exactly what he needs to reach his potential.
The former Kansas standout averaged 24.2 points in the 2012 summer league, and did so on 55.7 percent shooting from the field and 64.3 percent from 3-point range.
Despite his struggles with the Grizzlies, the bottom line is this: the dude can shoot, which the Lakers will need to effectively center the offense around Bryant and Gasol. And he’ll come cheap.
If the Lakers can add any of the aforementioned players, they will be bolstering an improving roster that has quickly become one of the most underrated in the NBA.
Yes, Howard left Los Angeles, but that hasn't stopped Kupchak and the front office from continuing to better the team in preparation for next season.
The Lakers have quietly added three-point shooting (Young), depth at the point guard and small forward spots (Farmar and Johnson) and a seasoned big man (Kaman) to their team after losing the best center in the NBA to Houston. And they did it in the blink of an eye.
Acquiring Douglas-Roberts, Brewer, Martin or Selby will only improve a roster that has already made great leaps since losing a superstar.
Make no mistake about it, the Lakers are still the Lakers.