Ranking LA Lakers' Most Appealing Star Options in 2014 Free Agency

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistOctober 18, 2013

Ranking LA Lakers' Most Appealing Star Options in 2014 Free Agency

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Are we there yet?

    All this not-so-subtle posturing has me itching for July 2014, when the gripping conclusion to the "What will the Los Angeles Lakers Do Next?" soap opera is upon us.

    Less than one year from now, names like LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, among others, will (probably) hit the open market. Free-agency classes headlined by that kind of talent don't come around very often. Just as rare is the Lakers having enough money to partake in the expensive festivities.

    Next summer, they'll have financial flexibility to splurge on one, maybe two, superstars in addition to the guaranteed return of Kobe Bryant. We don't know for sure what will happen yet, but we do know the Lakers plan to be active.

    With spending power and activity comes possibilities, which the Lakers aren't short on. Plenty of maneuvering still needs to take place between now and next summer, but the Lakers are going to be in the thick of it all, chasing superstars like it was their job (oh wait...)

    I repeat: Are we there yet?

The Salary Situation for 2014-15

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    Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

    Guaranteed Salary Total: $10,616,243

    All-Inclusive Total: $14,792,435

    Looks great, doesn't it?

    Compared to the $100-plus million bill the Lakers footed last season, it is. But it's also deceiving.

    The guaranteed total represents just two players—Steve Nash and Robert Sacre. Those are the only two under guaranteed contracts beyond this season. The all-inclusive total includes a handful of qualifying offers and player options they have (most notably Nick Young's). 

    Most likely, the Lakers' situation will resemble that of the guaranteed total. Here's the thing: Minimum cap holds for empty roster spots ($507,336) and first-round draft pick (approximately $911,400) must be taken into account.

    Kobe is also an issue, because he isn't going anywhere. And if the Lakers want a star, he'll have to take some sort of a pay cut. Even if Los Angeles renounces every other eligible player other than Kobe, and it still pays him the maximum allowed (roughly $32 million), it won't have enough for a substantial free agent. Not if it doesn't move Nash's $9.7 million.

    If the Lakers want two stars, it's even more complicated. Kobe would have to accept a salary around $5.3 million (more than unlikely).

    Point being, for the Lakers to sign one or more of who's to follow, Kobe needs to take less. How much less depends on who the Lakers choose to chase.


Honorable Mentions

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    Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Spor

    Oh, these two.

    Both Kobe and Pau Gasol will be unrestricted free agents next summer. Neither will be included on the ensuing list because 1) Kobe isn't going anywhere to begin with and 2) Gasol won't be Los Angeles' top priority.

    Gasol's case will prove especially curious. He has already said he won't accept a pay cut, but savvy businessmen never would. Coming to Gasol with the promise of playing next to Kobe and another star (or two) could ensure he changes his tune. Or not.

    The Spaniard will turn 34 next July and if he's offered a better contract elsewhere, he could jump at the opportunity to make more money and assume a more prominent role. 

    If the Lakers strikeout on more pressing player ventures, look for them to retain him. Out of other options, they'll definitely want to keep a Kobe-approved puzzle piece.

    In any case, Gasol's future in Los Angeles will be determined by how well he performs this season and the market value he sets for himself after it.

5. Danny Granger

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    Michael Hickey/Getty Images

    Age in July 2014: 31

    2013-14 Salary: $14,021,788

    Free-Agency Status: Unrestricted

    I can already tell you I'm higher on this than you are. Doesn't matter who exactly you are; I like Danny Granger on the Lakers more than you do.

    Knee injuries limited Granger to just five games last season, but he's one campaign removed from leading the Indiana Pacers in scoring. He's also a 38.4 percent shooter from deep for his career, making him a nice fit for Mike D'Antoni's system. At 6'8", he's also someone who can play power forward in a Magic Mike-style lineup.

    The key here is his market value. Unless Indy trades him elsewhere before next summer, it's unlikely his stock skyrockets. Next to Paul George, Roy Hibbert and the up-and-coming Lance Stephenson, both his touches and minutes will be limited. 

    Landing him at a discount—say, $8-10 million annually?—could give the Lakers room to sign more impact free agents. Kobe's next salary willing, of course.

    Should the Lakers decide to go this route, you know they're already interested in—or forced to look at—depth over LeBron-like star power. Finding serviceable star-esque talents who allow them to make other moves, then, would be the goal.

    Signing Granger gives them a fighting chance at reaching it.

4. Carmelo Anthony

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    Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

    Age in July 2014: 30

    2013-14 Salary: $21,388,953

    Free-Agency Status: Unrestricted (Early Termination Option)

    Bring. The. Hate.

    Seeing Anthony join forces with Kobe is no doubt intriguing, but its hype is killed by the fact that the Lakers shouldn't do it. They have to because, you know, he's Carmelo Anthony. But that doesn't mean it's a good idea.

    Between his lack of playmaking abilities (2.6 assists per game last season) and both he and Kobe being ball-dominating volume scorers, the potential for failure is there. Not to mention Magic Mike is still coaching the Lakers. He and Anthony didn't mesh with the New York Knicks, why would it be any different in Los Angeles?

    What concerns me most is his age-to-salary ratio. To steal him from the Knicks, the Lakers would have to offer him four years and roughly $96 million. That's a lot of money for an aging forward who has admitted he's never been "100 percent."

    Frank Isola of the New York Daily News writes that 'Melo's free-agency decision will come down to the Knicks and Lakers. If I'm the latter, I'm secretly hoping Anthony takes the five-year, $129-million contract the Knicks will offer so I'm not left with an expensive and inflexible roster.


3. Luol Deng

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    Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

    Age in July 2014: 29

    2013-14 Salary: $14,275,000

    Free-Agency Status: Unrestricted

    Perimeter defense. Scoring, too. The Lakers are going to need both.

    Deng is one of the most lauded defenders at the small forward position and a low-key two-time All-Star. Those guys are always good to have, as it decreases the likelihood of friction in the locker room.

    With the Chicago Bulls, Deng has filled all kinds of holes, too. Last season, in Derrick Rose's absence, he led the team in scoring and even with the emergence of Jimmy Butler, he's still Chicago's best defender from the free-throw line extended.

    Head coach Tom Thibodeau values defense (and players who don't need rest) above all else, meaning Deng could turn into an offseason priority for the Bulls. Per NBA.com's David Aldridge, though, extension talks between the two sides either broke down or never existed, leaving Deng frustrated.

    Chicago already has $60 million in guaranteed salary on the books for 2014-15. Signing Deng to a contract could put the Bulls near, at or above the luxury-tax threshold. They could always amnesty Carlos Boozer, but if they wipe his $16.8 million salary from the ledger, you've got to assume they'll be chasing a player other than Deng.

    As someone who fits the bill of a secondary scorer, premier defender and hard worker, Deng reminds me of the Pau of swingmen—he would be one of the few who could coexist with the at-times overwhelming Kobe.

    History suggests that's something the Lakers will be beyond interested in.

2. Dirk Nowitzki

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Age in July 2014: 36

    2013-14 Salary: $22,721,831

    Free-Agency Status: Unrestricted

    If I had my way, Mark Cuban would drop the "We're salvaging what's left of Dirk Nowitzki's career" act and just admit he's not.  Monta Ellis and Jose Calderon, along with longstanding veterans Vince Carter and Shawn Marion, will ensure the Dallas Mavericks fight a for playoff spot, but it won't be winning them any championships.

    Nevertheless, Nowitzki likely won't become fair game until next summer, when the Lakers should take a good, hard look at the versatile forward.

    Building around a 36-year-old isn't ideal, but if they can get him on a short-term contract for a fraction of what he's making now, his addition is a no-brainer. Plus, the Lakers will already be committed to a 36-year-old Kobe.

    Assuming D'Antoni is still the coach in Tinseltown, a stretch forward like Dirk fits perfectly into his floor-spacing offense. It also reunites Nowitzki and Nash, who were teammates in Dallas for six seasons.

    Approaching the end of his career, Nowitzki is more of a complimentary piece than anything. Ideally, the Lakers would sign him in addition to Kobe (and maybe Gasol) and a younger stud for good measure.

    At any rate, Nowitzki will make a worthy impact as long as he's healthy. He can be used as a spot-up shooter behind the arc, play in the post and create for himself off the dribble.

    That he doesn't need the ball in his hands at all times to be effective is imperative. Next to Kobe, the Lakers need players off the ball. Dirk's comfort level in a strictly shooters capacity, coalesced with his easy-going, team-first mentality makes him a better free-agent option than many younger players set to hit the open market.

1. LeBron James

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    Age in July 2014: 29

    2013-14 Salary: $19,067,500

    Free-Agency Status: Unrestricted (Early Termination Option)

    Stealing LeBron would be incredible for the Lakers.

    The biggest obstacle to them doing so—aside from Kobe's salary—is his willingness to help bolster Kobe's ring count. Helping out his buddy Wade was one thing, but Kobe, like Michael Jordan, is someone LeBron is chasing. Adding another one, two or even three rings to the Mamba's collection doesn't bode well for LeBron's quest to surpass him.

    Still, if he's willing to take the leap, the Lakers will have an instant contender just because he's on it. More importantly, they could also wind up with more flexibility.

    LeBron took a pay cut to join the Miami Heat; he could take one to join the Lakers, too. It could happen. And if he does, maybe he inspires Kobe to do the same. Maybe, just maybe, the Lakers can sign another superstar. At this point, adding Anthony becomes more intriguing.

    But I'm getting ahead of myself. The fact is, this is a situation to monitor. I personally see LeBron opting in for one more year with the Heat, though I'll be the first to admit you can never really be sure with him.

    In the event that he does hit the open market, the Lakers need to push for him. Hard. In him, they would have a hybrid playmaker, proven winner and best player in the game.

    Because of him, they would have a future fit for a king. The King himself, even.