Realistic 2014 Free-Agent Options for LA Lakers to Pair with Kobe Bryant

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistNovember 27, 2013

Realistic 2014 Free-Agent Options for LA Lakers to Pair with Kobe Bryant

0 of 8

    Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

    Almost two decades later, the Staples Center is still Kobe Bryant's house. And the time has come for renovations.

    Vino signed a two-year extension worth $48.5 million with the Los Angeles Lakers, ensuring that he remains a member of Purple and Gold for life. Or at least until 2016, at which point he can retire to his home planet or continue his career in superhuman fashion.

    Keeping with his career-long tradition of failing to please everyone, Kobe's extension was met with feverish consent, lifeless indifference and smoldering dissatisfaction. Any reaction you can fathom, the Black Mamba's contract generated. Anyone who's anyone had something to say, sing or squawk.

    Can I, with the help of The Rock, let you in on a little secret, though? It doesn't matter what you think.

    Pen has been put to paper. The ink has dried. Kobe has (probably) already invested more than half his salary in glow-in-the-dark Mambas. For better, worse or however you see it, the Lakers are Kobe's. This is what they have and what they will work with; he is who they will build around.

    With the Mamba locked down tight for the next couple years, only two questions remain: 1) Is Kobe buying dinner?; and 2) Who's next?


    All stats in this article were compiled from Basketball-Reference and are accurate as of Nov. 26, 2013, unless otherwise noted.

Making Sense of the Dollars and Cents

1 of 8

    Noah Graham/Getty Images

    Kobe's extension didn't kill the Lakers' ability to offer a max contract this summer.

    According to Larry Coon, author of the CBA FAQ, the Lakers will have over $20 million in cap space to work with this summer:

    The salary cap next summer is projected to be $62.9 million. The Lakers will also have their own first round draft pick. Based on their current record, this pick would fall around #15, and would therefore count around $1.5 million against their cap. This would give them a total of about $37.66 million for six players. We need to add another six cap holds totaling $3.04 million, which brings the total to about $40.70 million.

    With this team salary, the Lakers would have about $22.2 million in cap room next summer.

    All Kobe's extension did was kill any possibility of both LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony signing with the Lakers. And if we're being completely honest, that was never going to happen anyway.

    Under their current salary structure, the Lakers would've been forced to pay Kobe under $6 million if they wanted to make that pipe dream a reality. The chances of Kobe signing at that rate were about as slim as the Brooklyn Nets are presently awful.

    Let's move on then, shall we?

Honorable Mention: LeBron James

2 of 8

    USA TODAY Sports

    Age: 28

    2014 Free-Agency Status: Unrestricted (early termination option)

    2013-14 Salary$19,067,500

    Allow me to explain myself before you threaten the well-being of my most prized possession (Photoshopped picture of Katy Perry and myself attending prom).

    The Lakers can afford LeBron, who can earn a maximum of just over $20 million next season. And if he wants to sign with them, they must pounce. But we've got to be realistic about how we approach this situation.

    If LeBron wins a third straight championship with the Miami Heat, do you really think he's going anywhere? He'll have the opportunity to do what Michael Jordan couldn't and what Kobe will (likely) never do—win four consecutive titles. 

    Even if LeBron doesn't win another ring in Miami, the chances of him journeying West are next to none. Would he really join the Lakers in an attempt to bolster Kobe's personal ring count? Most definitely not.

    Kobe, unlike Dwyane Wade, is one of the greats LeBron is chasing. His quest to become the greatest player of all time ongoing, LeBron won't do anything to compromise that pursuit.

    Signing with the Lakers, regardless of how this season ends in Miami, falls under that category.

Carmelo Anthony

3 of 8

    Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

    Age: 29

    2014 Free-Agency Status: Unrestricted (early termination option)

    2013-14 Salary$21,388,953

    Anthony is another star free agent the Lakers can afford. Barely. We think.

    Depending on how Los Angeles' roster and cap holds play out, Anthony, who can receive a maximum of $22,458,401 for 2014-15, may or may not be out of reach. There will always be things the Lakers can do to afford Anthony, but let me ask you this: Do you really want them to?

    Kobe and Anthony are a shaky pairing at best. Compromises would have to be made for two ball-dominating scorers like themselves to successfully coexist, and even then, there are no guarantees, only lukewarm possibilities.

    Were 'Melo willing to accept a pay cut, then by all means, the Lakers should splurge. But Anthony hasn't indicated a willingness to play at a discount, nor is he Shane Battier, who I'm pretty sure would work for beer at this point (if he isn't already).

    Also, while Kobe and Anthony are known compadres, the latter isn't sure if a pushing-36 Mamba will be enough to reel in big-name free agents this summer, according to USA Today's Sam Amick.

    "I mean you'll have to see," 'Melo said. "It's hard to gauge at this point, not until he comes back and figures some things out. So I don't know. They [the Lakers] might have some plans up their sleeve."

    Unless this is all a clever ruse by the reigning scoring champ, he has his doubts about playing next to Kobe. Of course, if his New York Knicks continue down their current path of destruction, he could be singing a different tune over the offseason.

Pau Gasol

4 of 8

    Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Spor

    Age: 33

    2014 Free-Agency Status: Unrestricted 

    2013-14 Salary$19,285,850

    One of the biggest moves the Lakers make this offseason could include retaining a player they've actively shopped over the last few years.

    Pau Gasol, loyal as ever, hasn't been given the traditional Lakers treatment. It began with a botched Chris Paul trade and has snowballed into numerous other things between last year and now.

    Still, Kobe and Gasol have won two championships together. They respect each other. When Dwight Howard left the Lakers, Kobe promised that he and Gasol would get them through. That doesn't have to change after this season.

    Keeping Gasol, however, is more complicated than you think. The Lakers own his Bird rights, but to open up space for a max contract, they must renounce their stake in him. Gasol isn't some Plan B the Lakers can keep in limbo. If they opt for the cap room, he's gone.

    Most likely, the Lakers will have a pulse on whether they're able to land a guy like 'Melo or LeBron before free agency starts. They won't enter the market blind. Not these guys. Not again. 

    Once they have a hold on the situation, they can go from there. And wherever they go may include Gasol. Los Angeles already has access to him, and if there were ever a player loyal enough to stay at a discount, it's him.

Kyle Lowry

5 of 8

    Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

    Age: 27

    2014 Free-Agency Status: Unrestricted 

    2013-14 Salary$6,210,000

    Welcome to the realm of possibility, where the Lakers move on from Steve Nash.

    Pushing 40, Nash has spent his days in Los Angeles battling injuries and failing to meet expectations. Barring retirement—which seems unlikely—the Lakers will have to pay him roughly $9.7 million next season. That is, if they keep him.

    Using the stretch provision to spread his salary out over the next few years is always an option, but I'm going to take it one step further: Nash isn't immovable. There will be a team out there this summer willing to absorb his expiring deal. 

    Either way, the Lakers will have room for Lowry, who despite injuries has always been paid a beyond-reasonable salary.

    In light of recent events—Nash going down—the Lakers are in need of a starting point guard to make the most of Kobe's next two years, which are presumably his last two years. Lowry provides a modest option as a floor general who can both pilot the offense and play off the ball. Working away from the rock is essential in Lakerland, where Kobe, out of necessity, tends to hoard it.

    Best of all, Lowry fits right into that two-year window. It's doubtful he inks a long-term contract with a team promising what the Lakers can give him—the chance to play with Kobe, who can teach him how to win.

Gordon Hayward

6 of 8

    Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

    Age: 23

    2014 Free-Agency Status: Restricted 

    2013-14 Salary$3,452,183

    This could be interesting.

    Restricted free agency is a messy business, what with incumbent teams having the right to match any and all offers. But when a player does hit the semi-open market, it's great news for interested outfits.

    Valued components aren't in the situation Hayward is in. Guys like Paul George and teammate Derrick Favors will never hit restricted free agency. The Indiana Pacers and Utah Jazz made sure of it. What the Jazz didn't do was place the same sticker price on Hayward. 

    By not signing Hayward to an extension before the Halloween deadline, Utah has decided to roll the dice. The team is essentially letting the market set his value for them.

    Chief among the suitors Hayward will have this summer could be the Lakers. As a budding point forward, Hayward would be a nice complement to the shoot-happy Kobe. Those equipped to feed him the ball are always welcome. So, not Dwight Howard.

    Hayward also gives the Lakers a serviceable No. 2 scorer on the perimeter. Though he's been clanging more deep balls off the rim than usual this season (30.8 percent), he's typically a reliable marksman (39 percent for his career).

    With Kevin Love and others slated to hit free agency in 2015, the Lakers won't necessarily be apt to handing out long-term deals. But Hayward might not price himself out of their range.

    The Jazz are tanking, in case you haven't picked up on that. On most nights, they're the worst team in the NBA. Say they land the top pick in the 2014 draft. Then say they use it to select Andrew Wiggins. Hayward becomes expendable in that scenario, with Trey Burke and Alec Burks already on the roster.

    When the Lakers go hunting this summer, keep one eye on Hayward. And keep the other on a should-be-salivating Kobe.

Eric Bledsoe

7 of 8

    Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

    Age: 23

    2014 Free-Agency Status: Restricted 

    2013-14 Salary$2,626,474

    File this under "almost realistic." Or, if you like, "please, please, please let this be realistic."

    The Phoenix Suns made a mistake not extending Eric Bledsoe when they had the chance. Some team is going to max the athletically inclined point guard out this summer, and it could be the Lakers.

    Phoenix can match, obviously, but you never know. Should the Suns appear ready to roll with Goran Dragic or unwilling to match a max-contract offer, there will be a team waiting to poach Bledsoe from their young ranks. And I fully endorse the Lakers being one of them.

    In Mike D'Antoni's offensive system, he's a dream. Building up the careers of point guards is kind of Magic Mike's thing. Picturing what he could do with an incisive cutter, unabashed shooter and above-average facilitator really gets my juices flowing.

    Under his tutelage, this whole mini-LeBron thing would wind up holding more merit than it already does.

    Sign Kobe—and any other well-known free agents the Lakers ink—up for this.

Dirk Nowitzki

8 of 8

    Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Spor

    Age: 35

    2014 Free-Agency Status: Unrestricted 

    2013-14 Salary$22,721,381

    Before you say no, think about how awesome this would be.

    Dirk Nowitzki has already made it known that he, unlike Kobe, intends to explore free agency this summer.

    "I don't really want to look forward too much,'' Nowitzki said, per the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's Dwain Price. "I'm not going to extend, obviously, I'm going to play the season out, then we can talk about the summer."

    In an attempt to be even more unlike Kobe, Nowitzki has also indicated he would be willing to take a significant pay cut next season. Whether he would give the Lakers the same courtesy as his Dallas Mavericks remains to be seen, but he's still ideal for what Los Angeles is looking to accomplish.

    Well past his 35th birthday, Nowitzki isn't going to command $20-plus million a year. It wouldn't shock this Dirk enthusiast if he accepts under eight figures, either.

    Having spent his entire career in Dallas, it would be unrealistic to prematurely predict his departure. But if the Mavs prove they're still stuck in the middle without any hope of raking in someone better than Monta Ellis—who's playing pretty damn well, by the way—he could leave. That could happen.

    Imagine, if you will, a scenario in which he and Gasol take less to play next to Kobe. Those three, plus fillers, could prop the Lakers' title window open another year or two while headlining a high-powered offense coached by the perfect man for the job—D'Antoni.

    That, right now, should be the ultimate goal.