The Los Angeles Lakers are poised to miss the playoffs for just the fifth time since the organization moved from Minneapolis for the 1960-61 season. As the storied franchise faces rare adversity, the front office needs to make savvy moves between now and 2014-15 to revert the team toward winning ways.
Obviously the turnaround in Lakerland will start with the 2014 NBA draft. Every team wants to compete for a championship, but losing enough games to “earn” a high draft pick isn’t a bad consolation prize.
LA may even land a top-five pick that could yield a franchise-changing star, which they’ll need a couple years down the road when Kobe Bryant decides to call it a career.
The Lakers face plenty of questions as only three players—Bryant, Nash and Robert Sacre—have guaranteed contracts for next season, per ShamSports.
Management will have to draft well and fill out a 12-man roster while keeping Bryant happy. That won’t be an easy task.
Pau Gasol’s contract of more than $19.2 million is set to expire at season’s end. And although he’s poised to earn a significant pay cut as a soon-to-be 34-year-old with diminishing skills, the Lakers need to consider going in a different direction.
LA has experienced an injury-riddled 2013-14 campaign. That’s something they don’t want to repeat moving forward.
With more than $33.2 million already tied to Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash—who will be a combined 76 years old by the start of next season—investing more money in a guy entering the twilight of his career won’t help the Lakers rebuild.
Despite media scrutiny and near constant involvement in trade rumors, Gasol has said that his preference beyond 2013-14 is to stay with the Lakers.
“My preference would be to stay,” Gasol said, per the Los Angeles Times' Mike Bresnahan. “That’s what I’ve been saying all year, though the circumstances are difficult right now for our team and nobody’s too happy. But it’s still my team and I still want to be here.”
The Spaniard added, “One of the best centers in the NBA, one of the best interior players, is my brother. There’s a lot of attractive factors there. But who knows if that’s even a possibility or if that will ever happen.”
Bleacher Report’s Kevin Ding wrote in mid-February that the Lakers should trade Gasol because he’d be gone either way via free agency. They didn’t trade him, so he may ultimately be seen as a cap figure set to expire.
He had a tremendously successful run with LA, but it’s time for him to rejuvenate his career with a change of scenery.
Keeping Kendall Marshall moving forward should be a no-brainer for the Lakers’ front office. His 2014-15 salary of $915,243 is not guaranteed, but the Lakers should certainly keep the North Carolina product on board and perhaps consider a long-term extension.
Since signing the 22-year-old to ease the pain of numerous injuries, Marshall has averaged 10.1 points, 9.6 assists and three rebounds while shooting a blazing-hot 47.2 percent from three-point range (second in the NBA behind Anthony Morrow of the New Orleans Pelicans).
The youngster has thrived in Mike D’Antoni’s offensive system, much like Steve Nash did back in the day with the Phoenix Suns—not to make a direct comparison between Marshall and a two-time MVP, but you get the idea.
Marshall is a gifted passer who loves getting his teammates involved. The NBA community was aware of that strength dating back to the 2012 draft. His three-point shooting this year, though, has been a revelation.
Despite sporting arguably the worst shooting form in the league, he’s knocking down nearly 50 percent of his treys. It’s truly remarkable to behold, especially since he shot a woeful 31.5 percent from deep as a Phoenix Sun.
The Lakers will need insurance for an aging Nash, and it already appears as if they’re prepared to move forward with Marshall since they traded Steve Blake at the deadline.
Nick Young has a player option for the 2014-15 season worth approximately $1.2 million, but he’s expected to decline it and test the open market.
According to Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News, Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said, “My guess is that he’s going to opt out.”
Provided that he’s raised his stock quite a bit with his level of play, this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. However, his decision to opt out doesn’t necessarily mean he intends to leave.
Per Medina, Young’s agent Mark Bartelstein said, “Nick wants to be a Laker,” so re-signing “Swaggy P” might simply be a matter of money at this point.
The 28-year-old shooting guard has averaged 16.8 points and 2.7 rebounds per game primarily in a bench role. His scoring ability has completely revamped a second unit that was anemic offensively a year ago—finishing 28th in bench points per game, according to Hoops Stats.
As long as another NBA team doesn’t swoop in with an absurdly high offer in an attempt to lure him away, the Lakers should keep Young to ensure their bench remains a strength, rather than an obvious weakness.
LA will have to fill out the roster one way or another, and retaining Young would go a long way toward keeping the fan base that has grown to love his quirky attitude happy.
While a disastrous 2013-14 season spent near the bottom of the power rankings is making fans in LA restless, the Lakers don’t need to become obsessed with the prospect of making a 180-degree turnaround as quickly as possible.
The 2014 offseason is set to play host to guys like LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Carmelo Anthony and others, but the 2015 free-agent class may be just as loaded.
According to ESPN.com, Brook Lopez, Rajon Rondo, Marc Gasol, Tyson Chandler and Kevin Love are all marquee names that could be available in 2015. So should LA put all of its eggs into the 2014 free-agent basket with that much potential talent set to be available in 2015?
Before answering, the Lakers should look at the following:
An NBA executive said of K-Love in January, “No one thinks he’s staying. Everyone knows he wants to go to the Lakers,” per CBS Sports’ Ken Berger.
Additionally, an anonymous general manager told ESPN Insider Chris Broussard (subscription required) that the All-Star power forward going to the Lakers as a free agent in 2015 is “a 100 percent certainty.”
Even though Minnesota Timberwolves president of basketball operations Flip Saunders said via Twitter that the swirling rumors are false, having a shot at Love (even a slim one) is a tantalizing opportunity.
His video game-quality stats haven’t translated to many wins in Minnesota, but Love is still a transcendent talent who can spread the floor with outside shooting and rebound like a beast.
The former UCLA standout has ties to Los Angeles, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he at least entertained the idea of an LA reunion in 2015—if they have a promising supporting cast.
Signing a bunch of guys on one-year deals for 2013-14 didn’t work out for the Lakers (Chris Kaman, Wesley Johnson, Xavier Henry). Doing so again for next season wouldn’t be a popular move, but it’s a viable Plan B if Lakerland can’t land a legitimate star to place beside Kobe Bryant.
As of Feb. 25, prior to games played, the Los Angeles Lakers have the fifth-worst record in the entire NBA. Barring the finicky nature of ping pong balls, that would give LA the No. 5 overall pick in a loaded 2014 NBA draft.
Considering that two Lakers under contract for next season—Bryant and Nash—will be 36 and 40 years old, respectively, injecting the roster with a young lottery prospect will be huge for Lakerland. Of course, that's if they select a difference-maker.
Should they go with the potential and youth of Dante Exum (pictured), the interior presence of Julius Randle or roll the dice on the athletic, defensive-minded Aaron Gordon?
Who knows? If the Lakers get lucky on lottery night—or drop further in the standings over the next month—they may land someone like Duke's Jabari Parker or one of Kansas's top prospects: Andrew Wiggins or Joel Embiid.
Regardless of who the Lakers decide to go with, they need to make sure scouts have done their homework. Father Time is neck-and-neck with Bryant and it appears he may have already beaten Nash.
As a result, the Lakers need a young player who can contribute right away as a hope for the future.