5 Things Los Angeles Lakers Must Address Before 2014 Offseason
Where do the Los Angeles Lakers go from here?
The storied NBA franchise is in the midst of its worst season since 2004-05—when Phil Jackson’s absence led to a disappointing 34-48 record.
The 2013-14 squad is poised to miss the postseason for just the fifth time since 1960-61, when the organization moved from Minneapolis.
The Lakers front office has numerous questions to answer before the 2014-15 season begins, but that process starts with addressing key issues before the 2014 offseason.
Will the injured Kobe Bryant return to the court again in 2013-14?
Should he come back during a lost season and risk another setback?
What does the Lakers' draft big board look like?
Do they know what young prospect they want to bring in depending upon eventual draft position?
Those are just a few of the questions facing LA as 2013-14 mercifully grinds to an end.
The Lakers franchise was set back in a big way when it lost All-Star center Dwight Howard for nothing last summer. Now management is forced to make savvy moves in order to rebuild a winner and change the fanbase outlook from “irritated” to “content.”
Note: All salary information courtesy of ShamSports.
5. Are Bazemore/Brooks Long-Term Options?
The Lakers traded 33-year-old point guard Steve Blake at the trade deadline as a means of cutting salary. They did, however, add the expiring contracts of Kent Bazemore and MarShon Brooks in the process.
Neither guy has been viewed as anything more than a fringe role player during his respective pro career. But is there a chance the Lakers could think differently and bring them back as long-term additions?
When asked what he’s learned most about his game since coming to LA via trade, Bazemore said, “The biggest thing I’ve learned is that I belong,” per Mike Trudell of Lakers.com via Twitter.
The 24-year-old out of Old Dominion is averaging 16.9 points, 3.7 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.6 steals in seven games as a Laker. He’s shooting 46.6 percent from the field and 45.7 percent from three-point range during that stretch.
Head coach Mark Jackson never gave Bazemore a chance to showcase his skills during his time with the Golden State Warriors, but he’s looked like a legitimate NBA talent in limited time with LA.
Brooks has also played well in Mike D’Antoni’s offensive system. He’s averaging 11.6 points on 51.7 percent shooting since getting traded, and he’s cashed in eight of nine attempts from beyond the three-point arc.
Do those performances in an admittedly limited sample size warrant long-term deals at the right price?
That’s something the front office needs to mull as the season winds to a close.
4. What Is Nick Young Worth?
Nick Young has a player option for the 2014-15 season that would pay him approximately $1.2 million. He’s expected to opt out and test free agency.
According to Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News, Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said of Young’s future, “My guess is he’s going to opt out.”
Young’s agent, Mark Bartelstein, said, “Nick wants to be a Laker,” per Medina, so perhaps there’s a way both sides could agree on a new deal that keeps the USC product in Los Angeles moving forward.
In order for that to happen, though, LA’s front office needs to have a plan of action.
“Swaggy P” has been a huge addition for the Lakers, as he’s averaging 16.8 points per game primarily in a bench role. His presence has helped change the second unit from dreadful to surprisingly productive, but LA may only want to retain him at the right price.
In the range of $3 million or $5 million per year seems reasonable from the Lakers’ perspective, but Young may find a suitor willing to go higher.
The Lakers should establish what they’re willing to give Young in free agency before the season ends. In any case, he’d be a helpful safety net behind Bryant—who hasn’t been able to stay healthy.
3. What's the 2014 Free-Agency Plan?
Many Lakers fans are pining for big-name superstars to sign with their favorite team this summer, but it doesn’t appear as if the front office is looking to make a huge splash just yet.
How the Lakers build a new 12-man roster moving forward appears to be tied to the future of Steve Nash.
As Bleacher Report’s Kevin Ding writes:
Nash will get one last chance to play next season with the Lakers, who are not planning a free-agent spending spree this summer and are therefore thinking it does not make sense to use the stretch provision to waive Nash.
If the Lakers are planning to make a run at marquee stars in 2015, what’s the plan going to be in a few months when the 2013-14 season ends?
Only Nash, Bryant and Robert Sacre have guaranteed contracts for 2014-15. That leaves a minimum of nine roster spots that have to be filled during the offseason.
Does that mean the Lakers are planning to hand out another collection of one-year deals as they did with Chris Kaman, Wesley Johnson, Xavier Henry and others? That would ensure plenty of cap space for LA in 2015, but it’s not the best short-term option from the outlook of winning games.
The front office has to address some sort of framework for the 2014 offseason, especially if it’s ultimately waiting for 2015 to rebuild a winner.
2. Will Kobe Bryant Play Again in 2013-14?
According to the Los Angeles Times’ Mike Bresnahan, Kobe Bryant is considered a “long shot” to return to the court for the Lakers this season.
“The doctors haven’t cleared Kobe so it’s a non-issue right now,” head coach Mike D’Antoni said, per Bresnahan. “The thing is, does he get back and play some games to get his rhythm back for next year or just wait? So I don’t know.”
Realistically speaking, what’s the point in Bryant making his return for a team that is floundering at the bottom of the Western Conference standings?
D’Antoni alludes to Bryant’s “rhythm,” but the chance of another setback to the 35-year-old's health far outweighs any comfort level the veteran could acquire months before next season is set to begin.
Bryant said in early February that his plan to return to the court this season “hasn’t changed,” per ESPN’s Dave McMenamin. But with just 20 games remaining (after the March 6 matchup against the Los Angeles Clippers), time is running out for Bryant to deliver on that stance.
It’s not a big deal if Bryant doesn’t return, but management should figure out his thought process either way.
1. What's the Draft Big Board?
As of March 6 (prior to games played), the Lakers have the fifth-worst record in the NBA—tied with the 21-40 Utah Jazz.
The Lakers may ultimately land a top-five pick in the 2014 NBA draft, so the front office should already have a good idea about the prospects it's targeting.
One guy that has continued to separate himself from the pack is Australian prospect Dante Exum.
The promising young guard has even showed significant interest in joining the Lakers, per B/R’s Jared Zwerling:
“Definitely L.A. is one option,” he said. “I’ve been to L.A. many times and I love the city, and it is a great city. If I get the opportunity to go to L.A. and play for the Lakers, I know I’ll have love for the city. And their fans are loyal and they have the rivalry with the Clippers. But just to be in an environment where you have a great player like Kobe, where you have a mentor in a way as a rookie, I think that would be the best option.”
That prompted a league general manager to say the following of Exum, per Sean Deveney of Sporting News:
When you hear some of what he says, it does make you wonder how the process is going to go as far as workouts and that sort of thing. We have seen this story before, of course. I am not sure a player can have that kind of control, though.
Would the youngster try to force his way to the Lakers by refusing to work out for other teams? It’s not unheard of, but it’s certainly an interesting subplot.
Exum does appear to be a solid match for purple and gold as Bryant enters the twilight of his NBA career, but LA could decide to go for size by way of Kentucky’s Julius Randle or Indiana’s Noah Vonleh.
Regardless of whom the Lakers choose, they need to add a franchise-changing talent in a loaded 2014 draft. If they select a bust, the rebuilding process will become even more painful for fans.