What We Still Don't Know About the Los Angeles Lakers

Ben Leibowitz@BenLeboCorrespondent IIIMarch 14, 2014

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 5:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers speaks to the media before a game against the Denver Nuggets at STAPLES Center on January 5, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2013 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

We are aware that the Los Angeles Lakers are not going to make the playoffs for the first time since 2004-05. We know that the roster has been ravaged by injuries, and its defense has been one of the worst in the NBA, but what are the questions fans still want to have answered in Lakerland?

The Lakers are floundering near the bottom of the Western Conference. They experienced a low point in 2013-14 when the rival Los Angeles Clippers blew them out in Staples Center by 48 points on March 6.

Tensions are nearing an all-time high.

Mike D’Antoni’s job security is in question. The playing days of Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash are winding to a close. Even the front office is facing major scrutiny, as it needs to put together a viable 12-man roster for 2014-15.

The Lakers are in a state of turmoil for the first time in years, which has been a foreign concept to the loyal fanbase—especially since fans are left to wonder about the future.

Who Will Coach in 2014-15?

DENVER, CO - MARCH 7: Head Coach of the Los Angeles Lakers Mike D'Antoni during a game against the Denver Nuggets  on March 7, 2014 at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or u
Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images

Even though head coach Mike D’Antoni is still under contract for the 2014-15 season, it appears that his days on the sidelines of Staples Center are numbered.

D’Antoni has done an admirable job in the face of never-ending injuries and media scrutiny, which earned him a vote of confidence from general manager Mitch Kupchak in February.

“Under very trying circumstances, I think he’s done a great job,” Kupchak said, per the Los Angeles Times’ Mike Bresnahan. “Our players continue to play as hard as possible and compete in every game.”

Although the GM has stayed in his corner, reports continue to hint that Mike D is a lame duck coach.

On ESPN’s First Take, NBA analyst Stephen A. Smith said that D’Antoni will not return to coach the Lakers next season.

“I had a source tell me last night [that] Mike D’Antoni is gone at the end of the season,” Smith said (h/t Lakers Nation’s Corey Hansford). “He won’t be there […] I’m just telling you, that’s the word coming out of L.A.”

That echoes a report from Sean Deveney of Sporting News, who cited sources that said Bryant has “no interest” in playing for D’Antoni next season.

After signing a two-year, $48.5 million extension in November, Bryant continues to be the past, present and future of the Lakers brand. If he doesn't want the offensive guru to return, it’s hard to imagine the front office going against his wish.

Numerous signs point to D’Antoni losing his job at season’s end, but that begs the question: Who will the Lakers coach be in 2014-15?

May 13, 2013; Memphis, TN, USA; Memphis Grizzlies head coach Lionel Hollins during the post game interview of game four of the second round of the 2013 NBA Playoffs against the Oklahoma City Thunder at FedEx Forum.  Memphis Grizzlies defeat the Oklahoma C
Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

Don’t be surprised if Lionel Hollins, Byron Scott and George Karl are on the short list of candidates.

Will Bryant and Nash Ever Return to Form?

Pat Sullivan/Associated Press

Regardless of who gets pegged to coach the ailing franchise in 2014-15, the question marks surrounding Bryant and Nash remain a prominent issue.

The legendary shooting guard was shut down for the remainder of the 2013-14 season due to a fractured left knee. Nash—the former two-time MVP—suffered the same fate and said in a Grantland.com video documentary, “I’m not going to retire because I want the money.”

“The Black Mamba” will turn 36 years old in August. Nash, meanwhile, is already 40 years old and will be 41 next February.

Does either guy have All-Star-caliber play left in the tank?

If the answer to that question is no, then the Lakers will be paying two aging, injury-prone veterans more than $33.2 million without much yield.

By playing only six games in 2013-14 on a contract of more than $30 million, Bryant’s injuries became the most expensive in NBA history, per Rotowire’s Jeff Stotts.

If the Lakers hope to compete for a playoff spot in the loaded Western Conference next season, they’ll need Bryant and Nash to step up and produce.

I’m simply not convinced that is feasible at this point given each player’s injury woes.

What’s the 2014 Offseason Plan?

Whether the Purple and Gold intend to target marquee names in 2014 free agency remains to be seen.

Bleacher Report’s Kevin Ding provided insight to the Lakers’ thinking by writing the following in a recent column:

And the fact is, as of this time, 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.

LA may wait to spend its cap space in 2015 rather than this summer, but that decision clearly wouldn’t sit well with Bryant.

According to ESPN’s Dave McMenamin, Bryant (along with Lakers legend Magic Johnson) ripped Lakers management for the disappointing season.

The injured shooting guard said the following:

How can I be satisfied with it? We’re like 100 games under .500. I can’t be satisfied with that at all. This is not what we stand for. This is not what we play for. A lot of times it’s hard to understand that message if you’re not a diehard Laker fan. It’s hard to really understand where we’re coming form and what we’re accustomed to, which is playing for championships and everything else is a complete failure.

Bryant is clearly frustrated with LA’s losing ways. However, even if the team was playing well, he wouldn't be in the lineup to experience it due to injury.

Nevertheless, the Lakers brass is in for some tough times if it doesn’t surround the Mamba with talented teammates.

The Lakers are stuck between a rock and a hard place, but adding a stud via the 2014 NBA draft would be a solid starting point to turn the team’s fortunes around.

As Bryant said, per McMenamin, “I think we have to start at the top in terms of the culture of our team. … It starts there and from there, you can start building out your team accordingly.”

Even with a plan of action, though, there’s no guarantee that management can deliver.

Note: All contract information courtesy of ShamSports.


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