Which Lakers from 2013-14 Roster Will Be Back Next Season?

David MurphyFeatured ColumnistMarch 22, 2014

Which Lakers from 2013-14 Roster Will Be Back Next Season?

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    Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

    There’s been a lot of talk about the Los Angeles Lakers’ future and the fact that they only have three players under guaranteed contract for next season—Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Robert Sacre.

    It’s not quite that simple—they do have options on other players.

    For instance, management holds a non-guaranteed contract on Kendall Marshall, and qualifying offers on Kent Bazemore and rookie Ryan Kelly.

    Finally, Nick Young is firmly in control of his own destiny with a player’s option. Per Mark Medina of The Los Angeles Daily News, Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak recently said about the swaggy shooting guard. “My guess is he’s going to opt out.”

    Complicating matters is Young’s long layoff with a fractured knee and a limited number of games left for him to showcase for prospective buyers.

    The Lakers are in a tricky situation, having cleared tons of cap room by signing so many players to short-term contracts this season. The Catch-22 is that they have to renounce the rights of said players in order to free up the funds to go after other, potentially more enticing free agents over the summer.

    They can try and coax their own free agents back once they’ve made whatever larger moves they have in mind. There’s no guarantee however. Some of the cut-rate wild cards that have performed well for them, even during a terrible season, may find greener pastures elsewhere.

    So who stays and who goes? Let the howls of protest begin—or not?

     

    Lakers salary data from Sham Sports.

Those With Guaranteed Contracts

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    Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Spor

    First, let’s cover the players we know will be coming back:

    Kobe Bryant has had the worst season of his long and illustrious career, bar none. The five-time NBA champion was given a two-year extension that begins next season, worth a total of $48.5 million. He lasted just six games after returning from his ruptured Achilles, however, before fracturing the lateral tibial plateau in his left knee.

    Bryant is the lynchpin that the current Lakers' house of cards is built on, and he’s none too happy about the team’s state of affairs. The big question—can management rebuild fast enough to afford their mercurial superstar a shot at another ring?

    Steve Nash hasn’t fared much better than Bryant this season. At age 40, the legendary point guard has been plagued by injury ever since joining the Lakers during the summer of 2012. He has battled a series of intertwined problems, including a fractured leg and nerve root damage.

    It was initially thought that Nash was done for the season, but he surprised a lot of folks by returning to action on Friday night, as the Lakers lost to the Washington Wizards, 117-107. The future Hall of Famer came off the bench and notched 11 dimes in just 19 minutes. It was a positive sign, to say the very least.

    The third guaranteed contract belongs to utility center Robert Sacre, the last pick in the 2012 NBA draft. Sacre has become an unexpected favorite under coach Mike D’Antoni, due to his consistent hustle and hard-nosed play. Sacre isn’t the kind of volume scorer that D’Antoni usually prefers, and he certainly doesn’t stretch the floor. Still, he delivers maximum effort at all times, and he will be an absolute bargain next season at only $915,243.

    Now that our “core group” is out of the way, let’s move on to those who are in flux:

Kendall Marshall

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    Kendall Marshall took Lakers Nation by storm when he arrived in December as a desperation pickup from the D-League. At the time, the Lakers were in the midst of an injury streak that had wiped the roster clean of point guards, along with some of the shooting guards as well.

    The point guard out of North Carolina was a high draft pick by the Phoenix Suns in 2012, but he played only 48 games during his rookie season. He was fodder in a trade that sent Marcin Gortat to the Washington Wizards at the beginning of this season and was promptly dumped. Marshall wound up plying his fledgling point guard trade with the D-league's Delaware 87ers before being unexpectedly picked up by L.A.

    And then it happened—the pass-first point guard with the old-fashioned set-shot averaged 11.9 points and 11.5 assists during the month of January, playing 38.5 minutes per game. Marshall also shot a torrid .441 from behind the arc that month.

    Marshall’s eye-popping rise from the ashes has tapered off somewhat as of late. That’s due to the return of other guards from injury, as well as the volatile nature of an ever-shifting lineup. This is a guard who works best in a set rotation, and to be honest, he may never have a month like January again. Even so, he’s still averaged an impressive 8.4 points and 9.2 assists through 40 games since joining the Lakers.

    The Lakers have Marshall signed to a non-guaranteed deal next season for just $915,243. They’ll bring him back, and it’ll be the easiest decision they make.

Kent Bazemore

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    Kent Bazemore has been a pleasant surprise for the Lakers since arriving with MarShon Brooks from the Golden State Warriors in a swap for Steve Blake. The undrafted second-year guard primarily served as a sideline cheerleader with the Warriors, but he has been lighting it up to the tune of 13.4 points per game since arriving in Los Angeles.

    Per Mike Bresnahan of The Los Angeles Times, this unexpected bonanza is one that Bazemore will gladly take:

    It's fun playing in the biggest market outside of New York. It's a blast. People down here, they don't really like Golden State, so I was kind of nervous about that but they greeted me with open arms. They're cheering me on. You can hear the little claps from the crowd when they call my name.

    Since joining the Lakers, Bazemore has started nine out of 14 games in the shooting guard position. It’s a temporary phenomenon—he won’t be taking minutes away from guys like Kobe Bryant and Nick Young next season.

    Still, for the money, the Lakers would be crazy not to keep him. They have the option to make a qualifying offer to Bazemore for $1,115,243 for the upcoming season. That would make him a restricted free agent, and despite his progress during this brief period of time, it’s doubtful that other teams will try and bid.

    Bazemore is a 6’5” lefty shooter with a ridiculous 6’11.5” wingspan. He’ll not only get you numbers but has an affinity for swatting shots and getting steals. He’s still pretty raw, but he has a great motor and no lack of enthusiasm. The product of Old Dominion has been a good fit in D’Antoni’s system. That’s not necessarily the be-all and end-all, but he seems like an easy choice as a minimum-salary roster-stuffer for next season.

Jordan Farmar

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    It certainly hasn’t been the season Jordan Farmar had hoped for. The 6’2” point guard and L.A. native was drafted by the Lakers in 2006 and went on to win two championships with the team before leaving during free agency, hoping for a starting role elsewhere. The Taft High and UCLA standout wound up with the New Jersey Nets, where he spent two seasons.

    Farmar played overseas, for Maccabi Tel Aviv during the 2011 NBA lockout, and Anadolu Efes for the 2012-13 season. This past summer, he left a lot of money on the table when he agreed to be bought out of his three-year Turkish contract by the Lakers. His salary for a one-year deal in Los Angeles is just $884,293, but it allowed him to return to the team that drafted him and hopefully, to a revived NBA career.

    Unfortunately, Farmar’s season has been marred by recurring injuries. He tore his hamstring twice and is now out with a strained groin.

    However, when he’s been on the floor he’s played well, averaging 10.4 points and 4.7 assists in just 36 games, primarily off the bench. Farmar’s always been one of the speedier guards in the league, with great acceleration and the ability to push the ball up-court quickly, either dishing off or scoring with up-and-under layups.

    After Farmar returned to the Lakers last summer, he expressed his appreciation for being home, per Helene Michaels of The Los Angeles Times:

    “I’m in a great place. Being a Laker is special to me.”

    Farmar is an unrestricted free agent this summer, but he would no doubt like to return next season for another shot with the Purple and Gold. The one concern is his health. Like so many others on the roster, he simply hasn’t been able to stay on the floor this season. Still, he’s affordable and has a winning attitude—it would be surprising not to see him in a Lakers uniform next season.

Nick Young

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    Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Spor

    Nick “Swaggy P” Young is one of the toughest deals to figure for next season. One of the league’s prolific (if somewhat erratic) scorers, Young played for the Washington Wizards, Los Angeles Clippers and Philadelphia 76ers, before accepting a below-market contract with the Lakers. He’s earning the veteran’s minimum of $1,106,942 for this season, with a player’s option for $1,227,985 next season.

    The general feeling, is that while he loves being back in his hometown, he’ll probably opt out and see if he can get a little more sugar in his contract.

    Young has been having a career year, averaging 16.8 points as the team’s second-leading scorer. It seemed a given that he’d test the free agency waters until fracturing his left knee at the beginning of February. He missed a significant number of games at just the wrong time. On Friday night, however, he made his return in strong fashion—scoring 21 points off the bench against the Washington Wizards and also picking up a technical for skirmishing with Drew Gooden.

    The Lakers would like to hang onto Young. He’s a charismatic, high-energy player who quickly established himself as a crowd favorite this season. Speaking with Mike Trudell of Lakers.com, general manager Mitch Kupchak addressed Young’s situation:

    Money is important to Nick as to all players, but you can watch him play and he just loves to play. Some guys treat it as a job, but Nick loves to play. He has fun and basketball is a big part of who it is. Whatever he decides to do with his opt out … we'd certainly like to see him be a Laker for a long time.

    How much can Young get on the open market? At the very least, he could probably get the full mid-level exception, which can range from $2.732 to $5.305 million, depending on what a team’s salary cap situation is. It’s hard to say what he could make on the high end—that depends on the buyer. This summer’s free-agent class isn’t deep however, and a mid-seven figure offer wouldn’t be ludicrous.

    If the Lakers do pony up, it would have to be at the expense of other players—they simply can’t bring everyone back and still go after outside free agents. The 6’7” Young plays both the shooting guard and small forward position, and he is a legitimate starter in the league, while still accepting his role this season with the Lakers as a sixth man.

Ryan Kelly

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    Associated Press

    Ryan Kelly was the 48th pick in the draft last year and has certainly earned his rookie salary of $490,180, playing the stretch 4 position in D’Antoni’s offense. At 6’11", the Duke product has good hands and court vision and a fairly reliable outside shot. Kelly has started in 17 out of 45 games this season, averaging 7.6 points and 3.4 rebounds.

    While Kelly is by no means a banger, he fits a role, especially when it comes to stretching the floor. The Lakers can make a qualifying offer of $1,016,482 for next season, and they probably will. While that would make Kelly a restricted free agent, it’s doubtful that other teams will try and bid for him.

    The main concern when the Lakers drafted Kelly was a foot injury that required surgery twice during his collegiate career. Still, you take what you can get that late in the draft. Plus, he was one of Mike Krzyzewski’s favorite players at Duke. Last March, Kelly returned from injury to deliver one of college basketball’s legendary performances, during a win against Miami.

    Per Viv Bernstein of The New York Times, Coach K had this to say about Kelly’s stunning 36-point game:

    We were all privileged to see one of the performances of the ages, I think, by Ryan Kelly. I’ve been saying for two months, for the last 13 games, we’ve been missing one of the best players in the country and tonight he showed that.

    Look for Kelly to be back with the Lakers again next season.

Jordan Hill

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    Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Spor

    Jordan Hill’s future with the Lakers is anything but clear cut. He’ll be a free agent, after earning $3.5 million this season, and he has been in and out of D’Antoni’s rotation. While Hill brings tremendous energy and athleticism on the defensive end, he doesn’t exactly stretch the floor. And that, in D’Antoni’s somewhat myopic system, is a definite no-no.

    Selected by the New York Knicks as the eighth overall pick in 2009, Hill is having his best season in the NBA, averaging 8.3 points and 6.9 rebounds in just 19.4 minutes per game. He works the pick-and-roll well, can hit short-range jumpers or score off offensive put-backs and is a solid rim defender and rebounder.

    Hill seemed like the most obvious guy to hand an extension to earlier in the season, before the DNPs and short-minute games started piling up. It’s hard to see him coming back under the current coaching structure, but that doesn’t negate his true worth.

    After sitting out eight games with a sore knee (and per coach’s decision), Hill was back in the lineup on Friday. Coming off the bench against the Washington Wizards, the 6’10” big man scored nine points, pulled down 14 boards and got ejected after tangling with the Wizards’ Marcin Gortat, while protecting teammate Nick Young.

    The Lakers have some big decisions to make this off-season—they’ll need to put together a front court, and there won’t be a lot of good options in the marketplace. Given that Hill, Chris Kaman and Pau Gasol are all unrestricted free agents, management had better look inward.

    Hill is probably the best place to start.

Those Who Won’t Make the Cut

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    It’s only logical that many faces on the current Lakers roster won’t be back next season. Isn’t that how it works when you clear the deck of contracts?

    In some cases, it will be players who don’t fit into the future rebuild plans, either for financial reasons, age or style of play. There will also be the players who are lost simply by virtue of the fact that they accept better contracts.

    Here’s a list of those who may not make the cut:

    MarShon Brooks played solid minutes for several games in a row after arriving from Golden State, including a 23-point game against the Sacramento Kings on February 28. He’s fallen steadily out of favor since then however, either playing little or not at all. Brooks is an unrestricted free agent and will probably be looking for his next job this summer.

    Xavier Henry is one of a number of low-cost audition projects this season who has shown real promise. He’s athletic, drives hard to the basket and draws a lot of fouls. He injured his knee partway through the season however, and he has recently been playing through pain as he tries to make the case for a new contract. The multi-positional backcourt player could wind up being a victim of the numbers crunch, especially if the Lakers resign Young.

    Jodie Meeks would like to stay with the Lakers, and they’d probably like to keep him as well. Known primarily as an outside shooter, he has worked hard to improve his overall game and is having a breakout year at 15.3 points per game. By renouncing his rights, the Lakers are taking a risk. Meeks will probably be picked up by a team that will pay more than his current salary of $1.55 million.

    Wesley Johnson is another test case who has shown promise this season. The former fourth overall draft pick played for the Minnesota Timberwolves and Phoenix Suns, before coming to the Lakers on a one-year minimum salary deal. A natural wing, Johnson has started 54 out of 66 games, while often being used out of position as an undersized power forward. He will probably get other offers before the Lakers are done playing the field.

    Veteran big man Chris Kaman came to the Lakers believing that he’d be filling a role. Instead, he’s collected a whole lot of DNPs. He has been open about his dissatisfaction, telling Ramona Shelburne of ESPN Los Angeles, “Never did I think I would come here and not play, otherwise I probably wouldn't have come.”

    It will almost certainly be a one-and-done season for Kaman.

    And finally, we get to the Lakers’ most significant free agent, their starting center, Pau Gasol. The two-time NBA champion is the Lakers’ leading scorer this season, averaging 17.7 points, 9.9 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.5 blocks per game. It’s no secret however, that he and D’Antoni are simply not on the same page. While Gasol is Bryant’s closet ally on the team, he’s also making $19,285,850, and he simply isn’t in the long-range rebuild plans. He’ll be chased by other teams this summer and will likely be moving on.

    Gasol is a sure-fire future Hall of Famer and hopefully will have his jersey hung from the Staples Center rafters some day.