The Los Angeles Lakers are faced with a plethora of problems as the 2013-14 campaign comes to a close.
Only three players have guaranteed contracts for 2014-15; Mike D’Antoni is firmly planted on the coaching hot seat; and unless the current squad finishes undefeated, L.A. will be coming off its worst season in franchise history since moving to Los Angeles in 1960-61, per ESPN Los Angeles’ Dave McMenamin:
The Lakers will have to finish the season 6-0 to avoid becoming the worst team in the history of the franchise since it moved to LA— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) April 5, 2014
Questions confronting the storied franchise are prevalent from management all the way down to the roster’s 12th man, but certain issues will be thrust to the forefront during the 2014 NBA offseason.
Who Will Patrol the Sidelines?
D’Antoni’s future with the Purple and Gold appears to be very much in doubt.
On top of ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith citing a source that said Mike D will be “gone at the end of the season” (h/t Lakers Nation’s Corey Hansford), Sean Deveney of Sporting News reported that Kobe Bryant has “no interest” in playing for the offensive guru next season.
If Bryant—the past, present and future of the franchise—doesn’t want to spend the twilight of his career under a run-and-gun specialist, it likely will not happen.
The head coach is under contract through 2014-15, but it doesn’t appear as if extracting stellar play from guys like Jodie Meeks, Jordan Farmar and Xavier Henry will save his job.
Lakers management may still construct a roster that caters to the Italian’s uptempo, hyperoffensive style, but a balanced attack that includes solid defense has always been L.A.’s bread and butter during championship years.
One coaching candidate who could instill a defensive philosophy is Lionel Hollins.
In four seasons leading the Memphis Grizzlies from 2009-10 through 2012-13, Hollins’ teams improved statistically each year.
In addition to finishing first in opponent points per game (89.3) and second in defensive rating (100.3) as a team during the 2012-13 season, Grizzlies center Marc Gasol won Defensive Player of the Year honors under Hollins.
His defensive mentality would be a welcome change of pace for Lakers fans after a brutal performance on that end under D’Antoni in 2013-14.
Another more splashy option is Jeff Van Gundy.
He hasn’t held a coaching gig since 2007 with the Houston Rockets, but he has plenty of postseason experience and already held a high-profile job with the New York Knicks from 1995-96 through 2001-02 (when he resigned).
B/R’s own Dan Favale wrote of Van Gundy, “If the Lakers are looking for a savvy veteran who is no stranger to the spotlight, he would be one of their best options.”
They likely won’t be L.A.’s only targets, but each guy makes sense in terms of bringing the franchise back to prominence.
Filling Out the Roster
While long-term health concerns regarding Bryant and Steve Nash are certainly prominent issues—and factors that will help make or break the Lakers’ success next season—general manager Mitch Kupchak and Co. must get other affairs in order.
Only Bryant, Nash and Robert Sacre are guaranteed to return to Lakerland next year. As a result, management is facing a complete roster overhaul.
With so many roster spots to fill—on top of a potential coaching search—focusing on in-house expirings will be a solid starting point.
Farmar was tremendous at leading a completely revamped second unit when healthy.
Kendall Marshall also surprised fans after being signed as a free agent. The youngster out of North Carolina is averaging 8.8 assists per game while shooting 40.9 percent from long range.
Jordan Hill is in the midst of a career year despite the fact that D’Antoni has refused to increase his role in the rotation, and Nick Young is averaging 17.2 points per game primarily off the bench.
All four of those role players have made a case to be brought back, but their respective performances might earn them more money on the open market when compared with what the Lakers are willing to give them.
That fails to mention 33-year-old veteran Pau Gasol, who will also see his contract expire at season’s end. The talented Spaniard was named to three All-Star teams with the Lakers—winning two championships during his tenure—but his time in L.A. may be coming to an end.
B/R’s Kevin Ding wrote in February, “Both the Lakers and Gasol, who’ve had a working relationship marked by a refreshing sort of maturity, understand it’s time to part.”
The Lakers can either go all in with a spending spree this summer—which L.A. is “not planning,” according to Ding—or keep the blueprint of signing guys on one-year deals while targeting big-name talents in 2015.
The latter option seems more favorable even though Bryant is less than thrilled with the prospect of playing for a non-contender. His championship window is closing swiftly, but the front office should do right by the fans and embrace a long-term outlook.
The Lakers have been downright awful in 2013-14, but history has shown that they are never held down for long.