The 2014 offseason is poised to be one of the most trying and uncertain in Los Angeles Lakers franchise history.
The two key cogs remaining—Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash—want to cap their respective careers by winning a championship. That can’t happen without a lot of help. So where do the Lakers go from here?
They only have three players on guaranteed contracts for next season and one pick in the 2014 NBA draft (No. 7 overall). Bryant likely won’t tolerate another campaign spent toiling near the bottom of the Western Conference, but general manager Mitch Kupchak doesn’t have great options.
Short of convincing a star free agent to join forces with an aging backcourt—unlikely—the Lakers will have a hard time competing.
Keeping valuable cap space available for the summer of 2015 should be a priority. So what free agents would be deemed value signings for L.A. as we near an enigmatic offseason?
Steve Blake, PG, Unrestricted
Veteran point guard Steve Blake was experiencing one of the best seasons of his professional career with the Lakers prior to being dealt to the Golden State Warriors at the deadline.
In 27 games played for L.A. (all starts), the Maryland product averaged 9.5 points and a career-best 7.6 assists to accompany 39.7 percent shooting from long range.
His success both as a scorer and as a distributor can be tied to Mike D’Antoni’s offensive system. Still, it was impressive to see the 34-year-old play at such a high level regardless.
The Dubs hoped that the new addition would help shore up their backup point guard spot and aid them during a deep playoff run. Instead, Blake struggled to find a rhythm in the new environment and Golden State fell in the first round of the postseason.
Now, Blake will become an unrestricted free agent. At the very least, L.A.’s front office knows that Bryant would love to have his former teammate back in purple and gold.
If Blake would rather contend for a championship, signing elsewhere will be his best bet. His relationship with Bryant and his comfort level with the Lakers organization, however, may act as a trump card. L.A. would be wise to bring his veteran savvy back on board.
Honorable Mentions: Jordan Farmar, Aaron Brooks
Nick Young, SG, Unrestricted (If he declines player option)
The Lakers are probably going to target bargain-bin free agents this summer while continuing to plan for 2015.
Nick Young will not be one of those bargains following a stellar campaign.
“Swaggy P” was arguably the biggest reason why the Lakers’ second unit improved by leaps and bounds in a one-year span.
The Lakers bench went from one of the worst in the NBA during 2012-13, to second-best from a scoring standpoint in 2013-14. A lot of that had to do with injuries and a need for Coach D’Antoni to dig deeper into his subs, but Young was the catalyst.
He averaged 17.9 points per game, primarily in a bench role—he played 64 contests, only nine were starts. His ability to score points in bunches put him in the conversation for the league’s Sixth Man of the Year award—he finished 10th in voting and likely would have been higher if injuries didn’t hold him back.
Young could be poised for a big payday this summer. Unless he’s offered a deal the Lakers simply cannot match, they should bring him back as scoring insurance beside Bryant.
Honorable Mentions: Thabo Sefolosha, Anthony Morrow
Kent Bazemore, SF, Unrestricted
Kent Bazemore is yet another guy set to become a free agent after suiting up for the Lakers.
The 24-year-old was shipped south as a result of the Blake trade. While he wasn’t quite the model of consistency, he showed flashes of being a solid rotational player.
For example, the Old Dominion product averaged 12.5 points, 3.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.2 steals to go with 46.5 percent shooting from the field and an impressive 40.4 percent clip from downtown during March.
His numbers tailed off in April, but keep in mind this was the first time Bazemore received meaningful minutes at the NBA level.
He showed off his talents in a big way during last year’s NBA Summer League, so the Lakers should certainly consider re-signing him at the right price.
Honorable Mentions: Michael Beasley, Wesley Johnson
Ed Davis, PF, Restricted
Ed Davis has gained a reputation in the NBA for being an enigma. He was drafted within the lottery back in 2010—13th overall to the Toronto Raptors—but he hasn’t had an opportunity to play up to his ceiling.
The North Carolina product has never been a full-time starter during his four years as a pro. Perhaps more surprising is the fact that his season-high minutes-per-game stat occurred during his rookie year (24.6).
Davis has always been productive in limited minutes, but the 2014 offseason may be time for a team to step in and scout what he can do with more court time.
The Lakers are an ideal candidate to do so, since they don’t have much frontcourt depth to speak of. That aspect will be magnified even further if Pau Gasol doesn’t return.
The key caveat with Davis, though, is that he’s a restricted free agent. The Memphis Grizzlies will have the final say as to whether he stays or signs on elsewhere. That may ultimately hinge on Zach Randolph’s future.
It may take an elevated offer to scare the Grizzlies front office away, but L.A. should definitely target a guy with untapped potential in Davis.
Honorable Mentions: Jordan Hill, Kris Humphries
Andrew Bynum, C, Unrestricted
I entertained the idea of Lakerland signing Andrew Bynum in a previous article. While many Lakers fans may quiver in fear at the notion of bringing an injury-prone headcase back, it makes sense under the correct circumstances.
In this scenario, the Lakers would undoubtedly have to offer the ornery big man a fully non-guaranteed deal. Give the 26-year-old an incentive-laden contract. If he sees the court consistently and performs when he’s out there, that’s L.A.’s best-case scenario. If his knees continue to prove they’re made of Silly Putty and he doesn’t see court time, the Lakers won’t have to pay him a dime.
Essentially, this would be a no-risk, high-reward dice roll from management.
Los Angeles is the only place Bynum has thrived as a pro. He averaged 18.7 points and 11.8 rebounds during his final season with the Lakers. If he can perform even half that well, he’d be an asset.
Leaders like Bryant and Nash won’t put up with any of his nonsense. He’ll either focus in, get healthy and perform, or his NBA career will continue circling the toilet.
Bynum’s next deal—if he’s offered one—will likely be his last chance. There’s always a place on NBA rosters for 7'0" centers, but everything depends on attitude and health for Bynum.
Honorable Mentions: Emeka Okafor, Chris Kaman