Unexpected Moves Los Angeles Lakers Could Make in Free Agency
The Los Angeles Lakers franchise is trying to solve a proverbial Rubik’s cube heading into the 2014 offseason.
The organization just finished with its worst record in more than half a century and numerous roster spots need to be filled. Kobe Bryant is expected to be 100 percent following an injury-riddled 2013-14 campaign, but management still hasn’t even decided on a new coach to replace Mike D’Antoni.
It’s to be expected that the Lakers front office may decide to surround Bryant with another mishmash of players on one-year deals. Doing so would keep cap space free for the summer of 2015, presumably when Lakerland returns to a state of stability.
But what exactly could the Lakers do that would be seen as unexpected?
With so many questions to solve, the answers may not be so black and white. In fact, the Lakers may turn a few heads with moves that surprise and baffle.
5. Trading Back in the Draft
The 2014 NBA draft doesn’t technically fall into the realm of free agency. Nevertheless, the No. 7 pick needs to be a game changer for Los Angeles, as it won’t have a first-rounder next year unless the selection falls into the top five.
Let’s just say that’s unlikely with a (presumably) healthy Bryant around.
With the seventh spot in the draft, L.A. can potentially land a big-name prospect like Kentucky big man Julius Randle, athletic phenom Aaron Gordon from the University of Arizona or Oklahoma State point guard Marcus Smart.
But what if the Lakers decide to shock everyone and trade back?
According to ESPN.com’s Dave McMenamin, the chances of that happening seem to be quite low.
“Whether the Lakers end up picking Smart, Randle, or somebody else, the team is leaning towards keeping their No. 7 pick rather than trading down in order to acquire multiple picks, according to a source with knowledge of their thinking,” he wrote.
Staying put at No. 7 is what everyone expects to see happen. Witnessing the Lakers pull off a draft-day trade to land more than one up-and-coming prospect? Now that would be intriguing and entirely unanticipated.
L.A. needs to get younger and develop players for the future. If they’re not in love with any one prospect at No. 7, then trading back for multiple first-round choices isn’t a bad idea.
4. Adding a Star
Objectively speaking, the Lakers are not an appealing destination from a basketball perspective right now.
Bryant is an ornery future Hall of Famer very much in the twilight of his career. He wants to win another championship, but his hefty contract extension didn’t leave much leeway for other stars to join up and have enough around them to compete.
Steve Nash is the other key cog on the roster. Recurring back troubles kept him out for the majority of last season, and he was rarely effective when he saw court time.
Seeing someone like Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James or even a restricted free-agent dark horse like Eric Bledsoe sign with the Lakers would be absolutely shocking. And yet, it would fit into the stereotype L.A. has built over the years.
The Lakers franchise has a reputation as a winner that never drops into the doldrums of mediocrity. That mystique fell off in a big way during 2013-14, but it would immediately be brought back with the addition of a superstar.
I’d put the chances of this happening at no more than five percent, especially since a report from the New York Post’s Marc Berman all but ruled out a potential Kobe-Melo tandem.
“The Lakers have cap space but sources maintain they aren’t too interested in Anthony as a fit with Kobe Bryant,” he wrote. “Nor is Lakers president Jeanie Buss enthralled with stealing Anthony from (Phil) Jackson, her fiance.”
Again, it appears Bryant will be the go-to guy in L.A. until he retires.
3. Re-Signing Pau Gasol
Pau Gasol has experienced some high highs and low lows during his tenure as a Laker.
He won two titles and added three All-Star appearances to the one he gained as a member of the Memphis Grizzlies. On the flip side, he also spent multiple trade deadlines on the block and received countless criticisms from fans after the team stopped competing at the highest level.
Would the veteran Spaniard really want to return to such a stressful situation?
If there’s anything or anyone who could make me stay it’s Kobe Bryant. I’d stay for him, but there’d have to be significant changes. I’ve said many times: I want to be in a team that has a solid chance to win another tournament and where I can be an important factor in the game.
Gasol frequently butted heads with Coach D’Antoni throughout the 2013-14 season, so maybe Mike D’s decision to resign appeals to Pau. Still, he’s not getting any younger and he wants to play for a contender. At this juncture, it’s impossible to say that the Lakers fit that mold.
Bleacher Report’s Kevin Ding wrote in February that Gasol would move on to a different team this summer. It’s certainly felt as if that will be the outcome, so it would be surprising if he re-upped with the Lakers after years of scrutiny and trade rumors.
Even so, keeping him around makes the Lakers better than they'd be without him.
2. Limiting Familiar Faces
Excluding point guard Kendall Marshall—who will likely be retained via a cheap team option this offseason—the Lakers have 11 players poised to become free agents.
The list includes: Gasol, Nick Young, Jodie Meeks, Jordan Hill, Chris Kaman, Jordan Farmar, Kent Bazemore, Xavier Henry, Wesley Johnson, Ryan Kelly and MarShon Brooks.
General manager Mitch Kupchak will have his hands full deciding what members of that group deserve to return at the right price.
Bryant, Nash and Robert Sacre are the only guys with guaranteed contracts for 2014-15, which leaves a minimum of nine roster spots to be filled. Building the roster back up would be easiest by retaining a select handful of the Lakers’ own free agents.
Constructing a rotation around Nash and Bryant without bringing back a collection of familiar faces, however, would take fans by surprise.
Guys like Meeks and Hill might have played their way to bigger contracts—which likely means landing elsewhere. Young has said repeatedly that he wants stay in L.A., but he desires a multi-year deal, per Medina. The Lakers may be hesitant to grant him that security with the future in mind.
It makes sense for the Lakers to, at the very least, bring back Young (for the right price), Bazemore, Farmar and Kelly.
Seeing an entirely new crop would flummox fans, but it is a possibility. Starting fresh may not be a bad idea following a 27-55 regular season.
1. Not Signing Byron Scott
At this point in time, former Coach of the Year Byron Scott appears to be the clear frontrunner for the Lakers' coaching position.
Fox Sports Ohio’s Sam Amico tweeted, “All signs and sources pointing to Byron Scott as leading candidate with Lakers.”
With reports surfacing that Euroleague coach David Blatt has been offered the vacant Cleveland Cavaliers job, per ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst and Jeff Goodman, the Lakers are the only NBA team remaining without someone tabbed to patrol the sideline in 2014-15.
Scott appears to be their man, but what if the Lakers somehow shift gears in a different direction?
The former Lakers player already made a bold move by explaining that Bryant will have to adapt his game under a different teacher. Scott said on SiriusXM’s Coach’s Corner show (h/t 120 Sports’ Karlo Sy Su), “He’s gonna have to change his game a little bit and he knows that. He knows me and I’m an old-school type of guy.”
It’s logical to believe “The Black Mamba” will have to change his style as a soon-to-be 36-year-old—especially with the recent injury troubles. Still, is that statement the best way for Scott to ease his way into the Lakers’ coaching gig?
Bryant infamously said the following of interim coach Bernie Bickerstaff after Mike Brown was fired in 2012: “He’s good. He’s getting the f--- out of the way,” per ESPN’s Arash Markazi.
Even though Scott is seen as the frontrunner, Kobe may not tolerate his old-school demeanor on the heels of a coaching legend like Phil Jackson.
Nevertheless, Scott has a solid track record as a player and as a coach. Since Kupchak has already said Bryant won’t be looped in on the coaching hire, per McMenamin, it’s the GM’s call to make.
Fans would be thrown a curveball if the new hire’s name isn’t Byron Scott.