Top 5 Issues the LA Lakers Need to Address in the Offseason
The Los Angeles Lakers had a forgettable 2013-14 season, and the team has no shortage of issues to address if it hopes to turn things around for next season. The organization has to improve in every area, and it has the next few months to do so if it hopes to return to championship contention anytime soon.
Since the death of Jerry Buss and the departure of Phil Jackson, the Lakers organization has been in disarray. From the front office to the coaching staff to the roster itself, the Lakers have found very little to hang their hat on. This is an organization that is in desperate need of a top-to-bottom makeover.
There are five major issues the team needs to address this offseason in order to get back on the road to success.
As bad as things were for the Lakers this past season, not everything requires immediate attention. There are a few problems that the team can stand to put off for now as it deals with more pressing issues. However, these problems will become more and more prevalent.
While the organization may not have to deal with these immediately, it should begin preparations now for the inevitable point in time when these issues must be addressed, and the franchise can avoid unnecessary setbacks.
Who should be running the show?
Since the passing of Jerry Buss last year, there has been a question of just who is calling the shots in Laker Land. Officially, Jim Buss serves as executive vice president of basketball operations and is in charge of making basketball decisions, but questions remain about his ability to lead the organization, especially given the team's generally disappointing play in recent years.
Jeanie Buss, the team's president, is focused on the business aspect of the organization, and she remains a favorite for the job among many, including Magic Johnson.
Jim still has time to prove his critics wrong, but even he knows the clock is ticking. Although this won't require attention this offseason, the team needs to drastically improve fast. If it doesn't, the demand for Jeanie to take over will increase, eventually becoming too much for the players to ignore.
Which of their own free agents do the Lakers need to keep?
The Lakers struggled mightily this past season, but there were some bright spots. Of the departing players, the ones the Lakers should be most concerned with keeping are Pau Gasol, Nick Young, Jodie Meeks and Jordan Hill.
The question the Lakers need to answer is which (if any) of these players are worth the financial investment moving forward. Whether any of them stay or go is not going to make or break the Lakers next season, so it isn't crucial to re-sign them. If they decide to walk, they could all be replaced.
Still, it would be nice for the team to retain some known quantities that it can depend on. The Lakers would prefer to not have to start remaking the roster completely from scratch.
The only exception is Gasol. His drop in effectiveness has as much to do with Mike D'Antoni's system as Gasol's perceived loss of ability. If the Lakers bring in a coach who can more effectively utilize Gasol's unique skill set, he is capable of returning to his former productivity for the Lakers and being part of a championship team. Given his relationship with Kobe Bryant, he might be willing to do so at a friendlier price.
Who Should Be the Next Lakers Head Coach?
Bleacher Report's Matt Fitzgerald notes that the team has looked at George Karl, Byron Scott, Alvin Gentry, Mike Dunleavy Sr., Lionel Hollins and Mark Jackson. This is a group of coaches that covers a wide range of experience and styles. Of these options, Scott provides the best combination of experience, desire and a history of developing a good relationship with his players.
But given the different types of coaches linked to the position, it's impossible to tell at this point what exactly the team is looking for. The decision will depend on what it is the team is looking to accomplish this season. Are the Lakers looking to build back to contention over the next few years? Or are they looking for a coach who can win now?
The time frame the organization is looking to work with will largely determine who they ultimately hire as coach, but they can't wait too long to make a decision. Free agents want to know who they'll be playing for, and the longer the decision takes, the harder it will be to bring in the right players.
Are the Lakers Rebuilding?
The time it's taking for the Lakers to find a new head coach is indicative of a very important question the organization needs to answer: What exactly is the plan moving forward?
No team in the NBA is as averse to losing as the Lakers, which is indicated by the fact that the organization has only missed the playoffs five times in its history, and only once did the team miss in back-to-back seasons. But there is very little evidence to suggest the team can make a major leap toward contention next season with what it currently has. This was done by design.
The team set itself up to completely remake the entire roster this offseason, but to what end?
Los Angeles needs to decide whether it's planning to return immediately to contention or if it's willing to be patient for the next few years as it rebuilds its roster. This decision will strongly affect the roster moves the team makes this offseason.
What it can't do is remain undecided. This will leave the organization pulling in opposite directions, which will only delay the development of the roster and lead to more seasons similar to the last one.
Who Should the Lakers Target in 2014 NBA Draft?
As I noted in a previous article, Marcus Smart is the best option at seventh overall because of the complete package of scoring, ball-handling and defense he brings and because it's very possible he'll still be available. However, the Lakers could also go with someone like Julius Randle or Aaron Gordon. Given the dearth of talent on the roster, the Lakers' pick will be considered a success as long as they pick up a productive player.
Heading into the draft, the Lakers have only Bryant, a broken-down Steve Nash and role player Robert Sacre on the roster. Ironically, this unenviable position actually makes the Lakers' work in the draft easier. Anyone they pick, regardless of position, will be the right choice as long as that player comes in and is productive.
Joel Embiid, once considered a possibility for the first overall pick and a lock for the top five just a week ago, is now considered a possibility to drop to the Lakers at No. 7. Of course, this drop is only because of his increasing list of injuries and the subsequent concerns about his ability to remain healthy. Whether he is there or not, the Lakers cannot gamble on him. Given the current state of the team, Los Angeles cannot afford to miss with its pick.
The team also has the option of trading the pick. This is not a bad idea so long as the team knows that the player or players coming in will be immediate contributors. The team has recently been linked to a trade that would send out the seventh overall pick and bring in Klay Thompson. This would be a great move, but it would have to come with some guarantee that Thompson would remain beyond this season when his rookie deal is up.
Which Free Agents Should the Lakers Target?
Per Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times, the Lakers are heading into the 2014 free-agency period with as much as $28.2 million in cap space. This has been done by design as this year could possibly offer the likes of LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Carmelo Anthony if they choose to opt out of their current contracts and become free agents. James is clearly the top option, and given the Lakers history, there's no doubt the team will at least be mentioned in connection with all three players.
However, the team finds itself in an unusual position.
As the Orange County Register's Bill Oram points out, Los Angeles will only have three players under contract as of July 1. This means that the team can't just go out and get the best player money can buy. The Lakers have an entire roster to fill out, so they're going to have to take that cap space and spread it out in order to cover the acquisition of another 10 players.
If those big names do hit free agency, the Lakers will no doubt be in the mix.
But given the currently empty roster and the fact that these players could opt to stay where they are, the team could be better served using that money on some less hyped but available and still promising options like Gordon Hayward, Trevor Ariza, Luol Deng and Greivis Vasquez. These aren't the most exciting options, but the Lakers are in more desperate need of bodies than superstars at this point, and players like these offer on-court effectiveness at a more affordable price.
Still, if the team does manage to lure James to Los Angeles, the Lakers will more easily find players willing to play for less, but this isn't an option the team can depend on at this point.
Lakers Must Begin Planning for Life Without Kobe
As hard as it might be to admit for the organization, Lakers fans and for Bryant himself, the truth is that he isn't the player he used to be, and his career is coming to an end. He may say the recent injuries won't affect him going forward, but the team can depend on him until his current contract runs out in 2016 at best, meaning the team has to start planning for his exit now.
Bryant's insatiable drive for championships has affected the personnel decisions of the team. Most often, the team's decisions regarding which players to bring in have been made under the assumption that the team is close to returning to championship contention. Players were brought in strictly based on whether they could help win another championship.
Unfortunately, the organization is no longer that close, and as much as the Lakers may want to honor what Bryant has done for the team, they also need to start figuring out how to fill the gaping hole in the roster that he will leave behind.
That is not a decision that can be ignored until he actually retires. The Lakers need to start preparing for it now.
This means that Los Angeles has to consider the possibility that contending immediately may not be in the cards, and a years-long rebuild may be the way to go. Bryant won't be happy if this is what the team decides, but the Lakers have to plan for what's best for the organization—not for a single player.