The road back to relevance is long and littered with question marks for the Los Angeles Lakers, but that trek officially got underway Thursday night.
Los Angeles, in the draft lottery for the first time since 2005, used the seventh overall selection to snag high-motor big man Julius Randle out of Kentucky.
"He's got big-time skills," general manager Mitch Kupchak said, via Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times. "He can put the ball on the floor. He can drive and get to the rim."
The Lakers later traded for the draft rights to Jordan Clarkson, the 46th overall pick. The combo guard, who Bleacher Report's Daniel O'Brien noted has "the size of a shooting guard and the quickness and creativity of a point," gives L.A. another piece to a still largely empty puzzle.
Assuming Clarkson sticks, the Lakers have five players for next season's roster—six if they guarantee the contract of point guard Kendall Marshall. Considering they're building an NBA squad and not forming a three-on-three team, they have plenty more moves to make.
From casting their line in hopes of catching a big fish to rummaging through the league's bargain bin, here are the next logical steps for the franchise to take.
Aiming High, Probably Settling for Less
The Lakers have the right to dream big. Heck, their market and rich history (16 NBA championships) might demand that they do so.
When it comes to offseason plans of attack, L.A.'s are reportedly as optimistic as anyone's.
The Lakers, according to ESPN.com's Ramona Shelburne, have been searching for a way to pair All-Star forwards LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony since before the players opted out of their current deals.
According to Sam Amick of USA Today, that's the reason the Lakers "took their time in their still-ongoing coaching search as a way of leaving every option open come free agency time."
This scenario, no matter how improbable it sounds, is worth exploring from all angles. If the Lakers have the slightest chance of pulling this off, it's an option they must pursue.
Of course, the odds of this actually transpiring are slim to none.
Yes, Carmelo Anthony & LeBron James are going to take pay cuts to join Kobe & the #Lakers after a 27-win season where Bryant played 6 games.— Ethan Norof (@Mr_Norof) June 24, 2014
Anthony seems like he's waiting for the New York Knicks to paint him the picture that winning is possible without leaving—then dumping a five-year, $130 million contract offer in his lap. However, a source told Marc J. Spears of Yahoo Sports that the Lakers are one of five teams expected to meet with Anthony.
As for James, the smart money remains on him staying with the Miami Heat.
Once those dominoes officially drop, the Lakers can get to their real plan: finding serviceable options that won't cut into their future cap space.
That has been the loudest talk around the franchise over the last few months.
Which player do the Lakers have the best chance of signing this summer?
Unless they have a shot at James, Bleacher Report's Kevin Ding wrote in March, "the Lakers plan to piece a roster together again next season around Kobe Bryant and save their cap space for 2015 free agents such as Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge, Rajon Rondo, Marc Gasol and maybe James."
With cap space to burn and roster spots to fill, L.A. will have to spend on someone.
The most likely scenario, it seems, is overpaying second- or third-tier players on short-term deals. That probably takes the Lakers out of the running for any notable restricted free agents, so go ahead and cancel those orders for a custom Eric Bledsoe or Gordon Hayward jersey.
What names could be in play here? There are two types of players the Lakers could chase.
One would be young guys who need a prove-your-value season to drive up their price. That's what led Nick Young to L.A. last season, where he set himself up for a substantial raise after averaging a career-high 17.9 points a night. Young opted out of his $1.2 million player option for 2014-15, and while he wants to stick around, his plans probably don't mesh with the Lakers'.
"His agent and the market will dictate his future direction," Kupchak said of Young, via Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News.
So, who might be interested in a prove-it, one-year deal? Guys like Andray Blatche, Patty Mills, Jerryd Bayless, Al-Farouq Aminu and P.J. Tucker could all fit that bill.
The other option is targeting veterans who could use the Staples Center stage to restore their value.
After averaging only 16 points on 42.4 percent shooting over the past three seasons, perhaps Luol Deng might not like what he finds on the open market. With a clear path to major minutes on the wing, maybe he'd take a high-dollar, short-term deal that allows the 29-year-old to take another crack at securing a longer contract in a year or two.
With Mike D'Antoni out, bringing back Pau Gasol might be a possibility. He has a close relationship with Bryant and a history with the franchise. He's also reportedly a target of the Lakers, via Shelburne, although he's not L.A.'s top priority at the moment:
Lakers have a strong interest in resigning @paugasol .. but obviously have sights on LBJ/Melo right now— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) June 27, 2014
Former Laker Trevor Ariza might need to prove that his 2013-14 campaign (14.4 points on 45.6 percent shooting, 6.2 rebounds) was more than just a conveniently timed (see: contract year) breakout. Ditto for swingman Jodie Meeks, who put up a career-best 15.7 points a night for the Lakers this past season.
The Lakers could decide a second-tier target is worthy of a longer commitment—NBA.com's David Aldridge said they're "at the top of the list" of Kyle Lowry's suitors, although a league source told Bleacher Report's Ric Bucher that a deal sending Lowry to the Heat is "imminent"—but short of landing James, maintaining future flexibility seems to be the best move.
For all of the uncertainty with this roster, here's one thing we do know: The projected starting backcourt (Bryant and Steve Nash) are both on the wrong side of 35 and played a total of 21 games in 2013-14.
Assuming Randle secures a starting spot, the Lakers will also have a starter without a second of NBA experience.
Depth is going to be key for this group, regardless of how the franchise fares in free agency.
In that regard, L.A. could opt to return several members of last season's squad. The Lakers had the league's second-highest scoring bench in 2013-14 (42.3 points per game), via HoopsStats.com, and not all of those numbers belonged to Young.
Kent Bazemore and Xavier Henry should both get long looks from the front office. Both are athletic wing defenders, or virtual must-haves with an aging Bryant-Nash backcourt on the roster.
Bazemore, acquired at the trade deadline from the Golden State Warriors, averaged 13.1 points, 3.3 rebounds and 3.1 assists in 23 games for the Lakers. It sounds like that's all the time he needed to make a big impression with the franchise.
"The Lakers are very high on Bazemore," Basketball Insiders' Steve Kyler wrote. "... The smart money says he is back with the Lakers next season."
Henry, a lottery pick in 2010, played just 43 games last season before undergoing surgeries on his left wrist and right knee. There's reportedly mutual interest between him and the franchise to keep him in L.A.
"The Lakers would like to re-sign Henry," Medina reported. "... Henry would love to stay here."
If those two return, that could mean Wesley Johnson is on his way out. He brings a lot of the same qualities to the table, but at 26 years old, he's the oldest of the three.
Stretch forward Ryan Kelly, the Lakers' lone draft pick in 2013, could become a restricted free agent if the Lakers make a qualifying offer on him by June 30. Considering the free-agent splashes the Lakers plan on making now or later, keeping a young, cheap player with range like Kelly makes sense.
Chris Kaman was always a curious fit with D'Antoni, but it will be interesting to see how he's viewed now that the coach is gone. He's averaged double-digit points each of the last nine seasons and 7.9 rebounds for his career. He hasn't ruled out a return, via Pincus, but time will tell if the Lakers want him back.
The future isn't any easier to gauge for point guard Jordan Farmar and big man Jordan Hill. The former shares a position with Nash, Marshall and Clarkson, so there might not be a need to keep him around. Hill's interior game never fit D'Antoni's style, but the 26-year-old is reportedly keeping a close eye on the coaching search before making any plans for his future, according to Sean Deveney of Sporting News:
I was told that the future for @Lakers F Jordan Hill is not connected to their draft pick, but rather, "Depends on the coach"— Sean Deveney (@SeanDeveney) June 27, 2014
The Lakers seem set at point guard and should be fairly deep on the perimeter with so many of their own wings possibly returning.
The interior could be a far different story, with Randle and Robert Sacre as the only players manning the middle. If the Lakers are trying to get younger—or at least cheaper—down low, they could breathe some new life into their frontcourt.
If that's the case, they might consider taking fliers on Ekpe Udoh, Kevin Seraphin, Trevor Booker or Jason Smith. All four are under the age of 29, with the 28-year-old Smith serving as the senior member of the group. There might not be a ton of upside with any of the four, but their prices should reflect that.
Finding a veteran mentor for Randle, be that Gasol or someone from outside the franchise, wouldn't be a bad idea, either.
The Lakers' second team for next season could look similar to last season's reserves, but there should be at least a few new faces in the mix.
Once more pieces start falling into place, someone will need to put them all together. That someone could be arriving very soon.
Finding a Coach
The Lakers have had some big fish to fry this summer and several they're still cooking up. The process started with the lead up to Thursday's draft and will continue when the free-agent window officially opens on July 1.
With so many areas to address, it's not entirely shocking that the Lakers are the league's only team to have not yet filled their coaching vacancy. That seat could be filled shortly.
"We narrowed it down a bit," Kupchak said, via Medina. "We're comfortable we can secure a coach that we're very pleased to have."
That should be good news for former Laker Byron Scott. As sources told Shelburne, Scott "has emerged as the leading candidate for the head-coaching job after impressing in three interviews with the team."
Could that standing change? Until Scott signs on the dotted line, there's always the chance L.A. could decide to go in a different direction.
The franchise might not target the same candidate if James and/or Anthony comes on board as it would with a cap-saving roster built around Bryant. Potential hires could also change their opinions on the position if the Lakers make a splashy signing.
That plan should get a lot clearer in the coming days. Once the roster begins to take form, the Lakers will get a better idea of the type of coach that should be leading it.
There will surely be more twists and turns as this team-building process progresses. It's time for the Purple and Gold to buckle in, because the ride has officially begun.