The addition of Kentucky standout Julius Randle with the No. 7 pick in the draft is a start, but he’s just one piece to the overall puzzle. It will take much more if L.A. plans on returning to the playoffs in 2015.
Considering the two returning backcourt members managed to play in just 21 games combined during 2013-14, the Lakers have a lot of work to do. Not only will general manager Mitch Kupchak have to build a complete roster around the few guys returning, but he’ll also need to create insurance for aging stars.
Put simply, Lakerland may be in for more of a challenge this summer than any other franchise.
Where the Lakers go from here will define whether or not they’ll climb out of the Western Conference basement.
The Lakers’ 2014 offseason needs can be summed up with one word: Everything.
Heck, the front office hasn’t even decided on a coach to replace the embattled Mike D’Antoni. Former Laker and Coach of the Year winner Byron Scott is considered the front-runner, per ESPN.com’s Ramona Shelburne, but nothing is official just yet.
Building a roster without a coaching staff in place isn’t an ideal starting point for Kupchak and Co., but that’s where we stand.
Assuming that Bryant will come back healthy next season, the Lakers shouldn’t have an issue finding offense at the shooting guard spot. Still, D’Antoni’s up-tempo system is likely to devolve with a new man patrolling the sideline. As a result, L.A. must find guys who can complement the Black Mamba’s fading skills.
Randle isn’t exactly what scouts would call polished on the offensive end, so targeting an interior scorer should be a priority.
Aside from that, defense was the Lakers’ Achilles' heel.
D’Antoni took a lot of the blame for those defensive shortcomings. While those criticisms are somewhat warranted, he didn’t have the personnel needed to make L.A. an adequate defensive team—especially following the departure of Dwight Howard last summer.
The Lakers finished 28th in defensive efficiency during 2013-14 by allowing 107.9 points per 100 possessions, according to ESPN.com. The less glamorous end of the court is an area that has to be addressed with multiple pieces moving forward.
Lakers Free Agents
In the backcourt, L.A. must figure out what to do with Jodie Meeks, Jordan Farmar and MarShon Brooks.
Meeks played his way to a hefty new contract thanks to D’Antoni’s offensive bump—meaning the Lakers likely won’t be able to afford him. Farmar could be brought back so long as Los Angeles thinks he can stay healthy, but Brooks is a guy who could be the odd man out.
The Lakers also have a slew of swingmen hitting the open market: Nick Young, Kent Bazemore, Xavier Henry and Wesley Johnson.
That fails to mention the big men: Ryan Kelly, Chris Kaman, Jordan Hill and Pau Gasol.
Everything depends on Kupchak’s vision for the franchise, but it’s safe to assume a handful of familiar faces will return.
The Lakers can choose to go in a variety of different directions during the offseason but two paths come to the forefront.
Should keeping cap space for 2015 be the No. 1 priority?
First, the Lakers could target big-name stars to slot beside Bryant in an effort to become contenders immediately after an abysmal year. That depends upon mutual interest from said stars, but it’s a possibility.
Second, Kupchak could do exactly what he did last year. He can fill out the roster with a mishmash of lower tier guys on one-year deals, thus keeping cap flexibility for 2015 when fresh faces are set to hit the market (like Kevin Love).
The second option definitely won’t please Bryant or fans, but it could happen if free agents decide not to invest in a team that just lost 55 games.
As far as potential targets are concerned, Bleacher Report’s Adam Fromal wrote, “The Purple and Gold have the money necessary to go out and get virtually any free agent. LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony want to play together? Well, here’s a legitimate destination, so long as they’re willing to take slight pay cuts.”
Every NBA franchise with cap space (and even some without it) are going to express interest in James, so this isn’t much of a surprise.
ESPN.com’s Dave McMenamin addressed L.A.’s desire to woo James and Melo to the west coast, but he also addressed a more realistic signing:
Although the Lakers' ideal free agency scenario involves convincing both LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony to come play for them this summer, according to a source with knowledge of the team's thinking, they are not ruling out the return of the four-time All-Star and two-time NBA champion Gasol by any means.
Bringing back the veteran Spaniard would undoubtedly help calm Bryant’s nerves. Lakers fans appear to be on the fence as to whether they’d like to see Gasol return, and while he’s no longer in his prime, he still has plenty left in the tank.
Another name to look out for is Sacramento Kings restricted free agent Isaiah Thomas, per Basketball Insiders’ Alex Kennedy:
Isaiah Thomas grew up as a Lakers fan, so getting that call must have been special. Last week, he told me LA offer sheet would "mean a lot."— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) July 1, 2014
The Kings have the option to match any offer for the diminutive point guard, but it couldn’t hurt for the Lakers to extend him an offer sheet and hope for the best. Nash is a shell of his former self and can no longer handle the grind of an 82-game schedule. Thomas, meanwhile, is an All-Star-caliber talent with youth on his side.
The Lakers should be thinking big after a stinker of a season. At the very least, they have plenty of options and money to spend.