Are LA Lakers Actually Improving This Offseason or Just Treading Water Again?

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Are LA Lakers Actually Improving This Offseason or Just Treading Water Again?
Danny Moloshok/Associated Press

Kobe Bryant isn't very patient. 

That's not an insult; it's just the truth. Now in the last few years of his storied career, the Mamba isn't content to just sit around and wait for the Los Angeles Lakers to complete a lengthy rebuild, instead hoping they make noise right away. He wants them to be competitive during the 2014-15 season, as he made clear back in April: 

And his sentiments didn't change in May: 

However, in July, they may have to take on a different approach. The Lakers haven't managed to land any of the marquee free agents in the 2014 class, though it's not from a lack of effort. Instead they opted to re-sign a couple pieces from the 2013-14 bunch and trade for a player who lines up at an already-crowded position. 

I hate to be the one who breaks it to Kobe (fortunately, I'm not the first to say this), but next season is not going to be epic. Well, unless epic involves being part of the group of teams that ends up in the hunt for Jahlil Okafor, the presumed No. 1 pick of the 2015 NBA draft. 

The future Hall of Famer may have expected changes this summer, but the Lake Show is just treading water until 2015. 

 

The Players Involved

Danny Moloshok/Associated Press

Thus far, the Lakers have made three major moves. 

First, they traded for Jeremy Lin, helping the Houston Rockets free up some cap room by sending cash to general manager Daryl Morey for the point guard and a 2015 first-round pick, per USA Today's Sam Amick. After that, it was on to the free-agency pool. 

As Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski reported, the Lakers re-signed Jordan Hill to a two-year deal worth $18 million. While the contract is a steady one, paying the dreadlocked big man $9 million each season, it contains a team option for the 2015-16 season, allowing LAL to get out of its financial commitment should it prove to be too much of a burden. 

"The Lakers greatly valued Hill, and held off a market that included the Dallas Mavericks and Houston Rockets, league sources said," wrote Wojnarowski. "He's a favorite of teammate Kobe Bryant, who has long been an advocate to re-signing him."

But Hill wasn't the only member of the old guard who was retained. The Lakers are still planning on getting a little Swaggy P in their lives throughout the foreseeable future. 

According to NBA.com's David Aldridge, Nick Young will be with the Lakers for the next three or four years, depending on what he decides to do with his player option for the 2017-18 season: 

It's safe to say this wasn't the impressive bunch the Lakers hoped to reel in with their cap space this offseason. Rather than inking Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James or one of the many restricted free agents linked to Hollywood prior to the start of the offseason, L.A. basically ended up with a collection of spare parts. 

Adding Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson—who I firmly believe will make an impact even if he slipped to the second round of the 2014 NBA draft—will help, as will the return of Kobe Bryant. Finding a coach who can better utilize the incumbents should aid the win-loss record as well. 

Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images

However, the Lakers are pretty much capped out now. 

General manager Mitch Kupchak entered the offseason with four players under contract—Kobe, Kendall Marshall, Steve Nash and Robert Sacre. Though Nash could be waived via the stretch provision, thereby cutting his cap contributions into a much smaller chunk, that hasn't happened yet. Marshall's contract is still unguaranteed, but he remains on the roster as well. 

Between those four players, the Lakers are on the hook for $35,031,486. 

Throw in Lin's salary—he's paid $15 million because of the poison pill he signed with the Rockets, but his cap contributions are less—of $8,374,646, and the Lake Show is up to $43,406,132. Add in Young's salary (assuming a flat contract over the four years) and the $9 million owed to Hill, and the total rises to $57,781,132. 

But that's not it, because Randle and Clarkson have to be paid, even if the former hasn't signed a contract yet. Presumably, that's to save the Lakers cap room by only counting his draft hold, not because he isn't going to be on the roster. 

Even if we assume that Randle signs for the exact value of a No. 7 pick (not 120 percent of the value, as many first-round picks make), he's on the books for $2,497,800, per RealGM.com. Clarkson could get the rookie minimum of $507,336, as broken down by Larry Coon's CBA FAQ, though he could make more as a second round pick. 

That pushes the Lakers total—without cap holds from non-renounced players, mind you—to a minimum of $60,786,268. With the salary cap set at $63.065 million, according to an official release from NBA.com, the Lakers are basically out of financial flexibility. 

They'll add a few minor pieces to fill up the roster with the required number of players, but you're already looking at the key pieces. The only way around that would be completing a sign-and-trade with Pau Gasol, getting back a piece from the Chicago Bulls, but that's increasing unlikely given the dire financial straits. 

 

Can These Lakers Really Be Competitive? 

USA TODAY Sports

The short answer is a definitive no.

The longer answer requires looking at the current depth chart:

Lakers Depth Chart
PG SG SF PF C
Starter Jeremy Lin Kobe Bryant Nick Young Julius Randle Jordan Hill
Primary Backup Steve Nash Jordan Clarkson Robert Sacre
Secondary Backup Kendall Marshall

That's not exactly a promising bunch.

You have a point guard who hasn't been able to live up to the hype he produced when breaking out for the New York Knicks. Sidenote: Isn't it ironic that the Lakers acquired Lin right after letting go of Mike D'Antoni, who's the only NBA coach to use the Harvard product effectively? 

"Los Angeles did more than pick up a backup point guard, they accrued much-needed assets in a future first-round pick and draft considerations with the package," writes Josh Pianos for The Washington Post. Ultimately, that's the real reason why Lin was acquired, not for his on-court contributions during one down season, even if he and Kobe will likely end up being the backcourt staters for the Western Conference All-Star team. 

USA TODAY Sports

If the 2-guard was voted in despite playing only a handful of games, he's in for sure with a full—or nearly a full—season under his belt. And don't forget that Lin trailed only Kobe, Stephen Curry and Chris Paul in the fan voting while on the Rockets, making him a sharpie-it-in lock with the Lakers faithful behind him. 

Kobe is certainly a standout, but he's coming off multiple major injuries. He wasn't particularly effective in his return from the Achilles injury, and while betting against the Mamba is stupid, we have to at least temper the expectations. 

Swaggy P is a solid scorer, but he doesn't bring that much else to the cause, and he won't exert the same type of ball dominance when he's playing alongside Kobe. Randle is a rookie without much initial hope on the defensive end, and Hill is a limited player who has never averaged double-figures in either points or rebounds. 

The Lakers don't exactly have the recipe for success figured out. Especially without any sort of depth except in the over-crowded backcourt. Especially while playing in the Western Conference. 

Barring either a miracle or every star in the West simultaneously tearing an ACL, a finish near the top of the lottery is far more likely than a playoff berth, much less a shot at a championship. There's been long-term improvement by adding high-upside rookies and securing Young's services, but the Lakers aren't really getting any better in the present. 

At least 2015 is still in the picture. 

 

Preserving Space for 2015

USA TODAY Sports

Let's run through the salaries once more, looking at each of the players who are already under contract or soon will be (Randle). 

Kobe's cap impact rises to $25 million next season, but he's the only massive deal on the books. Nash Lin and Marshall have expiring contracts, and Sacre's salary is no longer guaranteed. Hill has a team option contained within his new agreement and can be let go of with no financial ramifications. 

That leaves only Swaggy P and the young rookies. 

Clarkson's exact salary—if he's even kept around, which I suspect he will be—is undetermined, but it won't be much more than $1 million, if it even rises to seven figures. Randle—again assuming the 100 percent salary, not 120 percent of the rookie scale—will be on the books for $2,610,200. And Young's earnings— should he be operating on a flat contract, not an escalating or declining one—will remain at $5,375,000. 

Add all that up, counting Clarkson's portion at exactly $1 million for the sake of convenience, and the Lakers are looking at having $33,985,200 locked up for 2015-16. That's excluding the eventual salaries of the team's draft picks and any cap holds that will apply during the 2015 offseason, but it still leaves the franchise with plenty of monetary flexibility. 

After all, the cap will only continue to rise, and the Lakers should have enough space to continue rostering the incumbents while offering any two players max deals. Given the wealth of talent expected to become available next summer, that's undoubtedly a positive. 

Are the Lakers going to be better this year than they were in 2013-14?

Submit Vote vote to see results

Between Marc Gasol, Kevin Love, Rajon Rondo, Brook Lopez, DeAndre Jordan, Goran Dragic, LaMarcus Aldridge, Rudy Gay and so many more, the Lakers are bound to find two players who both strike their fancy and would be willing to don a purple-and-gold uniform. 

Should that happen, it'll make this summer's stagnation worthwhile. Maybe even Kobe, uber-intense competitor that he may be, will see that after the losses finish piling up. 

 

Note: All salary information comes from ShamSports.com

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