The Los Angeles Lakers are supposed to attract the biggest and brightest stars in the NBA. To some, this is the natural order of things. So far, the 2014 NBA free-agency period has brought little in the way of star power to Tinseltown.
LeBron James is heading back to Cleveland. Carmelo Anthony is reportedly going to re-sign with the New York Knicks, via The New York Times' Scott Cacciola. Even Pau Gasol, who's won two championships in Los Angeles, is reportedly headed to Chicago, per his Twitter account:
It hasn't been easy. After meditating it a lot I've chosen to play with the Chicago Bulls. Looking forward to this new chapter of my career— Pau Gasol (@paugasol) July 12, 2014
The Bulls are working to finalize a deal that would land them the free agent forward, a person with knowledge of the situation told USA TODAY Sports. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because the deal was still being discussed. While a sign-and-trade deal with the Los Angeles Lakers had been discussed, the person said it would be a straight signing.
Should the Bulls complete that deal, the Lakers are left to flesh out the roster with bit players and hope that Kobe Bryant's Achilles tendon holds up for another grueling NBA season. At least, that's how things might shake out, according to the latest rumors surrounding the purple and gold.
Lakers Are Not Seriously Interested in Lance Stephenson
So the Lakers need star power. Surely they will go after a hard-nosed player like Lance Stephenson with Anthony and James no longer being options, right?
According to the source, the remaining serious suitors for Stephenson are expected to be Charlotte, Dallas—if and when the Rockets match the Mavs’ offer sheet for Chandler Parsons—and Indiana. Several teams mentioned in connection with Stephenson, including Boston, Chicago and the Lakers, have not been serious in their pursuit, the source said, while others could register late interest.
Should the Lakers fall short in the Stephenson sweepstakes, this marquee franchise will be almost a sure bet to end the summer without snagging any of the top-tier free agents on the market.
Stephenson averaged 13.8 points, 7.2 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game last season. His numbers are solid, but the 23-year-old star is coveted for his physicality and potential growth.
He's shown flashes of the same kind of dogged persona that would please the hypercompetitive Bryant, but the Lakers may not see him as a centerpiece to a championship contender.
With a bullish market out there for his services, the Lakers are wise to stay out of this bidding war, even if it means they won't sign a big-name player in 2014.
If the Lakers still need to add depth to the perimeter, they can perhaps re-sign Xavier Henry. The athletic forward has the potential to become a strong contributor if given the opportunity. He averaged 17.1 points and 4.5 rebounds per 36 minutes last season, per Basketball-Reference.com.
Lakers Still Plan to Keep Nash, For Now
According to the Los Angeles Times' Mike Bresnahan, the Lakers still plan to keep Steve Nash in the fold:
I'm told the Lakers keep Nash for now. They have until September to decide whether to waive him and stretch his $9.7-mill salary over 3 yrs— Mike Bresnahan (@Mike_Bresnahan) July 11, 2014
Nash was injured for much of last season and is due $9.7 million next season, per Spotrac.com. Should the Lakers waive his contract, it would spread the cap hit over the next three seasons, taking away some of the team's wiggle room under the salary cap in 2015 and beyond.
This leaves the Lakers with some choices to make at the point guard position. The Lakers traded with the Houston Rockets to acquire Jeremy Lin, per USA Today's Sam Amick, and could still pick up Kendall Marshall's team option for next year.
Here is how the three players stack up against one another based on last year's stats:
Nash's numbers are more of a reflection of his health than his true ability. When he's on his game, few defenses in the NBA are a match for his eagle-eyed court vision and superior ball-handling skills.
Lin is a much better scorer than Marshall and a solid passer, although the latter showed last season that he could put up big assist numbers without a talented squad surrounding him.
All three players are detrimental to the team on defense—Marshall and Nash are slow, while Lin tends to get lost on the defensive end. He gave up plenty of minutes to the tenacious Patrick Beverley last season.
Which of these point guards has the best chance of making the Lakers' 2014-15 roster?
This is something the Lakers will need to either mask or correct over the course of the next few seasons if they are to start challenging for championships again.
The outlier here is rookie second-rounder Jordan Clarkson, whom the Lakers acquired in a draft-night deal with the Washington Wizards. Clarkson is a 6'6" combo guard who can add much needed depth to this Lakers team on the cheap.
If the Lakers do keep Nash in order to avoid having part of his salary on the books for next season, it will almost assuredly force the Lakers to drop either Clarkson or Marshall before the season begins.