It is no secret that the Los Angeles Lakers are looking to make some roster moves. After consecutive early exits from the playoffs, a shake-up of personnel is a definite possibility. The Lakers franchise is synonymous with winning basketball, yet they have not lived up to expectations as of late. It will take a significant amount of work to re-structure this team going forward.
For a second straight year, Pau Gasol did not play as well as he could have in the postseason. This year’s averages of 12.5 points and 9.5 rebounds on .434 percent shooting were not what LA needed. Kobe Bryant was cited expressing his feelings. "Pau has got to be more assertive; he’s got to be more aggressive.” Now the blame for their exit from the playoffs cannot fall solely on Gasol.
The entire team’s defensive focus dropped as they allowed 98.2 points per game, a differential from their regular season average of 95.9. Containing the Oklahoma City Thunder is no easy feat, but a team of the Lakers’ caliber is expected to. It is for this reason that L.A.’s roster will be substantially different next season. However, it will be very difficult to do so.
The Lakers have an excellent ensemble of players in Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Metta World Peace. Unfortunately, it has been this core that is continually unsuccessful in the postseason. The leash for general manager Mitch Kupchak to make significant roster moves is very short.
The NBA salary cap presently sits at around $53 million. Excluding the team option for Bynum’s contract which will no doubt be picked up, LA is already over the cap at $63 million. That is also excluding the contract options of Ramon Sessions and Jordan Hill. It will be difficult to trade Gasol and receive equal value, let alone to shed salary as well. Bryant is owed $54 million over the next two seasons, significantly hindering the team’s ability to sign players. He is a spectacular player in his own right, yet is not worth such an amount at age 33.
One possible scenario is trading Gasol to Houston for Luis Scola and Kyle Lowry. The point guard is at odds with head coach Kevin McHale, and has boldly stated “If things aren't addressed coaching-wise, I guess I have to be moved.” LA could then let Ramon Sessions leave via free agency, thereby replacing him with a better guard in Lowry. Scola is a solid low-post threat, and would be a nice replacement for Pau Gasol. He does not have Gasol’s defensive presence, but that is something LA will have to deal with.
One of the Lakers’ largest problems this season was the lack of help on the perimeter. World Peace found his shot toward the end of the season, averaging 14.1 points in April. If he can resume this type of play next season, this scenario would be resolved for LA. Signing a perimeter player with the mini mid-level exception of $2.5 million would be their first priority going into free agency.
The Lakers still retain rights to use the amnesty clause on a contract, which could fall on Steve Blake. He has been a solid back-up point guard, yet does not possess great play-making abilities. There is a plethora of free agent guards who would no doubt be interested in signing with a perennial franchise like the Los Angeles Lakers.
Amnestying Blake would not only clear cap space for future moves, but allow LA to have a fresh roster going into next season. A starting line-up of Lowry, Bryant, World Peace, Scola and Bynum is slightly less flamboyant than having Gasol down low. Yet LA may have no choice going forward in hope of winning another title.