The Los Angeles Lakers are used to dominating offseasons and imposing their will on the rest of the NBA, luring in quality free agents and using market-based hypnosis to convince players that pay cuts are just fine.
That hasn't been the case during the 2013 offseason, though, as the team has struggled to make many positive acquisitions. But at the same time, the Lakers have made an effort to sign some quality players—Chris Kaman, for example—leading a select group to believe that they're missing out on a chance to reload for the future.
Let's take a look back at what's gone down during the early portion of the offseason.
L.A.'s biggest move was one that didn't happen. Dwight Howard was the primary target, but he spurned the Purple and Gold for the allures of playing alongside James Harden and Chandler Parsons as a member of the Houston Rockets.
After that, the Lakers reportedly decided to amnesty Metta World Peace, courtesy of the O.C. Register's Kevin Ding:
This move, assuming it goes through, isn't an attempt to free up cap space for more free-agent signings. The Lakers are still too far over the cap for MWP's salary to matter. Instead, it's an effort to skirt a hefty luxury-tax bill during a season where reaching the playoffs would be a pleasant outcome.
L.A. has brought only three players onto the roster so far during the offseason: Jordan Farmar, Chris Kaman and Ryan Kelly.
Farmar isn't a difference-maker, but rather a player who can help fill up the roster and get the team to the required 1 players. He'll back up Steve Nash and should stay behind Steve Blake in the point guard rotation as well.
As for Kaman, he'll be a solid big man, but he's nothing more than a stopgap until the Lakers can find a better alternative. There's a reason that he only signed a one-year deal
Kelly, the stretch 4 out of Duke, was the team's second-round draft pick and won't make much of an impact. Unless he develops into a more physical player, he's doomed to be an end-of-the-rotation player throughout his NBA career.
None of these moves are going to help out the Lakers much in their pursuit of another championship, but are they preventing the team from reloading for more promising seasons in the future?
For two primary reasons, the answer is a definitive and resounding no.
No better options available
In order to prevent the team from progressing toward a brighter future, there have to be better options available.
According to Hoopshype.com, the Lakers went into the 2013 offseason with $77,316,630 committed to their players. That was before the pursuit of Dwight Howard, one that, if successful, would have pushed the team up above $100 million once it finished signing enough players to fill out a roster.
Quite simply, L.A. didn't have enough money to pursue high-potential options during free agency. How were they supposed to acquire championship-caliber pieces with minimum contracts when other teams with cap room could blow their offers out of the water?
Perhaps they could have made a better draft-day selection than Kelly (read as: they definitely could have), but the free-agency pursuits have gone about as well as one would hope. Even the Lakers can't expect too many high-quality players to take drastic pay cuts to play for a team without any hope of acquiring another ring.
Kaman was actually a solid signing, simply because the team is at least going to remain slightly competitive with a workable center lining up next to Pau Gasol. And if Pau starts, Kaman is more than capable of being the first big off the bench and thriving in the role.
Of course, this argument that there are no better options available doesn't solely apply to the free agents.
Another possible hindrance stems from veterans eating up minutes that could be divvied out to the younger, more promising players on the roster.
Well, if the Lakers had any players who qualified as such.
Let's take a look at the current depth chart (based on Rotoworld's depth charts but taking free agency into account):
- Point guard: Steve Nash, Steve Blake, Jordan Farmar
- Shooting guard: Kobe Bryant, Jodie Meeks
- Small forward: None
- Power forward: Pau Gasol, Ryan Kelly
- Center: Chris Kaman, Jordan Hill
So...uh...who exactly are the older players getting in the way of?
Thinking that Jodie Meeks is going to blossom into a superstar is delusional, and Jordan Hill will still get plenty of playing time. It's not like he has All-Star-caliber upside anyway.
Hell, it's not as if the Lakers are even preventing the role players of the future from developing. Plus L.A. doesn't even have plans to keep these guys on board past this year.
Still saving money for next offseason
Steve Nash is currently the only player under contract for the 2014-15 season, and he's owed $9.7 million. The Lakers do not have a single player on the books other than the Canadian point guard, including Kobe Bryant, who becomes an unrestricted free agent after next season.
The news gets even better.
Thanks to the stretch provision in the collective bargaining agreement, the Lakers can pay Nash $3.23 million per season over three years to lessen the cap hit in 2014-15. That's a logical decision to make as they pursue the superstars, so don't be surprised when they go into the summer of 2014 with about $55 million to spend on free agents.
That, more so than anything else, is why this offseason still has a positive side to it. Kaman, Farmar and whoever else the Lakers sign to fill the roster up really are nothing more than one-year holdovers until the possibilities become endless.
The Lake Show isn't missing out on an opportunity to reload for the future, but rather allowing themselves to do exactly that after the 2013-14 season draws to a conclusion.
Player options and early termination options come into play here, but LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Zach Randolph, Rudy Gay and more could all be available during the next offseason. There are a number of restricted free agents hitting the market—John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Paul George, etc.—but they're all likely to either be extended during the season or retained by their current teams.
Regardless, opportunity abounds for L.A. next summer.
Dwight Howard was an aberration, as most marquee free agents don't turn down a chance to wear purple and gold when they don't have to sacrifice either playing time or money. It's hard to offer more appeal than that provided by the Hollywood market and the championship banners hanging up in the rafters of the Staples Center.
The Lakers are one of the few teams with the ability to make a silent pitch; they can just let the franchise's history do the talking. We'll see that come into play at least a few times a year from now.
That said, there is one reason that signing a quality player like Kaman could come back to bite the organization. It has to do with a loaded 2014 draft class and a word that rhymes with "banking." I don't want to say it for fear of retribution from a certain Black Mamba.
The Lakers will never intentionally be bad.
Let me repeat.
The Lakers will never intentionally be bad.
Television contracts, massive fanbases and the knowledge that they can always lure stars in through free agency prevents it. As does the will of Kobe, a player who will never give less than 100 percent.
It may not seem like it during the 2013-14 season, but the Lakers have indeed made the right moves during a disappointing offseason. Sometimes patience is necessary.
One summer isn't always enough to reload.