They could give up on the year, throwing in the towel and essentially tanking for a chance at Andrew Wiggins. Doing so would have doomed coach Mike D'Antoni to an early departure from the sidelines of the Staples Center.
The other option was tougher, and it involved making value signings and figuring out a way to maximize the talent on the roster. Of course, that's the route the ever-proud Lakers chose, and it's one that proves D'Antoni is here to stay.
The D'Antoni System
In order for this argument to work, you need a rudimentary understanding of the offense D'Antoni runs. We don't need to get into the nuances, but at least let's deal with the basics.
While offenses like the Triangle Offense and the Miami Heat's current system under Erik Spoelstra are rather complicated and require plenty of practice, D'Antoni's offensive concepts are rooted in simplicity. He's going to have his team run plenty of pick-and-roll sets, use backdoor cuts and play uptempo basketball that promotes quick shots and plenty of three-pointers.
You can view a basic video breakdown of the system here:
There are plenty of European-style complications as well.
D'Antonio often asks his players to form bunches on the wings during the middle of the action, confusing defenses about who picks up whom when they break. It's sort of similar to that out-of-bounds play everyone ran while growing up, the one where the players line up and run in random directions when the passer yells, "Break."
He also loves to have his big men screen in one direction and then re-screen in the other, a play that's awfully difficult for any guard to navigate properly.
More than anything else, D'Antoni's system is about lots of movement and plenty of shooting. His teams always play at one of the quickest paces possible, and they just love jacking up three-pointers.
According to Basketball-Reference, the Lakers jumped from running 90.5 possessions per game in 2011-12, 20th in the league, to 94.4 in 2012-13, the fifth-most. And that's factoring in the slower offenses run under Mike Brown and Bernie Bickerstaff at the beginning of the latter year.
New Additions Fit with the Team
Every successful Mike D'Antoni team needs a conscience-less gunner, and that's the role Nick Young fills to perfection. Passing isn't in this shooting guard's vocabulary; the word is instead replaced by synonyms for "shoot."
Young had a 9.7 assist percentage in 2012-13, and that was a massive improvement from his previous seasons. As his 5.4 three-point attempts per 36 minutes last year showed, he's still all about shooting.
The 2-guard especially thrives when he's allowed to come off screens, which will happen quite often under D'Antoni. According to Synergy Sports (subscription required), Young scored 1.09 points per possession when doing so, ranking him 15th in the Association.
Take a look at this play, because it's the kind you're going to see Young run quite often with the Lakers (and Kobe Bryant too, for that matter):
For this example to work, you're going to have to pretend that there are more than 15 seconds left on the shot clock, but that shouldn't be too difficult. The Lakers will run this play at a different time in the countdown, but it will still require a lot of movement.
Everything begins with Nick Young (green circle) getting a screen from Dorell Wright and cutting to the baseline.
The ball is swung to Wright, who pops out after the screen is used. Now Young is on the other end of the court, still well away from the ball.
One of the keys here is that the ball moves a lot. Passes are faster than even the speediest NBA players, so ball movement is key.
Young uses a second screen, this time from first-year big man Arnett Moultrie. He runs around the pick to free himself just inside the arc, and Wright still controls the ball.
With Deron Williams trailing, Young receives the ball and has a chance to get into the lane. Thus far, nothing has differentiated him from what the average NBA player does in the situation.
But that quickly changes.
In a matter of milliseconds—however long it takes Young to complete one step-back dribble—there's an enormous amount of separation between the shooting guard and his defender. He's opened up enough room that he has a clear look at the basket with no defensive pressure.
And he calmly drills the shot for an easy two points.
Expect to see plenty of similar off-ball movement from Young, to whom D'Antoni will avoid giving the ball early in the shot clock unless he's asked to shoot. The head coach would presumably rather avoid letting the former Sixer go to work in isolation, even if he thrives while doing so.
Moving on to the team's second-round draft pick, Ryan Kelly was clearly picked with D'Antoni in mind. There's no other explanation for reaching to select a power forward whose biggest—and potentially only—positive attribute is his knack for stretching the court.
Kelly is an extremely limited athlete who will inevitably struggle to hang with other NBA players on defense, and he won't make an impact on the boards either.
However, he can shoot the three-ball, something he did quite often while playing under Mike Krzyzewski for the Duke Blue Devils.
The 7-footer made 1.5 triples per game during his senior season, and he did so while shooting 42.2 percent from behind the arc. While both the number of makes and his efficiency will drop as he loses playing time and deals with a deeper arc, he's still exactly the kind of big man D'Antoni loves having on the bench.
Jordan Farmar has prior experience winning championships with the Lakers, and now he'll be looking to return in a big way for a team without similar hopes and dreams.
He's another player who thrives scoring off screens.
According to Synergy, he put up 1.14 points per possession in that situation in 2011-12 (his last go-round in the Association). That number ranked fifth in the league.
Farmar is also a great three-point shooter, and that's vital for any point guard playing in a D'Antoni system.
Back in 2011-12, he helped the New Jersey Nets out by shooting 44 percent from behind the arc while taking 3.2 attempts per game. To put that in perspective, only 18 different players have matched or exceeded those numbers in the last five seasons.
That shooting percentage could be a bit of an aberration, but Farmar has always been good from behind the arc. "Great" only applies to that 2011-12 season, even if there's no telling what he'll do in his follow-up campaign.
At the very least, Farmar will be a threatening enough presence that teams will either have to force their guards to play over every screen or send their big men out to hedge, and that opens up all sorts of opportunities for Pau Gasol on the high blocks.
Trying to Compete This Season
Do the Lakers' moves make it look like they're tanking?
The fact that they're committing to this season and attempting to stay competitive is as big a testament to D'Antoni's long-term future as anything. They're putting pieces around the coach that will let him thrive, and they're trying to give him a chance right now.
L.A. didn't have to sign someone like Chris Kaman. Mitch Kupchak could easily have gone after lesser targets and declined acquiring a capable big who will actually be a decent stopgap until the center of the future is acquired.
He could have traded away Steve Nash, trying to clear up even more cap space for the summer of 2014 instead of leaving the more-than-capable point guard on the roster.
Instead—and it's worth noting that no sane NBA executive would ever explicitly admit to tanking—Kupchak firmly denied he was interested in anything but success, as reported by the Los Angeles Times' Mike Bresnahan in an article that also confirmed the GM's confidence in his head coach:
You know that's not our plan. Our plan was to bring back Dwight Howard and that would have sky-rocketed our payroll. That's never a plan here with our fan base, to throw in the towel before the season begins. We always try to win, and that's what we're going to do this year.
We have challenges. There's no doubt. We don't know when Kobe's coming back, and we don't know what level he's going to come back at, although we're optimistic. Everything's good with Steve [Nash]. Pau [Gasol] should be fine. We've added some athleticism. We're hopefully putting ourselves in position where we can compete in every game.
Everything points toward D'Antoni staying for a while.
Things could change if this season is a pure, unmitigated disaster for the Purple and Gold, but D'Antoni is almost assuredly going to last far longer than Mike Brown and Bernie Bickerstaff did before him.
The history of this franchise is littered with great coaches and players, but the men who hold the clipboard have historically tended to last either for a long time or flame out rather quickly. There isn't much middle ground.
It looks like D'Antoni has moved past the period of time in which he's vulnerable to flames.
Can he stay off the hot seat, though?
We won't know the answer to that question for a long time, but the Lakers are doing everything possible to assure that he remains well clear of it.