Fans of the Los Angeles Lakers know the score—after the worst loss record in the history of the franchise, an offseason of rebuilding awaits. And, it will probably look more like baby steps than a championship roster for now.
Without a strong free-agency market this summer, Lakers management will likely spend its money judiciously, saving cap space for 2015 when Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge, Rajon Rondo and Marc Gasol will be available.
That means more short-term minimum-salary deals, perhaps some mid-range contracts and luckily a choice pick for the 2014 NBA draft which will be held June 26.
And until we hear differently, it has to be assumed that Mike D’Antoni will be back for another season to coach his determined and sometimes myopic brand of small ball.
The Lakers are hoping the ping-pong balls bounce their way at the annual draft lottery on May 20. It’s more likely, however, that the pick will reflect their sixth-worst record in the league.
According to Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times, the Purple and Gold have 43.9 percent chance of staying at the No. 6 pick and a 30.5 percent chance of dropping to No. 7.
Among likely choices at the sixth position are point guard Marcus Smart and power forwards Julius Randle, Aaron Gordon and Noah Vonleh.
They also have a 6.3 percent chance to land the top overall pick for those who dare to dream.
The Lakers have just a handful of players locked up for next season, two of whom are aging legends. Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash will account for approximately $33,200,000 in payroll—over half of the projected salary cap of $63.2 million for 2014-15, per Larry Coon’s CBA FAQ Blog.
Robert Sacre, a 7-foot utility center, was the Lakers’ dead-last pick in the 2012 draft and has had a fair amount of development time under D’Antoni. He’ll earn $915,243 next season.
And then there’s point guard Kendall Marshall, the No. 13 pick by the Phoenix Suns in 2012. Marshall didn’t pan out his rookie season and was signed out of the D-League in December by the Lakers. He’s been a pleasant surprise, averaging eight points and 8.8 assists in 54 games. Like Sacre, Marshall is also under contract for $915,243 next season.
The Lakers can also make qualifying offers of $1,115,243 to Kent Bazemore—an explosive yet often reckless second-year guard—and $1,016,482 to Ryan Kelly—a classic stretch 4 and the Lakers’ No. 48 pick in last year’s draft.
Bazemore and Kelly will become restricted free agents once qualified offers are extended, but it’s doubtful other teams will bid for them.
Team free agents
The Lakers' top three big men, Pau Gasol, Jordan Hill and Chris Kaman, will almost certainly sign elsewhere this summer, leaving a giant gap in the frontcourt.
Wesley Johnson was often used out of position as a ridiculously undersized power forward, and while he had moments of stupefying athleticism, he was also inconsistent. The former No. 4 overall pick was given plenty of chances with 62 starts out of 79 games played this season but may not have done enough for an invite back.
MarShon Brooks came to L.A. along with Bazemore in a money-saving swap that sent veteran point guard Steve Blake to the Golden State Warriors. Brooks had a few nice moments but probably won’t be pursued.
Jodie Meeks, on the other hand, had a career season in every statistical category, averaging 15.7 points on 46 percent shooting overall and 40 percent from behind the arc. Other teams will make offers this summer for the unrestricted free agent. The Lakers want him back, but how much will they pay?
It may become a matter of choosing between Meeks and Nick “Swaggy P” Young—the charismatic gunner who led the Lakers in scoring this season and who will opt out of his player’s option to test the marketplace.
Per Dave McMenamin of ESPN LA, Young feels a deal will get worked out to remain in Los Angeles: "I'm very confident. I think we're going to come to some kind of agreement and hopefully it happens. We just got to see what they're going to do."
As always, it’s a question of how much and for how long, but it wouldn’t be at all surprising to see Young get a multiyear offer to stay in Los Angeles for somewhere in the vicinity of $5 million a year.
The Lakers will probably try and swing Young’s deal first. In the event it works, Meeks may be bumped out of the budget.
Xavier Henry poses another interesting question mark. The athletic swingman was having a breakout season for the Lakers before he hurt his knee. He managed to come back but got injured again, requiring surgery on both his knee and wrist. It would be worth giving Henry another one-year minimum-salary deal as a continued audition for the future.
Jordan Farmar missed 41 games due to hamstring and groin injuries in his return to Los Angeles. He looked good when he was on the court, however, and fits well into D’Antoni’s fast-paced system. Management will probably offer him another minimum-salary deal.
Outside free agents
The Lakers are in dire need of a starting center, and Marcin Gortat could be that guy. Currently manning the middle for the Washington Wizards in their playoff run, the soon-to-be free agent combines defensive toughness with a great feel for pick-and-roll offense. Still in his seventh NBA season, Gortat could be a force for years to come. The question, of course, will be his price in a weak free-agent field.
Another current member of the Wizards is Trevor Ariza, who won a ring with the Lakers earlier in his career. The 6’8” swingman has been lighting it up in the playoffs, dropping 30 points against the Chicago Bulls for the win on Monday night. He’s in the last year of his contract, and again, it’s a matter of cost while preserving cap room for 2015.
If D’Antoni indeed comes back, expect him to ask management to sign Shawne Williams to another minimum-salary deal. The combo forward was waived in January before his $1.1 million would have become fully guaranteed.
According to Ramona Shelburne for ESPN LA, his coach wasn’t thrilled by the decision: “He will fight for you in a heartbeat and he was a voice in the locker room for us. I could trust him basketball-wise anything I told him. He did the best he could do. He was good. I'll miss him."
Williams was picked up off waivers by the Lakers' D-league affiliate—the D-Fenders. He was brought back to the parent team for an additional 10-day contract and was in line for another before Bazemore and Brooks arrived from Golden State, thus filling the 15-man roster.
Another D’Antoni longtime favorite is Shawn Marion, who's in the last year of his Dallas Mavericks contract and part of their postseason starting lineup. A key member of the Phoenix Suns “seven seconds or less” era, Marion is about to turn 36. His best days may be behind him, but he could still fill a low-salary role in Los Angeles.
Finally, James Southerland is a young combo forward who could plug some holes on the cheap. The 6’8” former Syracuse University sharpshooter played with the Los Angeles D-Fenders for most of the season before signing with the New Orleans Pelicans for their final four games. The Pelicans will likely extend him a summer league invite, but he’s still fair game.
The Lakers won’t fulfill all their wishes with this next roster, but they can make some headway without mortgaging the future regardless of who their coach is. Nash’s salary will come off the books at the end of the 2014-15 season, helping to clear cap space for a marquee player.
There is a tricky numbers game to be played between now and then as well as the need to improve on this wretched past season.
Because nobody wants to see 55 losses for this Lakers franchise—ever again.
*All Lakers' salary figures per Sham Sports.