5 Things the Los Angeles Lakers Must Address During the 2015 Offseason
The summer of 2015 will be a crucial phase in the rebuilding plan of the Los Angeles Lakers.
"I’ve been assured by our basketball operations that the team will be back in contention soon. If we are not meeting those goals, then changes have to occur," Jeanie Buss told the Los Angeles News Group, per Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News.
There are a lot of issues to work out before that can happen, but the Lakers have the means to do it.
Armed with a pair of first-round picks in June's draft and oodles of salary cap room, L.A. will go into the offseason ready to fill the many holes in its roster.
Or will it?
Before changes can be made, the franchise's leadership must come to consensus on how to move ahead.
Finalizing a plan for the future is the first of five things the Lakers must address this offseason.
1. Team Philosophy
First things first. The Lakers organization needs to develop a clear vision for the future.
As of right now, different parties seem to have different interests at heart.
In a GQ Magazine feature last month, Kobe Bryant told Chuck Klosterman, "I know that [the Lakers' front office] are hell-bent about having a championship caliber team next season, as am I".
However, GM Mitch Kupchak doesn't echo Bryant's conviction.
As Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News reported, Kupchak went on record to say, "...to jeopardize the next five or seven years and bring in old veterans that make a lot of money, just to win one more year, because that’s Kobe’s last year or could be his last year, I’m not sure that fits into doing it the right way.”
The Lakers can open up significant cap space this season—enough to make a run at multiple top-tier free agents.
They are close to securing a top-five draft pick this season. They have last year's lottery pick returning healthy for the 2015-16 campaign, as well as an additional first-round selection in this draft.
Los Angeles has the tools necessary to build a competitive team for next season. But it has to figure out if that's the way it wants to go, or if it would rather wait it out for one more season.
Bryant's massive contract comes off the books in 2016, opening up bundles of cap space to lure max free agents with. It would also give the kids an extra year of seasoning at the NBA level, preparing them to take a leap just as the organization shifts into contender mode.
But the Lakers have to choose one path or the other. As Mike Ehrmantraut taught us in Breaking Bad, you can't take half measures.
2. Point Guard
The NBA has turned into a point guard-driven league. Seemingly every team has a good point guard—or even two—to lead the way. Yet the Lakers have been bereft of an upper echelon lead guard since...that one year of Gary Payton?
Los Angeles has ample opportunity to rectify that this offseason.
Rookie Jordan Clarkson could be the answer. Since taking over as the starting point guard, Clarkson has looked better than any second-round rookie could be expected to look, but his skills point more towards a sixth man-type role than a starting point guard.
Looking elsewhere, L.A. could go shopping for a point guard in free agency.
Rajon Rondo looks eminently available after a recent dust-up with his head coach, and Kobe Bryant has vowed to keep recruiting the former NBA champ.
The Lakers couldn't pry Goran Dragic away from the Phoenix Suns at the trade deadline, but they'll get another chance to land him over the summer. A source close to the Slovenian star believes the Lakers are a "perfect fit" for Dragic in free agency, per Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News.
The draft is another option for L.A.
Ohio State's D'Angelo Russell has drawn comparisons to James Harden with his prolific production. Meanwhile, Emmanuel Mudiay showed enough in a brief stint in China to keep teams interested.
Both prospects may be on the board when the Lakers' selection comes up in the draft.
With so many avenues to go about acquiring a solid point guard, L.A. surely cannot come away empty-handed.
The Lakers have a long tradition of dominant centers to anchor the middle.
But since Dwight Howard spurned them in 2013, L.A. has been without an intimidating presence in the paint.
The combination of Jordan Hill, Ed Davis and Robert Sacre have had their moments while trying to hold down the fort, but the Lakers must upgrade the position to truly be competitive once more.
Obviously, free agency's big prize this offseason will be Marc Gasol.
Gasol was originally drafted by the Lakers before being shipped to Memphis in exchange for his brother. But all of his loyalties lie with the Grizzlies.
They are the only team the big Spaniard has ever suited up for, and he has deep roots in the city, residing therein since his high school days.
It would send a jolt throughout the league were Gasol to eschew his hometown club for L.A., but the Lakers must do their due diligence.
A more realistic target is Greg Monroe. Monroe has come to life since Josh Smith was banished from Detroit. He has averaged 16.5 points and 12 rebounds in just 32 minutes a night since entering the starting lineup on a full-time basis.
Los Angeles could have gotten a good deal on Monroe had it made an offer to him last summer as a restricted free agent. Instead, Monroe returned to the Pistons on a one-year qualifying offer and has driven his market value up considerably.
Once again, the draft is a viable option to fill this spot. Jahlil Okafor and Karl-Anthony Towns are both worthy of a selection at the top of the draft. Either one would complement Julius Randle nicely in the Lakers' frontcourt for years to come.
4. Small Forward
Small forward is yet another position in the starting lineup the Lakers must fill this offseason.
The in-house options aren't very appealing. Wesley Johnson's contract is up at the end of the season, but after two unproductive seasons as the starting 3, L.A. should be ready to move on.
Nick Young is still under contract, but he makes much more sense as a microwave scorer coming off the bench than as a starter you have to rely on every night.
There aren't many great small forwards on the free agent market, either. The best of the bunch are all restricted, and it would be a long shot for the Lakers to wrest Jimmy Butler, Kawhi Leonard or Tobias Harris away from there current clubs.
The draft lacks high-end wing prospects, but L.A. could target a small forward with the bonus first-rounder it will get via Houston.
That pick should fall somewhere in the mid-twenties and represents an opportunity to grab a wing the team can develop for the long-term.
ESPN's Chad Ford has several small forward prospects slotted between 22 and 35 on his Big Board, all of whom could make sense for the Lakers late in the first round.
Byron Scott's hire was supposed to be about getting back to the "defense wins championships" mantra, after Mike D'Antoni's run-and-gun style got him run out of town.
But while the offense has predictably slowed down, the defense hasn't shown the improvement to make up for it.
According to NBA.com, the Lakers rank 28th in the league points allowed per possession and are much closer to being dead last in that category than they are to 27th.
Analytics have taught us that the most desirable shots in basketball are layups, free-throws and three-pointers.
The Lakers—who ESPN.com recently ranked as one of the 10 most numbers-shy franchises in all of North American pro sports—don't curb their opponents in any of those areas.
Only three teams give up more baskets inside the restricted area or concede more foul shots. Just two allow more made threes, and only one lets opponents shoot a higher percentage on those triples.
In this era of "three-or-key" offenses, that's a recipe for disaster. Opponents are picking apart the Lakers for the juiciest offensive opportunities available on the court.
Whether it's adding more capable personnel or scheming a better defensive approach over the offseason, Coach Scott and his charges must find a way to put up some kind of resistance on the defensive side of the ball.