Ranking the Los Angeles Lakers' Biggest Priorities for the 2015 NBA Offseason
The team has the tools at its disposal—a pair of first-round draft choices and oodles of cap space—to completely reshape the roster and turn it into a competitive outfit.
That is, if they handle everything the right way.
Smart spending, targeted free-agent deals and updating the basketball culture will all be goals the Lakers should be striving for.
With so much work to be done, the front office may want to organize tasks in a tidy list—which is exactly what we aim to do now.
Here are the Lakers' offseason priorities ranked in reverse order.
5. Stockpile More Assets Through the Draft
The Lakers have been short on young talent for years, but that's about to change.
Los Angeles has two first-round selections coming—provided the lottery gods aren't frowning upon it—in this draft, and it can pair those two prospects with last year's draftees, Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson, to form a solid core around which L.A. can build in the future.
Having good, young players on rookie contracts is the key to building a contender. Not only do you have talented players producing at levels above their contract valuations, but because of those cost-controlled deals, you are able spend—and can even get away with overspending—on quality role players to fill out the roster.
Additionally, it's important just to have those glittering assets on hand in case an avenue to acquiring a franchise-changing player opens up. In this manner the Houston Rockets were able to acquire James Harden and the Cleveland Cavaliers had the goods to land Kevin Love.
Should the Lakers keep their top-five pick they can add a potential All-Star to their roster, but their second selection may be more telling in the long run.
Extracting value out of non-lottery picks can be game-changing. We constantly see examples of players taken outside of the lottery affecting title races while still on their rookie contracts. Kawhi Leonard, Draymond Green and Jimmy Butler are recent examples whose impacts we are witnessing at this very moment.
Clarkson could very well be that player in a couple of seasons for L.A., and if it can get another steal like that with its late first-rounder, the future will be looking bright.
4. Spend Wisely in Free Agency
Everybody is talking up the cap bonanza the NBA is about to hit. With the salary cap rising by a good margin this summer (about $3 million, some project), teams will have a lot of money to spend.
That goes double for the Lakers, who have money tied up in very few players for next season. With that said, general manager Mitch Kupchak and the front office can't be lured into spending for the sake of spending. They must keep the bigger picture in mind.
As much as the cap will rise this summer, it will leap exponentially in 2016. That also coincides with the termination of Kobe Bryant's onerous contract. The Lakers armed with that kind of cap room is every other team's worst nightmare.
Should L.A. strike out on this summer's marquee free agents, it should roll over most of that free space into next offseason rather than on lavish contracts on undeserving players now and handicap itself for 2016.
You can't dole out max deals to guys who don't have it anymore like Rajon Rondo, or not-quite-All-Stars like Greg Monroe, just because you have the money to spend.
Likewise, it's crucial to not overpay role players like Danny Green or DeMarre Carroll. It's not that they're bad players, but the reason they're so valuable is because their current teams spent almost nothing to acquire them. The Lakers should be trying to find the next Green or Carroll.
3. Find a Center
When you think of the Los Angeles Lakers historically, you think of its long tradition of dominant big men anchoring the middle.
But since Dwight Howard bolted for greener pastures the Lakers have been unable to produce an intimidating presence in the paint.
The Lakers will have a variety of options to find their preferred center.
Free agency is one of those ways. The biggest catch in the waters this summer will likely be Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol. The Lakers, of course, originally drafted the younger Gasol before flipping him for his older brother in 2008.
The draft is another way to go about it. Karl-Anthony Towns and Jahlil Okafor are at the top of virtually every draft board. The Lakers may have to get a lucky bounce of the lottery balls to move up into the top two for a shot at one of them, but Okafor's stock has been dipping a bit recently, potentially giving L.A. a crack at him at No. 4 or 5.
Finally, there is the trade route. It's almost unthinkable that the Sacramento Kings would send DeMarcus Cousins packing, but this is the Kings we're talking about—one of the most unstable franchises in the league.
They fired their coach after a strong start to the season—a coach that the mercurial Cousins actually got along with—and later relieved their GM of his duties as well. The more wacky news that comes out of Sacramento, the more it feels that Cousins can be had for the right package.
Remember those assets we discussed earlier? Here's a scenario in which they can come into play.
2. Sign at Least One Premium Free Agent
The Lakers used to be the most feared team in free agency because they were the No. 1 destination in the league.
That perception has changed as L.A. has not been able to attract any top-tier talent over the past couple of seasons, while one superstar went as far as to turn down a max offer to walk away from the organization.
It's time for the Lakers to reclaim their status as the league's glamour franchise. They can do that by inking a marquee free agent this summer.
The Kevin Love-to-L.A. train has steadily gained steam throughout the season, and with his injury jeopardizing the Cavaliers' chances at winning a championship, it's one step closer to becoming a reality.
Amid the Portland Trail Blazers' disappointing finish in 2015, rumblings that LaMarcus Aldridge might be ready to move on have surfaced. And though Goran Dragic, who was traded to the Miami Heat midseason, doesn't have the national name recognition, his game would do the talking in Los Angeles.
The Lakers should also strongly consider making max offers to restricted free agents like Kawhi Leonard and Jimmy Butler. Landing a restricted free agent is unlikely, but you never know. The Lakers made the mistake of not pursuing guys like Eric Bledsoe and Greg Monroe last offseason, and they ended up sitting on the shelf for far longer than anyone predicted.
1. Modify Team Philosophy
It's time for the Lakers to enter the 21st century of basketball thinking. Byron Scott's antiquated ideals are no longer successful in today's league.
Now, the game isn't won and lost on a spreadsheet, but incorporating analytics is a basic strategy toward building a competitive team.
ESPN.com's Kevin Pelton classified the Lakers as "nonbelievers" in his "Great Analytics Rankings"—one of just three teams in the league designated with that tag—and ranked L.A. as one of the 10 most analytics-averse franchises in all of North American pro sports.
Meanwhile, nine of the 12 teams in the "All-In" or "Believers" categories qualified for the postseason, and a 10th—the Oklahoma City Thunder—are perennial contenders when healthy.
Scott's insistence on not jumping on board the three-or-key bandwagon is ludicrous when we know that the most efficient ways to score are through three-pointers, layups and free throws.
Those principles translate to the defensive end as well, where the Lakers are a train wreck.
Los Angeles conceded the third most field goals inside the restricted area, while allowing the fifth-highest field-goal percentage from that zone, per NBA.com. Opponents also made the seventh most triples and attempted the second most foul shots in the league against them.
The numbers don't just tell you the best way to score points. They also illustrate the best way to prevent them.