Top 2016 Offseason Priorities for the Los Angeles Lakers

David Murphy@@davem234Featured ColumnistApril 18, 2016

CHARLOTTE, NC - MARCH 3: Head Coach Byron Scott of the Los Angeles Lakers coaches Jordan Clarkson #6 against the Charlotte Hornets on March 3, 2015 at at Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, North Carolina. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and condition of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Rocky Widner/Getty Images)
Rocky Widner/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Lakers closed out a miserable season on a high note as Kobe Bryant capped his extraordinary career with a 60-point night. Not only was his performance against the Utah Jazz remarkable, but the Lakers also defeated the Western Conference foe 101-96, which brought their final record to 17-65.

It was a historic night in the team’s historically bad season.

And now it’s time to look ahead to L.A.’s top offseason priorities.

There will be a top-three draft pick to choose, should the Lakers survive the bouncing lottery balls. The team also has boatloads of cash to spend in free agency.

And then there’s the question of what to do about Byron Scott, a stubborn old-school head coach whose 38-126 record during his two-year tenure doesn’t serve as any kind of guiding light for a better tomorrow.

5. Continue Developing Young Players

Byron Scott (left) and D'Angelo Russell
Byron Scott (left) and D'Angelo RussellAndrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

Just because the season is over doesn’t mean the young Lakers can chill for the summer.

By and large, the team's key first- and second-year players continue to show progress, including Julius Randle’s aptitude for snagging boards.

Stats for Key Young Players
Nance Jr.

But there is plenty of room for improvement. In particular, D’Angelo Russell has a lot of growing yet to do. The No. 2 draft pick had an inconsistent rookie season, being shuffled in and out of the starting lineup and trying to find his way in Scott’s Princeton-based offense.

There’s also the question of off-court maturity and judgement, as evidenced in his unintended video outing of teammate Nick Young’s indiscretions.

During his team exit interview, per Mike Trudell of Lakers.com, Russell said he “needs to get in the weight room this summer,” and that he also wants to work on his post game.

It’s not just Russell, of course. Randle must continue developing his sometimes-erratic jumper, Larry Nance Jr. will work on creating shots off the dribble and Anthony Brown will ease back into workouts once his foot fracture has healed.

4. Re-Sign Jordan Clarkson

Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

Combo guard Jordan Clarkson followed his All-Rookie First Team season with a solid sophomore campaign, starting in all 79 of his games. But the 23-year-old will be a restricted free agent this summer, and he will attract the attention of other teams around the league.

The L.A. front office has to make keeping Clarkson a priority. One simple solution would be to re-sign Clarkson using his Early Bird rights.

But as Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times wrote, it might be better to see if Clarkson gets a competing offer sheet and then match it. This is due to the Gilbert Arenas provision that would limit other teams to paying the guard just $5.6 million for the 2016-17 season.

Clarkson’s contract would balloon significantly by years three and four, but in the interim, the Lakers would preserve spending power as they continue their ongoing rebuild.

Other Lakers free agents the team should bring back include Tarik Black and Marcelo Huertas. Each is a useful role player who could likely be re-signed using the minimum salary provision.

3. Draft Well

Ben Simmons
Ben SimmonsFrederick Breedon/Getty Images

Assuming L.A. makes it past the lottery, there will be an opportunity to fill a major hole at small forward.

Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram will go one and two, although we won't know the order until draft night. Either would help enormously. Simmons is a combo forward with great handles and legitimate strength in the post, while Ingram is more of a classic 3 with excellent length and a silky-smooth shot release.

If the Lakers slip to No. 3, Dragan Bender will be waiting. The 7’1” Croatian teenager can play an inside game as well as stretch the floor. But he’s a power forward, and that raises an obvious question: Where would he fit with Randle and Nance Jr. already occupying that position?

Also worth noting is Jaylen Brown of California. Lurking just below the top prospects, the freshman small forward is a muscular two-way player with tons of raw power and an evolving game.

Of course, the real hope in the draft is to land the top overall pick—then the Lakers can choose whomever they want.

2. Attract Meaningful Free Agents

Kevin Durant
Kevin DurantJ Pat Carter/Getty Images

While landing a prime prospect in the draft is important, free agency is where the ready-made stars already exist.

The Lakers have failed to land the big fish in recent years, instead settling for reclamation projects and experiments that have rarely panned out—take Jeremy Lin and big Roy Hibbert for instance. But with Bryant exiting stage left, L.A. will now present a clearer picture with an intriguing young roster and tons of cap space.

Who better to aim for than Oklahoma City Thunder All-Star Kevin Durant?

The Lakers would be able to hand the superstar a max contract and still have plenty left to spend on other meaningful free agents. Back in September, ESPN's Stephen A. Smith let it be known that his sources believed Durant had interest in playing for Los Angeles.

"Regardless of how senseless it may (sound), in one breath I'm hearing that if Kevin Durant doesn't stay in Oklahoma City, L.A. is his primary objective and landing spot as opposed to South Beach or even his home of Washington, D.C.," Smith said, per Steve DelVecchio of Larry Brown Sports.

Durant vehemently denied this: "I don't talk to Stephen A. Smith at all," Durant said, per Anthony Slater of the Oklahoman. "No one in my family, my friends do. So he's lying."

But regardless of what anyone says, it would be foolish for the Lakers not to try for a meeting with one of the game's greats.  

Other potentially available names that frequently come up in conversation include center Hassan Whiteside, veteran big man Al Horford, Harrison Barnes (restricted), Nicolas Batum and big-time scorer DeMar DeRozan. Any one of the above players would be an improvement for the Lakers. A combination would be much better.

1. The Head Coach Dilemma

Scott Brooks
Scott BrooksGlenn James/Getty Images

A quality head coach should be a giant priority for the Lakers. That said, the future of Scott is murky at best.

According to Ken Berger of CBS Sports: “Jeanie Buss is said to be pushing for Scott behind the scenes. If so, it could clear the way for a top-to-bottom reset for the franchise in 2017, and the possible return of (Phil) Jackson to run basketball operations with Luke Walton as the coach.”

One would think that Jeanie’s brother, Jim, as well as general manager Mitch Kupchak, would want to avoid such a thing. Kupchak’s exit interview comments about Scott left some interesting wiggle room.

“I know he’s hoping that he coaches here forever,” Kupchak said, per Pincus, this time reporting for Basketball Insiders. “But a lot of times what we do is we’re really doing is preparing for the next GM or the next coach, and that’s tough sometimes.”

Pincus went on to note that “(Scott) Brooks, according to people close to the 2010 NBA Coach of the Year, has interest in a position with the Lakers should it become available.”

That could lead to a reunion between Durant and Brooks—this time in purple and gold. Other potential coaching candidates include Tom Thibodeau, Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy.

Statistics are courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com