Let’s be honest for a few moments: the Lakers were a failure last year. They had immense expectations, and none of them were as putrid as an 7th seed captured on the last day of the regular season, followed quickly by an uninspired sweep in the first round. Blame injuries, blame chemistry problems, blame the coach, but the Lakers failed.
If this was any other season, this would, and maybe should, lead to a cleaning out of the house. The Lakers would rebuild and reload for the future. But this season was certainly an anomaly: injuries led to 171 games missed to injury, with 81 of those coming from the starters. To put that into comparison, the Spurs had a total of 86 games missed, with 50 of those from the starters. Sorry Timbewolves, but no one was unluckier with injuries than the Lakers.
To put all this into context, the “Dream Team” lineup of Nash-Bryant-Metta-Pau-Dwight played just 189.2 minutes this season, which is the equivalent of 4 games. The Thunder’s starting lineup played 1306 minutes and the Pacers with 1218 minutes. Hell, the Lakers had lineups with Darius Morris and Earl Clark that played together more than the original starting five.
So what does all this mean? Well, as the Lakers said themselves, plan A this off-season appears to be keeping this team together. Without a doubt, this team did not get a fair shake at showing what they are capable of. Whether you believe in this starting five or not, the argument that they deserve another chance has a strong case. In their limited time together, the starting five, who were never 100% healthy when together, were one of the Lakers top lineups.
However, all of this hinges on the fact that Dwight Howard returns, and this is far from a guarantee. Most experts and writers believe the Lakers are the leader in the clubhouse, but Howard has shown that loyalty means very little to him. While there is arguably no situation better for his future than the Lakers, resigning with them is far from a sure thing.
But what happens if the Dwight spurns the Lakers for the Rockets or Mavs? Where do the Lakers go from there? Do they continue without Dwight or blow the team up? Do they give up on the idea of a Super Team after one season much like the Gary Payton-Karl Malone days, or do they try to salvage with what’s left. Or what if Lakers management changes their mind about plan A and decide they want to look into blowing the team up.
Let’s take a look at some of the options the Lakers will have in this off-season.
Firth things first, the Lakers are over the cap limit, which will be roughly $70.3 million. Including a player option with MWP and a team option with Jodie Meeks, the Lakers sit at $78.1 million. If the Lakers turn down Meeks’ $1.5 million option, that brings them closer to the limit. I do, however, think they’ll bring back Jodie Meeks as he provided a solid spark off the bench and has a very affordable contract.
There’s some hope that the Lakers may be able to turn down MWP’s $7.2 million option and sign him for less, which is something he said he’d be comfortable with. As is, I can’t see a way the Lakers’ keep MWP at over seven million this year and we. If he does accept his option, the likelihood of amnestying him becomes very real.
Final say: MWP comes back on a 2 year, $6 million deal. Meeks’ option is picked up.
Cap Number: $73, 459, 350
The amnesty clause was created following the lockout to help rid previous idiot owners of their stupid contracts. The catch was that it could only be used on players that were on the team immediately following the lockout. For the Lakers, the only remaining players are Steve Blake, Bryant, Gasol, and MWP. I’ve already addressed the likelihood of the Lakers using the amnesty on MWP, who is the most likely candidate.
The problem is, if a player is amnestied by a team, they can not return to that team for the length of their contract, meaning none of the players amnestied could be Lakers next year. While the idea of Kobe being amnestied was thrown around, it’s a preposterous one that will absolutely not happen. Using it on Steve Blake’s affordable $4 million deal doesn’t seem likely, and Gasol’s $19.2 million dollars coming off the book next season will be a huge trade chip.
Final say: No one, including MWP, will be amnestied. No cap number change.
This is the most likely way for the Lakers to shed some contracts. And while they don’t have a lot of chips, they have a very valuable one in Gasol. His $19.2 million coming off the books next year becomes a hot commodity, especially considering the huge free agent pool next summer, which the Lakers admittedly want to be ready for.
So what trades could the Lakers explore with Pau? The trade partner who makes the most sense is the Timberwolves, who have a disgruntled star in Kevin Love and an ongoing interest in our star, Gasol. However, finding a deal that includes Kevin Love and wouldn’t be an obvious downgrade for the Timberwolves is nearly impossible. Instead, look at a trade for pieces that aren’t Love. One trade that could appeal to the Lakers would be Alexy Shved, Derrick Williams, Nikola Pekovic (sign and trade) and the T’Wolves first round pick in this year’s draft. Assuming Pekovic signs a deal in the neighborhood of $7 million, the trade will work financially.
With this trade, the Lakers clear out ~$4 million in cap space, but also pick up three solid players for the future, plus a lottery pick. While losing Pau to any team would be tough, pairing him with Rubio and Love is about as good as it’ll get for him.
Cap Number: $71.1 million
Lastly, we have the addition or retention of players. The Lakers have six free agents not named Dwight Howard: Antawn Jamison, Earl Clark, Devin Ebanks, Darius Morris, Robert Sacre, and Andrew Goudelock. I realistically only see the Lakers resigning Clark and Goudelock. Jamison provided quality minutes, but was horrendous defensively and, too often, didn’t make up for it offensively. Morris is a young player, but has not shown enough to warrant returning. Ebanks and Sacre never saw significant playing time, and for good reason. On top of that, Duhon’s contract is non-guaranteed and I see the Lakers parting ways with him.
Which brings us full circle and back to Dwight Howard. Howard has a lot to think about in this decision. The Lakers made a terrible case for him to resign this year based on last year’s performance. That being said, the only other likely destinations are Dallas and Houston. In Dallas, you have Dirk Nowtizki and literally nothing else, and Dirk has two to three years at most left in the tank. In Houston, you have a solid young core, but nothing historically to prove they are winners.
In the end, it makes most sense Howard to come back to LA. In his lifetime, the Lakers have missed the playoffs twice and won seven titles. No team has that pedigree and when Dwight steps back and looks, no franchise will give him a better chance of winning a title than LA can.
Final say: Howard resigns on a 5 year/$85 million, Clark resigns on a 3 year/$9 million, Goudelock signs for minimum deal (~500k).
Cap Number: $87.6 million
PG – Steve Nash, Steve Blake, Alexy Shved
SG – Kobe Bryant, Jodie Meeks, Goudelock
SF – Metta World Peace, Earl Clark
PF – Derrick Williams, Jordan Hill
C – Dwight Howard, Nikola Pekovic
In the end, if this becomes the Lakers plan B, I’m ecstatic as a Lakers fan. While losing Pau Gasol is going to hurt any Laker fan, this has to be the best case scenario for a return on him.
Given this roster, the Lakers would be near $87.6 million, which is just $16 million over the cap and a very realistic amount. Also, The only players under contract for the team going into 2014 would be Nash, Dwight, Shved, MWP, Clark, Williams, and Pekovic. A solid roster, but that would leave enogh room to sign nearly two max contracts.