What will the Lakers do if the offseason goes as poorly as possible?
Here is what would end up being the Lakers worst case scenario for their offseason:
- Dwight Howard does not re-sign.
- Kobe Bryant suffers a setback in his rehab, is out for the season or a large part of it.
- Pau Gasol suffers a setback in his offseason rehab and is forced to play injured all season long.
- Metta World Peace is amnestied and the Lakers watch him to play for a different team with no replacement.
- Earl Clark doesn’t re-sign with the Lakers.
Now none of these items take into account anything outside the current situation. Kobe is recovering from a torn Achilles tendon and Pau Gasol had offseason surgery on both knees (albeit minor surgery). Dwight Howard and Earl Clark are both free agents. Metta World Peace has a salary that can be amnestied to give the team significant relief from the luxury tax.
If all of these things occur, the Lakers salary cap will be at $79.63 million. The salary cap is expected to be set at $58.5 million, with the luxury tax at $70.3 million. This means the Lakers will be unable to make any serious plays in free agency, with only a $3.3 million mid-level exception at their disposal. Two players who earned around that salary this season for the Lakers were Jordan Hill and Chris Duhon. That gives you the idea of what type of player the Lakers can lure – an underachieving lottery pick and a player who got paid after one good year. Not exactly franchise changing talents.
So free agency will not be the solution should the Worst Outcome occur. Dwight Howard and Earl Clark not re-signing means the Lakers will be losing two players who played 4085 minutes for the Lakers last season. The entire team played 19,757 minutes, meaning those two players accounted for 20% of all the time players were on the court. The Lakers would have to somehow fill that 20%, using the plethora of 2nd round picks the Lakers have on their roster or free agents looking to sign for less than their market value. Not an appealing proposition.
If the Lakers were to amnesty Metta, that’s another 2530 minutes the Lakers would have to replace. By losing those three players, the Lakers would be losing 1/3rd of their entire minutes contributed last season. Metta may not be the player he once was, but he is still an above-replacement level player and the Lakers would still be paying him on whatever team he would join. This would leave the Lakers with no small forwards on the roster, with very little room to sign replacements.
Now we look at our current injury question marks. Kobe Bryant is seriously injured, and although he claims he intends to be ready for opening night, he is a 34-year old recovering from one of the most devastating injuries possible. We like to think of Kobe as invincible, but the reality is players don’t come back at their same level from this type of injury. If Kobe suffers a setback, or even just returns along a more reasonable timeline, the Lakers will struggle mightily. It goes without saying that Kobe is the most important part of the Lakers offense. Without him the Lakers would be forced to run everything through Pau Gasol and Steve Nash.
Pau Gasol has minor surgery on both knees this offseason in an effort to remove the pain that plagued him throughout the year. If this surgery was successful, Gasol should look closer to his former self. If the surgery doesn’t fix what ailed Gasol, he will be forced to play the season through this pain – pain that caused Gasol to miss games and definitely affected his play. If Gasol misses time, with no Kobe due to injuries, no Dwight Howard, no Earl Clark, and no Metta World Peace, the Lakers would look like a bottom feeder. Think of how the Suns looked with Nash for those past two seasons – except worse.
All of this would lead to the Lakers missing the playoffs and entering back into the NBA Draft Lottery. The Lakers finish high enough that they don’t have a shot at a top 3 pick and are then stuck drafting a player who can contribute, but wouldn’t be a franchise cornerstone.
Take a deep breath.
That was the absolute worst case scenario and one very unlikely (for everything) to happen. If the Lakers lose Howard, but retain the rest, the season will be much more palatable. If the Lakers sign Dwight, but Kobe is lost for the season, the Lakers will still be a playoff squad. As Lakers’ fans, we have grown accustomed to everything going our way. This is our nightmare, but something that could be all too real very soon.