Jan. 30, 2013; Phoenix, AZ, USA: Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant (24) and forward Pau Gasol (16) against the Phoenix Suns at the US Airways Center. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Shifting Perception of the Lakers

Dwight Howard has left the Los Angeles Lakers. This sent the NBA world into a frenzy of overreactions. Voices coming from Lakerland saying Dwight couldn’t handle it here, he was never a true Laker, and that he just isn’t THAT good. On the other hand, voices are saying the Lakers are in disarray, they are no longer a desirable destination and that the Lakers are in for tough times.

All of these things are overreactions.

Dwight Howard would have done a fine job had he chosen to stay with the Lakers. That doesn’t mean he could have led them to multiple championship appearances, but he would have put up 18 points and 12 rebounds every night while playing solid defense. The Lakers aren’t in disarray; they just faced a setback that most other teams in the NBA have to deal with. It is just so uncommon for the Lakers to be in this situation, which makes it feels like the end. How tough can times really be with $50 million in cap space next season?

The current perception is that the Lakers are no longer a desirable destination, and the lack of free agents making their way to the Lakers is touted as the main cause. It is true Dwight is the first premiere free agent to choose to take their talents elsewhere, but that hasn’t been the main cause for the Lakers inability to add talent. The real reason is the new CBA. The new CBA has severely limited the Lakers ability to sign free agents. In the past, even when over the salary cap, the Lakers had the ability to offer a mid-level exception of about $6 million per year to incoming free agents. Now the Lakers only have a tax payer mini-mid exception, which is a maximum two-year deal worth about $6 million total.

The past two seasons, the Lakers have needed younger talent to help fill out the roster. They haven’t been able to find any role players who have stuck with the team since those championship appearances. With word coming out the Lakers will be amnestying Metta World Peace, only Kobe and Pau will remain from the team that last won a title. Considering their last title was 2010, it’s incredible they have had so much turnover.

Adding to that fact, the Lakers drafting the past 6 years hasn’t been up to par. In fact, since 2007 the two best Lakers draft picks, Patrick Beverly and Toney Douglas, never played a single game for the purple and gold. So the poor drafting combined with the lack of ability to sign free agents due to the CBA, the Lakers have been lacking in the asset department.

Next off-season with $50 million in cap space (before anything is done with Kobe and Pau) the Lakers will be able to attract the type of free agents they have been restricted from targeting. Not only the high level, max contract type players, but the mid-level role players who are ultra-important in crafting a championship team. The Lakers will be able to attract assets, a fact that has been lost on many members of the media.

Don’t buy into the narrative the Lakers won’t be able to attract anyone. They will. Any team with $50 million in cap space is going to be targeted by agents, if no one else. As much as we like to think all basketball moves are made based on what is best for the player, it ignores reality. CREAM: Cash rules everything around me. Money will almost always trump “situation.” Most players aren’t like Dwight and don’t have the ability to pass up an additional $30 million guaranteed. Next off-season the Lakers will be much louder in free agency than they are now. This season might not be pretty, but there is light at the end of the tunnel.

The perception of the Lakers shifted this off-season, but in one year it will shift once more. In reality, nothing will have changed.  That’s the world we live in.

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Tags: Carmelo Anthony Dwight Howard Free Agency Kobe Bryant Los Angeles Lakers NBA Pau Gasol

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