Ball So Hard’s latest series “Can we fix it” analyses some of the NBA’s worst teams for signs of hope or helplessness. Is your favourite team flailing at the foot of the league standings? Let’s see if we can fix it!
He may have only played six games this season, but that doesn’t diminish how brightly the star of Kobe Bryant shines.
Despite his struggles with injuries over the past year, the Lakers handed Bryant a mammoth $48.5 million contract extension that spans over the next two seasons. A move that puzzled many given Bryant’s age – he will turn 36 in August, and next season will be his 19th in the league – but is also a great indication in Los Angeles’ faith in Kobe’s ability to be a significant contributor for them over the next two years.
Bryant himself is also confident that he will be able to continue to contribute at a high level despite his age and the miles on his legs. And given his track record – five-time NBA champion, two-time NBA Finals MVP, 2008 MVP, 16-time All-Star, 15-time All-NBA selection, 12-time All-Defensive nomination. The complete list is an article in itself! – and his inhuman ability to play through injury, it is hard to doubt Kobe can return for LA in some capacity.
This year’s failure of a season has also provided Bryant with his biggest motivator since Shaq won his fourth title in Miami. He recently took to Twitter to vent his frustration after the Lakers franchise-worst loss to the Clippers in early March.
Behind Bryant, it is unclear how much star power the Lakers will boast next season. Pau Gasol is not the same player that won two titles with the Lakers, and with his contract expiring in the offseason, he could find himself in a different uniform next year.
Meanwhile, Steve Nash is on his last legs and has already admitted next year will be his last.
A high draft pick and cap space in the offseason could definitely add some star power in the offseason, but for now the only true game-changer in LA is Bryant.
Rating: 12/15 – there aren’t many bigger names in the game than Kobe Bryant, but age and injury concerns bring a level of uncertainty the Lakers haven’t experienced in many years.
Location, Location, Location
There aren’t many more attractive places for a free agent to sign than the City of Angels.
Shaquille O’Neal bailed on a promising Orlando squad for the bright lights of LA, Kobe reportedly forced his way to the Lakers on draft night, and rumours have already begun to swirl that likely first-round draft pick Dante Exum has marked Los Angeles as his preferred destination to start his career.
They have the climate, the business opportunities, the worldwide fan base, and the front row packed with celebrities in Los Angeles. All things that hold heavy weight in the mind of a potential signee.
But most importantly, the Lakers have the history. They have 16 championship banners hanging from the rafters, and the proven track record of producing stars and winning big games.
Everybody wants to be Magic Johnson, Shaq or Kobe. What better place chase that dream than the city where those legends were made?
Rating: 5/5 – the Lakers have a track record of making marquee signings, and they can thank their city for playing a huge role in obtaining each of those signatures.
The Lakers haven’t had a first-round draft pick since they drafted Javaris Crittenton 19th overall in 2007, and they haven’t drafted in the lottery since they selected Andrew Bynum with the 10th pick in 2005. Even then, Bynum was their first lottery pick since Eddie Jones in 1994 (also 10th overall).
Needless to say, high draft picks are few and far between in LA.
Thankfully, for this currently rebuilding Lakers squad, a top-five pick this year is not out of the questions. Los Angeles’ current record would have them drafting fifth overall, but as is the nature of the lottery, anything can happen.
With potential stars like Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid, Jabari Parker, Julius Randle and Exum well within their grasp, the Lakers rebuild could be more of a reload.
It is unlikely the Lakers will sink as low as the 76ers or Bucks before the end of the season, but with the lottery, you just have to be in it to win it.
Los Angeles do owe Phoenix a first-round pick in 2015, but it is protected 1-5 and if the Lakers can draft well and make smart offseason moves, they shouldn’t be giving up too valuable of a selection.
Rating: 8/10 – The Lakers own their first-round pick for the first time in seven season, and it couldn’t come at a better time. However, they’re unlikely to win the lottery, and the Suns are likely to receive their 2015 pick.
It is one of the worst kept secrets in the NBA: Mike D’Antoni is on the out in Los Angeles.
D’Antoni’s job security has been shaky since the Lakers front office chose the former Suns head coach over 11-time champion and Los Angeles legend Phil Jackson in late 2012.
A recent report by Ryan Ward of Lakers Nation suggest Bryant has “no interest” in playing for D’Antoni during the 2014-15 season. Not exactly a glowing review for the Lakers current coach.
Losing is not often tolerated in Los Angeles, and fingers are quickly to be pointed at the man on the sidelines.
Phil Jackson isn’t coming back, but there are plenty of experienced head coaches on the market at the moment.
LA should have no problem finding a new head coach once D’Antoni is eventually shown the door, but the uncertainty surrounding the entire roster makes the head coaching role an even bigger head ache for the front office.
Rating: 0/5 – There is very little chance D’Antoni will be on the sidelines next season. There are some great coaches out of contract at the moment, but with so little players on the books for next season, finding the perfect head coach could be complicated.
Salary Cap or Cuffs?
The biggest trick the Lakers hold up their sleeve this season is salary cap space.
Just like how they find themselves with a valuable lottery pick for the first time in recent memory, Los Angeles has cash to burn for the first offseason in a while.
Even factoring in Kobe’s mammoth extension, the Lakers only have $35.3 million committed next season.
Admittedly, they only have three players officially on the books for 2014-15 (Bryant: $23.5 million, Nash $9.7 million, and Robert Sacre $900k). And with holes to fill across the roster, it won’t be as simple as chasing one game-changing signature in the offseason.
There will be several important decisions to be made with the current roster. The biggest name out of contract in Los Angeles is Pau Gasol. The two-time champion has often been the whipping boy for the franchise, and with Gasol reportedly interested in returning to Memphis to team up with his brother, and the Lakers’ roster in flux, his presence in LA next season is no sure thing.
Nick Young has thrived as a high-volume shooter for LA, but he is likely to opt-out of his $1.2 million player option. The Lakers brass will need to determine whether another trigger-happy guard is a required piece for their team, and at what price do they have to let him walk? Similarly, Kendall Marshall has found a new lease on life as a Laker, but depending on who falls LA’s way in the draft/free agency, his team option is no certainty to be picked up.
The biggest free agent names this offseason will be Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James. But with both superstar forwards unlikely to be changing teams at the seasons end, Los Angeles will need to look elsewhere to retool their squad.
Amongst their likely targets will be Raptors guard Kyle Lowry, Pistons big man Greg Monroe, and Cavaliers forward Luol Deng.
Lowry has had a breakout season for Toronto, averaging career-highs in points (17.4), assists (7.8), rebounds (4.8) and steals (1.6) per game. Nash wants to play on next season, but his body is already breaking down, while fellow former Sun Marshall is largely untested at the NBA level.
Monroe is a restricted free agent, and would likely command a hefty price tag if the Lakers were to pry him from the Pistons grasp. However, Detroit is desperate to put a winning team together, and with their trio of big men failing to mesh thus far, it is not impossible to imagine them parting ways with the former Georgetown Hoya.
The most coveted of the above listed trio would be Deng. Bryant is a long-time admirer of the former Bulls’ work ethic and defensive prowess. While many fans dream of an all-galaxy pairing of Bryant and one of James or Anthony, Deng’s defensive-minded game is perhaps the best complimentary piece for the Black Mamba’s abilities.
Rating: 12/15 – The Lakers have a relatively clean slate to work with next season, with only three players officially under contract. However, Bryant’s enormous contract extension will somewhat limit their ability to work another big-money contract onto their books.
Total: 37/50 – The Lakers have several valuable pieces needed for a quick and effective reboot. However, Bryant’s massive salary, a complete roster reshuffle, and implementing a new head coach could all prove to be headaches in the process.
Bryant is a genuine megastar. As his latest nickname – Vino – suggests, his game has aged extremely well, and his professionalism and work ethic is enough alone to suggest he can be an effective player for several more years. However, his body has already started to break down on him, and a clean bill of health heading forward is no certainty.
Truthfully, the future of the Lakers rests not in the hands of Kobe Bean Bryant, but on the desks of the Los Angeles front office.
How Los Angeles drafts this offseason, and the free agent moves they make, will determine how the Lakers fair over the next decade. But with an embarrassment of riches in the upcoming draft class and free agent pool, all of the pieces needed are laid out in front of them.
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