The Los Angeles Lakers, riddled with injuries to their star players, endured their worst season in franchise history, but have a lottery pick for the first time in almost a decade and plenty of cap space to spend in the offseason.
The dramatic fallout from the Dwight Howard saga continued in Los Angeles this season, as the Lakers struggled to their worst record in franchise history, finishing the season 27-55 – sixth worst in the league.
A combination of injuries, salary cap hindrance, sideline instability and playing in one of the toughest divisions in the league’s toughest conference thoroughly derailed a season that never truly got underway in LA.
Superstar guard Kobe Bryant was limited to just six games thanks to various injuries – the Black Mamba’s season debut was delayed thanks to an Achilles injury he sustained last season and was then cut short by a lateral tibial plateau fracture in his left knee.
Bryant’s championship sidekick Pau Gasol (17.4 points, 9.7 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.5 blocks per game) was also affected by niggling injuries throughout the season, appearing in only 60 games – including only one of Los Angeles’ last 13 contests.
During the last offseason, the Lakers added eight players on one-year deals.
Of those eight, Chris Kaman (10.4 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.0 blocks per game), Jordan Farmar (10.1 points and 4.9 assists), Wesley Johnson (9.1 points and 4.4 rebounds) and Xavier Henry (10.0 points) all put in auditions worthy of consideration when the front office constructs next season’s team.
Meanwhile, second-season Laker Jodie Meeks (15.7 points and 40.1% 3FG) and midseason pick-ups Kent Bazemore (13.1 points, 3.3 rebounds and 3.1 assists as a Laker) and Kendall Marshall (8.0 points, 39.9% 3FG and 8.8 assists) all put up career numbers amidst the Californian chaos.
Forward Jordan Hill also proved his worth when given the minutes, averaging 9.7 points and 7.4 rebounds for the season – both career highs.
Overall, it was a season to forget for Lakers fans, who have seen their team plummet down the standings after being surrounded by championship aspirations only two seasons ago.
Most Valuable Player
Nick Young has always cut a polarising figure through NBA circles.
On one hand, he plays with a sense of flair that is rarely seen in the modern game, endearing himself to many fans in the process.
While on the other hand, there are gaping holes in his game and he has been entrenched in the knucklehead culture of several terrible teams.
However, with Bryant missing the majority of the season, Young seized a great opportunity in the Lakers rotation and finished the season as their brightest shining star amidst an otherwise gloomy and mediocre season.
Appearing in 64 games (only nine as a starter), Young averaged a team and career-high 17.9 points per game.
And despite having a reputation as a gunner, Young also shot a very respectable 43.5% from the floor and 38.6% from downtown on the season.
And while the enigma known as Swaggy P made several plays that left people scratching their heads throughout the year, he still kept himself to just 1.5 turnovers per game despite a career-high usage rate.
The fact that Young was their best player is perhaps the best indication of how poor their team was, but in an otherwise depressing season, Swaggy P delivered some much-needed character and style to a disappointed Lakers’ fan base.
Much like the uncertain future of Derrick Rose has imprisoned the Chicago Bulls franchise in basketball purgatory for the past two seasons, the waiting game to see a healthy Bryant and Steve Nash has muddied expectations for the Lakers.
Bryant was limited to just six games this season, while Nash could only manage 15 appearance, averaging his second-worst output in points (6.8) and minutes (20.9) and fourth-worst production of assists (5.7) in his 18-year career.
Bryant’s return from a fractured knee was up in the air for much of the season and it wasn’t until mid-march that he was ruled out for the remainder of the year.
Likewise, on a night to night basis, there was no telling whether Nash would be in uniform or street clothes.
With two future Hall of Famers waiting in the wings and no clarity surrounding their immediate basketball future and general uncertainty around the roster, the waiting game was often a negative distraction in LA.
The general consensus around the league is that Los Angeles is in more of a retooling stage than a rebuilding one.
They have Bryant under contract for another two years – albeit at a mammoth $23.5 million and $25 million respectively – and the advantage of location and history to lure prospective free agents to sign on the dotted line.
Despite Bryant’s high salary, LA will have roughly $30 million in cap space to play with in the offseason, but with only three players under contract for next season, they’ll also need to spread it across basically an entire roster.
A big market like Los Angeles will always be in the mix for a big-name free agent like Carmelo Anthony (or a trade for disgruntled Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love), but it is more likely they chase a lesser name like Luol Deng and prepare for the 2015 free agent class.
At the draft, the Lakers also had the opportunity to draft in the lottery for the first time since 2005 – they hadn’t even had a first-round pick since 2007.
Los Angeles was another team that had their hopes of winning the draft lottery dashed by the ever-lucky Cleveland Cavaliers, who won the lottery despite their 1.7% odds.
Nevertheless, LA received the seventh overall pick and eagerly snapped up Kentucky product Julius Randle on draft night. Along with Jabari Parker, Randle, who averaged 15.0 points and 10.4 rebounds in his lone season as a Wildcat, is one of the most NBA-ready prospects to come out of the loaded 2014 draft and should be able to make an immediate impact. He is a relentless rebounder, can muscle his way to buckets around the rim and has potential to stretch the floor if he develops a consistent jump shot – something he only showed in flashes at Kentucky.
LA are also looking for a new head coach after Mike D’Antoni resigned at the end of the season.
There is a lot of work to do to get Los Angeles back to championship contender status, and they will need an equal dose of luck, but they have the pieces and the experience to do so.
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