Los Angeles Lakers Summer 2013 Moves Preview

KOBEsh: In my mind, there’s three big issues heading into the Lakers offseason. In no particular order….

     

  1. Is Dwight Howard going to re-up for five years, $118 million?
  2. Is Mike D’Antoni going to be the coach next season?
  3. Is Pau Gasol going to be on the team next season?
  4.  

Those questions–not a silly Kobe amnesty conversation–are what’s taking up my mindspace after a devastating end to the regular season.
 
CDP, what’s the biggest storyline in your mind?
 
The CDP: I have to think, I have to assume that Dwight is re-upping. I was really hoping that he would play better without Kobe and win a game or two against the Spurs. It turns out that the Laker injury bug kept taking depth and Dwight may have had the worst supporting cast he’s ever seen during that series. Dwight was frustrated, imploded, and left the 2013 playoffs with a mouthful of unbelievable sour grapes. I have to think that the money, market, and potential to own LA after Kobe leaves will still be enough. I don’t really think he’d rather be in Dallas, Atlanta, Utah, or Houston. If he does leave, he never had the cajones to make it in LA anyway, and they’ll have $60M+ in cap room next off-season.
 
Your other two questions are much more interesting to me, especially since Cleveland re-hiring Mike Brown got the Lakers off the hook for his albatross of a contract. I guess the primary question is: what kind of mood are the Lakers in? Will there be pressure to reduce expenses, as there was inexplicably during the lockout – cutting long-time assistants, equipment managers, and valuable scouts? Or will the Lakers defiantly pay the $85M tax bill coming their way – neglecting to use the nuclear amnesty option.  At the moment, the Lakers owe D’Antoni 2 years and $8M and Pau Gasol another year with nearly $20M in salary cap commitments.

First things first: what’s going on with Pringles man? After allowing D’Antoni to release Chuck Person and Bernie Bickerstaff last week, he’s our coach for the next year. All reports from management were that they blamed the struggles on the players, not the coach. D’Antoni is safe next year and hopes the Lakers don’t pull a hair trigger like they did last year with Mike Brown. If they wait until next summer, they can overhaul everything, including a new coach and sign pieces that fit.

With Gasol, he’s likely an amnesty target, but it’s a mistake. Assuming Kobe sticks around, he’s still plenty serviceable (plus he found a nice rhythm with Dwight operating at the elbow), a bit overpaid but should be less expendable than Metta World Peace. I hope that the Lakers can swallow their massive tax bill for one season instead of amnestying Pau – high salary or not, he should have some trade value even before considering his expiring contract.  Everyone is talking amnesty, amnesty, amnesty – but totally forgetting that the value of expiring contracts has also increased under this CBA. The Lakers aren’t loaded up with trade assets, but every single roster spot aside from Nash/Dwight will be an expiring contract next year.

I guess that’s my biggest question for you: we trust in Mitch, but we don’t have salary cap space or picks, just expiring contracts, in the way of flexibility. What does he do with this roster over the summer, if anything? What should the Lakers do?

KOBEsh: I do believe that Dwight is going to re-up for five years, $118 this summer. It’s just too much money, too many years and of course, the prestige of being a “five year max player”. Out of the four teams with any chance to sign him outright, the Rockets are the biggest obstacle the Lakers face. They’re a young, run and gun team, with a top-15 wing player and a ton of three-point shooters to compliment Dwight’s style. Also, don’t discount the type of impact a coach like Kevin McHale will have, as a big man whose arsenal of post moves may be alluring to a still evolving Howard. In terms of on-court product, the Rockets have a much clearer future and thus, a much better shot of signing Dwight.

However, basketball isn’t just a game–it’s a billion dollar business with a long, storied lineage and history. Dwight has to understand how special it is to be a Laker, and how much more immortal his name becomes if attached to the LA brand. In Houston, he has the chance to become as big as Kevin Durant, who is one of the most popular players on the planet. But in LA? He’s got the chance to be as popular as international icon Kobe Bryant. I don’t see Dwight signing any document anywhere that’s not in El Segundo, CA this July.

Which leads me to your question: I think part of the case the Lakers have in signing Dwight is that after 2013-2014, the Lakers will have nearly $30 million dollars in salary cap room. In other words, the team can remake itself in any way that best compliments their new franchise player. There is an outside chance that Dwight could actually be made the compliment by signing potential free agent LeBron James that summer, but (I believe) there’s little chance that LeBron comes to So Cal. However, more than likely, the Lakers will have the opportunity to build around Dwight very soon, and he knows it.

Thus, it is important that under 80% of circumstances to maintain the course that would give the Lakers this cap space in a year (the other 20% would be a home run deal, for say, Kevin Love or and Andre Iguodala for Pau Gasol swap). Whatever moves they make CANNOT hinder that. Meaning, the theoretical trades involving Gasol or Metta won’t hold much water–it could very well change the Lakers’ trajectory in 12 months.

Unless–UNLESS–it’s a home run deal, the Lakers should be staying pat or making minor moves to contend this year. There’s simply too much riding on the future of the franchise to make a one-year run in 2013-2014 with a very hobbled Kobe (who will never be the same player as he’s been), an older Gasol and a completely injury-prone supporting cast that cannot play defense. Yes, a healthy and active Dwight Howard may change the team’s fortunes, but even at full strength, I’m not sure that this team could be any better than WCF material.

More importantly, if the team is foolish enough to keep Mike D’Antoni (which, I agree with you CDP, I think they are), then the year is punted already. The Lakers will not win the title with MDA at the helm and to gamble future financial flexibility with this coach is extremely short-sighted.

I see LA signing a defense-minded swing man for the mini-midlevel exception (about $6 million over two years), re-signing Earl Clark for around the same type of deal and amnestying Metta World Peace to cut down on an already epic luxury tax bill. Again, unless a Gasol-for-Kwame/Martin-for-Harden/Jefferson-for-KG no-brainer trade comes across Kupchak’s desk, the Nash-Kobe-Pau-Dwight team you saw only 19 times this year should be the team you see next season.

CDP, same question at you–what moves, if any, do you see the team making next year? And what do you think D’Antoni’s ceiling for success is? Why?

The CDP: First of all, your confidence on Dwight is reassuring. I have to agree, but also have to admit that the combination of his childish antics and media speculation has been starting to get to me. Let’s put that aside for the moment.

In terms of roster turnover, I agree with you completely–right now, the best asset the Lakers have for the future is the ability to completely overhaul their roster next summer. If I’m Mitch Kupchak, I’m aggressive as hell next season, but only if it’s a home run deal that will get us a guy who can be the 2nd or 3rd best player on a championship team. Mitch needs to hammer the phone like he did with Steve Nash last summer, but we can’t confuse a deal that will upgrade our chances next year versus one that will help us rebuild. Having less than $30M in committed salary is an instant reset button and the last thing we need do it is take on long term salary and middling talent that compromises the future. The Lakers have to remember that they’ll always be a free agent destination of choice, period.

Frankly, the odds are that no amount of small tweaks will be the difference maker on this squad. The 2013-14 Lakers will be successful largely on the strength of their current roster making improvements and actually playing games. Between Dwight’s back, Nash’s broken leg, Kobe’s Achilles, Metta’s knee, Blake’s stomach, Jordan’s hip, and every other freaky injury our roster had, I have never seen a Lakers team suffer through so many injuries. The fact that we also had two coaches with diametrically opposed philosophies and needed continuity to develop chemistry was just the icing on the cake.

I know it’s a lot to hope for – especially though Kobe won’t realistically be anywhere near 100% next year – but I still think that the Lakers should strategically fill as many holes as they can in free agency and play the waiting game. If LA has to amnesty someone like Metta, they’d better have a replacement ready to play for the minimum because there won’t be any cap room to sign a real player. If the Lakers do bring in some free agents, I’d honestly prefer young, athletic guys with marginal upside over name-brand veteran retread. If the rest of the pieces are healthy, they’ll have plenty of offense and veteran moxie–but sorely needed is someone willing to do the dirty work on defense, locking down athletic swingmen and guards that destroyed the purple and gold perimeter.

Looking back, it’s still incredible how fast the Lakers went from a preseason favorite to an also-ran that limped into the playoffs. This roster will miss Kobe for a few months and isn’t exactly loaded in the depth department, but they have enough talent to make some noise if things go right for them. D’Antoni would never be my first choice for this roster, but I do think he’ll be much better after a training camp to get the Nash/Howard pick and roll installed along with some new wrinkles to his offense.

In all likelihood, 2013-14 will be a lost season for the Lake Show, but don’t give the Purple and Gold your sympathy: if things go right, the Lakers will still have a chance to compete and will be able to reload instantaneously next summer regardless. Most teams would love to be able to say that about their situation.

 

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