Offseason Outlook: Los Angeles Lakers

June 5 at 1:26pm CDT By Chuck Myron

Guaranteed Contracts

Options

Non-Guaranteed Contracts

Free Agents / Cap Holds

Draft Picks

  • 1st Round (7th overall)

Cap Outlook

  • Guaranteed Salary: $34,116,243
  • Options: $1,227,985
  • Non-Guaranteed Salary: $915,243
  • Cap Holds: $57,286,538
  • Total: $93,546,009

The summer ahead for the Lakers will be unlike any the franchise has ever faced. The purple-and-gold are coming off their worst season since before they were the purple-and-gold, having only finished with an inferior winning percentage once, in 1957/58, as the Minneapolis Lakers. That bunch of Lakers took Elgin Baylor with the No. 1 overall pick in the 1958 draft and made the Finals in 1959, but chances are the team won’t be adding a Hall-of-Famer with the seventh overall pick this month.

The pick is just one of several priorities for GM Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss, the team’s co-owner and executive vice president in charge of basketball operations. The Lakers are conducting a methodical coaching search that’s threatening to extend past the draft and into free agency, when the team will have to rebuild a roster with just three players on guaranteed contracts for next season. Kobe Bryant, empowered by a two-year, $48.5MM extension that won’t kick in until next season, excoriated management earlier this spring, insisting that he has “not one lick” of patience for another losing season. Bryant later backed off some of his remarks, expressing support for the organization, but no one still with the franchise is more of a symbol for the Lakers than he is. His words will echo throughout the summer, even as Kupchak downplays Bryant’s influence on the team’s coaching search.

Indeed, Bryant might not have a direct effect on the team’s decision, but Kupchak pointed to the ability to get the most out of Bryant as a top priority as the team sifts through its coaching options. Mike Dunleavy, Byron Scott, Alvin Gentry and Lionel Hollins have received interviews, and while there’s dispute over whether the team’s discussion about the head coaching position with assistant coach Kurt Rambis constituted an interview, it’s clear that he’s a candidate for the job. Still, those five aren’t necessarily the front-runners, and more interviews appear likely. In other years, when more obvious choices were present and the Lakers fortunes were brighter, the search might not move so slow, but with Phil Jackson ensconced as Knicks team president and serious doubts surrounding the roster, there is no easy answer.

The same could be said of the team’s approach to free agency. LeBron James seems increasingly likely to remain with the Heat for at least one more year. Carmelo Anthony is thinking of taking a pass on free agency, but the Lakers aren’t that high on him, anyway. There’s mutual interest with Chris Bosh, but he says he’s staying in Miami, too. The Lakers have considered a bloated offer for Eric Bledsoe, but the Suns intend to match whatever comes their way for the restricted free agent. League executives reportedly believe the Lakers are among the teams most likely to throw a max offer at Greg Monroe, but he, too, is a restricted free agent, and Pistons boss Stan Van Gundy has been speaking highly of him. There’s been little chatter connecting the Lakers to fellow restricted free agent Gordon Hayward, and he seems most likely to return to Utah. Dwyane Wade probably won’t leave Miami, and even if he does, the Lakers already have an aging shooting guard with mounting injury woes. The team apparently isn’t high on Kyle Lowry, and while the Lakers like Luol Deng, they’re wary of overpaying him. Zach Randolph pointed to the Lakers, among others, for their tradition of loyalty when he was upset over trade rumors this season, but he and the Grizzlies are in preliminary talks on an extension. That accounts for all 10 players in the latest Hoops Rumors Free Agent Power Rankings, casting serious doubt over whether the Lakers will use their ample cap flexibility to pull off a marquee signing this summer.

Kevin Love and perhaps Rajon Rondo loom as stars obtainable via trade, but the competition for Love is fierce and the Celtics seem more focused on adding stars around Rondo than dealing him away. The Lakers have sign-and-trade fodder, a middling lottery pick, and little else to offer in exchange, making it difficult to envision them coming up with an offer that’s attractive enough for a rival team to part with its star. The quickest path back to contention probably involves waiting for next summer, when Love, Rondo, and a host of other enviable names can hit free agency, but the willingness of Bryant to buy into that idea is a questionable prospect, at best. That’s no doubt playing into the team’s coaching search, as Kupchak and Buss seek someone able to manage Bryant’s moodiness during a non-contending season in a way that doesn’t poison the locker room. Bryant could just as easily serve as a model of passion and preparation for whomever the team drafts at No. 7, so getting the best out of Bryant off the court will be as important as getting the best out of him on it.

Power forwards are clustered within range of the seventh pick, with names like Julius Randle, Noah Vonleh, Dario Saric and Aaron Gordon likely to be in the mix. Former coach Mike D’Antoni might have liked to have seen the team shy away from traditional fours, but the position is a need if the Lakers are to return to a conventional attack. Point guard Marcus Smart is interspersed among that bunch, but the Lakers already have Kendall Marshall, who’s yet to turn 23 and is just two years removed from having been the 13th overall pick. His 8.8 assists per game in 54 contests would have been tied for the second most in the league had he played a full season. There’s little need for the Lakers to upgrade at his position.

The necessity for a big man is much greater, and that becomes even more so if Pau Gasol heads elsewhere. Gasol has gone back and forth about his unrestricted free agency this summer, and his latest comments put the Lakers in the mix for him along with the Grizzlies, Bulls and Spurs. The resignation of Mike D’Antoni removed a likely barrier to his willingness to re-sign, and that was after Bryant pegged the chances that the Spanish 7-footer would stay at 80% this past March. Nonetheless, 50% appears a more realistic figure, and even that might be too high. Jordan Hill and Chris Kaman also appear less than likely to return, putting pressure on the team to re-sign Ryan Kelly and aggressively seek big men from outside the organization.

The team has no such problem with perimeter players. The Lakers and Nick Young have mutual interest in a return, as do the team and Jodie Meeks. The same can be said for the Lakers and Jordan Farmar, and Wesley Johnson believes the team reciprocates his desire to re-sign. There’s also a chance, however faint, that Steve Nash will contribute in some significant way to the team next year. The Lakers have little need to use the stretch provision to waive Nash and reduce his cap hit unless the team’s options in free agency improve drastically, and indeed the team plans on keeping the 40-year-old under contract. Stretching his deal would compromise the team’s cap space for the summer of 2015, and the Lakers need not extend the pain of what’s already proven a burdensome arrangement.

Buss said in October 2012 that the Lakers wanted to make a “splash” in the summer of 2014, but it was at about that point that fortunes for the franchise suddenly went south. The same verbiage was used in regard to the team’s plans for its coaching search, but it seems less likely by the day that the team will hire anyone with jaw-dropping credentials. The glitz and glamour surrounding the Lakers may never vanish, but the winning has. The chasm wasn’t as deep between Finals appearances in 2004 and 2008, but Bryant nearly forced his way out before management proved adept at building the team back to contention. Bryant’s ability to remember that experience will have much to do with how well the Lakers are able to climb back toward the familiar top.

Cap footnotes

* — Young’s cap hold would be $915,243 if he were to opt out, an outcome that appears likely.
** — Gasol’s cap hold will be the lesser of $20,250,143, which is 150% of his 2013/14 salary, or the maximum salary for a veteran of 10 or more seasons, which won’t be determined until after the July Moratorium.
*** — See our glossary entry on cap holds for an explanation of why Harper and others listed in parentheses below his name technically remain on the books for the Lakers.
**** — The cap hold for Brooks is equivalent to the greatest amount the Lakers can offer him for next season. Because the Celtics declined their fourth-year team option on Brooks before the season, the Lakers aren’t allowed to re-sign him for a 2014/15 salary that’s more than he would have earned on that option. That’s true even though Brooks was traded twice, first to the Warriors and then the Lakers.
***** — The cap hold for Bazemore would be $915,243 if the Lakers decline to tender his qualifying offer.
****** — The cap hold for Kelly would be $816,482 if the Lakers decline to tender his qualifying offer.

ShamSports and Larry Coon’s Salary Cap FAQ were used in the creation of this post.

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