Offseason In Review: Los Angeles Lakers

Hoops Rumors is in the process of looking back at each team’s offseason, from the end of the playoffs in June right up until opening night. Trades, free agent signings, draft picks, contract extensions, option decisions, camp invitees, and more will be covered, as we examine the moves each franchise made over the last several months.



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Draft Picks

Camp Invitees

Departing Players

Rookie Contract Option Decisions

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It was perhaps the most difficult summer for Lakers fans since the team’s nearly annual Finals defeats to the Celtics in the 1960s. Dwight Howard turned his back on the chance to join the pantheon of legendary purple-and-gold centers, bolting for the Rockets and leaving the Lakers without much flexibility to replace him. L.A. was still over the cap even without Howard, meaning the team was stuck with only cap exception money to add to the roster, barring a major trade or a nearly unthinkable amnesty of Kobe Bryant. The Kobe amnesty might have become a possibility if the Lakers had landed Howard as well as Chris Paul, but the team had no such luck on the free agent market, and Bryant remains as much a part of the franchise as ever. There wasn’t any significant offseason trade chatter involving Pau Gasol, once a fixture on the trade market, or Steve Nash, so it was a summer for GM Mitch Kupchak to make the best of a picked-over market of free agent leftovers.

The Lakers did cut ties with one member of their last championship squad, using the amnesty clause to remove Metta World Peace from their books instead of Bryant. Subtracting World Peace’s $7.7MM salary for 2013/14 saved the Lakers a much greater sum in luxury taxes, but it didn’t take them under the cap the way shedding Bryant’s $30.5MM cap figure might have. The 34-year-old World Peace isn’t the player he once was, but he experienced no significant drop-off in production last season while playing 33.7 minutes per game. The move was one of austerity more than any other motivation, a rarity for the high-rolling Lakers. Still, there’s no reason to spend extra cash to keep a player on the downside of his career during a season in which championship hopes aren’t realistic.

Kupchak committed his mini mid-level exception to a center who could replace Howard, bringing former Clipper Chris Kaman back to Los Angeles after a season in which he’d been disgruntled under coach Rick Carlisle in Dallas. Kaman had signed with the Mavs on a one-year, $8MM deal, and was one of the top centers on the 2012 free agent market. That makes the 31-year-old a potential bargain for the Lakers after Carlisle limited Kaman to the fewest minutes per night of his career last season. It was nonetheless odd to see the Lakers allocate their largest chunk of free agent money to a big man who could recreate the problems Howard and Gasol had fitting together under coach Mike D’Antoni, who prefers small-ball. Kaman is seeing even less playing time for the Lakers so far this year than he did with Dallas, so it appears D’Antoni’s solution is simply to keep Kaman out of Gasol’s way, limiting the effect of Kupchak’s greatest summer expenditure.

Kupchak used the minimum-salary exception on every other signee this offseason, save for yet another center. He used the team’s Non-Bird rights on fan favorite Robert Sacre to exceed the minimum-salary exception’s two-year limit and give the 7-footer a three-year deal. Sacre won’t make any more than the minimum salary in any of the three seasons, but the team will have him under control until 2016 should he develop into more than the third-stringer he is. It’s somewhat surprising that Sacre’s salary is guaranteed for this season and next, since the Lakers have long been clearing their 2014/15 payroll for a shot at a splashy summer of 2014, but the less-than-$1MM cap hit wouldn’t be much of a dent in the team’s flexibility.

Kupchak may have put another chip in the team’s cap room for next summer with his deal for Nick Young. The Southern California native and former USC Trojan has a player option for next year in his minimum-salary contract. Young, like Kaman, signed a much more lucrative one-year deal in 2012, inking with the Sixers for $5.6MM. The 28-year-old shooting guard also saw a reduction in minutes last season, the third straight year in which his three-point percentage declined. Still, he was a respectable 35.7% from behind the arc in 23.9 minutes per game last season, and the double-figure scorer could have commanded more than the minimum. The lure of playing close to home and his friendship with fellow Lakers offseason signee Jordan Farmar was enough for Young to sacrifice dollars for comfort.

The best bargain Kupchak came across might have been one of the team’s final signees of the summer. Xavier Henry came to camp on no more than a non-guaranteed invitation, and with his NBA career teetering on the brink of extinction, he suddenly delivered on the promise that made him the 12th overall pick in 2010. Henry went for 29 points in a preseason game, and delivered more of the same with a 22-point performance off the bench in an upset of the Clippers on opening night. He’s earned a couple of starts, but he has yet to score 20 points again, so it remains to be seen whether he’ll drift back into his doldrums or if the Lakers stumbled upon a true find.

Henry’s story is somewhat reminiscent of Earl Clark‘s from last season. Clark, another former lottery pick, had his best season by far in 2012/13 with the Lakers after injuries to others pressed him into duty. The Lakers had interest in re-signing the versatile forward, but the Cavs offered him a two-year, $8.5MM contract that was about twice what I figured he was worth. The Lakers had full Bird Rights on the 25-year-old, but they weren’t about to overpay him so steeply when it would have meant millions more in tax penalties.

Of more significance is how much the Lakers will shell out for Bryant now that co-owner and executive VP Jim Buss says the team has begun extension talks with the star and agent Rob Pelinka. Bryant has expressed reticence about taking a significant pay cut from his $30MM salary this year. He could make as much as $32.7MM next season, but doing so would limit the team’s ability to surround him with marquee free agent talent. Much hinges on how well Bryant performs this season once he returns from injury, but Luke Adams of Hoops Rumors pegs Bryant’s annual salary for the next two or three years at around $15MM. The negotiations with Bryant will be the keystone for the team’s long-awaited summer of 2014. LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and other juicy targets are on the horizon, with the promise of more glory in Lakerland. For now, and for this past summer, the keyword has been patience, and the team must be willing to continue down the path of sacrifice this year and resist sacrificing a bright future to salvage a lackluster present.

Luke Adams contributed to this post.

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