Needless to say, the Lakers season didn't end the way many of us would have wanted. Losing in the first round of the playoffs is never a teams goals, no matter how they did the year before. However, when you add the other situations the Lakers have to deal with; injury to the star player, cap issues, contracts, instability at the head coach position, things are even less desirable for the Lakers. The Lakers had an offensive efficiency rating of 107.9 per game during the regular season and a defensive efficiency rating of 106.6. That ranked them at 9th and 11th in the NBA, respectively. Those numbers by themselves don't tell the entire story though. If those numbers were coming from a franchise in their ascent, with their newly built, young team it would be great. However, the Lakers are an aging team, now dealing with injuries, but everything isn't bad.
Although there has been a lot of speculation about what the team will do with Kobe Bryant one thing that has almost no chance of happening is the team releasing him. They are not going to amnesty or trade him. He is currently the face of the Laker franchise and still offers a lot both on and off the court. This season ESPN ranked him as 7th overall in the league with a 12.7 WARP, he also posted the second bet effective field goal percentage of his entire career. When you combine that with what he brings to the locker room, it's easy to see why Kobe will be in Los Angeles next season.
The Lakers attempted to build a super roster packed full of talent; Bryant, Nash, Howard, Gasol, World-Peace. They made an attempt to go all out for the title, and as usual when tried by professional sports teams, it failed. Now they must decide what to do before the wheels completely come off.
The first thing that they are going to consider is how to use amnesty effectively. Strictly financially, Gasol is an easy choice. It's hard to imagine his contributions being worth $39 million more to a team that's unlikely to contend for a championship. Still, Gasol remains too valuable on the court to let walk for nothing in return. There's also the possibility of trading Gasol, which Kupchak surely will explore before having to make a decision. World Peace's contract is closer to untradeable. That's why he's the most likely amnesty candidate. World Peace certainly didn't turn out to be the player they though he would be and an extra $23 million off the books would be major.
The next move they need to make would be re-signing Dwight Howard. People were very concerned at one point about how he would deal with his injuries, they seemed to be slowly taking their toll. Following the All-Star break, Howard averaged 17.7 points, 13.1 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per 36 minutes. Those are great numbers. The Lakers ended their season in disappointing fashion, but that does not change the fact that Howard is essential to the teams future.
The next thing the team should really consider would be trading Pau Gasol. A Gasol trade could benefit the Lakers in two ways. One thing the team has dealt with all season long has been a lack of depth. The youth that Kupchak tried to infuse the roster with hasn't worked out so far. IF they are able to trade Gasol for two solid players, it could be very worthwhile. Add to that the cap space and making the team younger and it sounds very doable. Or the Lakers could consider trading Gasol to a team like the Houston Rockets that will be under the cap and won't have to send back equivalent salary in return. Finding the right fit will be difficult, but Gasol is a unique trade asset.
The Lakers can still get things in order without suffering too much of a drop off. Going into this offseason they are somewhat limited in what they can do. However, with a proper strategy, they can certainly begin. Ultimately, Kupchakis going to have make some hard choices. The Lakers are never really in that bad of a spot. They have always had a superstar on their roster, (still do) and people love to play for them, and cheer for them. They have a storied franchise and they will rebound.