R.I.P. 2013-2014 Los Angeles Lakers season. You made us watch over 2,000 minutes of Wesley Johnson and somehow made us think that Nick Young (aka Swaggy P) was a responsible, charismatic leader and a decent defender. You were a year that robbed us of 76 games of Kobe Bryant and made us feel like games were more of a chore than a delight. In no way will you be missed.
With perhaps the worst six months of Lakers basketball of all time over and done with, we can finally look towards the next six months: the offseason. VP of Player Personnel Jim Buss and GM Mitch Kupchak have a ton of work to do, which includes trying to rebuild a team around a returning Kobe Bryant and of course, dealing with the team's first lottery pick in almost a decade. It's fair to say that this is the most pivotal Lakers offseason since 2004, when the same front office traded Shaquille O'Neal and re-signed Bryant.
Let's take a look at the biggest storylines throughout the summer.
Who are the Lakers taking in the NBA Draft?
For the first time since 2009, the Los Angeles Lakers have a first round draft pick and have the potential to keep the pick for the first time since 2007. But not just any draft pick at that: a genuine lottery pick. Right now I feel like one of the Amish in the middle of a Best Buy: I'm confused and excited and I most definitely need a new pair of pants.
The first of two key dates here is May 20th, the date on which the team will find out exactly where their pick will land. As anyone who's heard the word "tank" knows, the more the Lakers lost, the higher probability that they'll get a better pick in this June's draft. Well, May 20th is the day that the ping pong balls will bounce around that delightfully constructed plastic bubble, with a ricochet here and there controlling LA's fate. As detailed in this article by Mike Trudell, the Lakers still have a 6.3% chance of moving up five spots in the Draft and nabbing the top pick. As the percentages go, they'll most likely end up with the fifth or sixth selection.
From there, comes the evaluation. If we're to go by the odds and the superb draft board that Tom Fehr and Ben Rosales burned the house down on, the Lakers will most likely end up with the sixth pick and a selection of the following players: Oklahoma State point guard Marcus Smart, Indiana power forward Noah Vonleh, Arizona forward Aaron Gordon and potentially even Kentucky power forward Julius Randle or the mysterious Australian point guard Dante Exum. The key date here is June 26th, where LA will make their decision from the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY.
Make no mistake: the Lakers have needs at every single position, even shooting guard. No current player on the roster is guaranteed to be on the team in three season's time, and thus, the front office needs to take the best player left on the board. It's going to be a fascinating stretch for the team and for the fans, both of which have only seen a handful of lottery picks the past three decades. Considering that each of them turned into an All-Star (and two into Hall of Famers), I'm fairly confident that the Lakers can fish out a very, very solid player in this draft.
However, this next offseason question is perhaps the most interesting one...
Will the Lakers even keep their pick?
It's going to be a summer of speculation for LA, as rumors have swirled that the front office would consider dealing a presumably high lottery pick in a trade for a player like Kevin Love or Kyrie Irving.
As the past decades has shown us, the Lakers fan base isn't the most patient in the world. Part of this has to do with the fact that they're not truly accustomed to seeing a losing product on the floor. The other? A very vocal lot of season ticket holders that are not willing to shell out thousands and thousands of dollars to see Kent Bazemore throw passes off of Robert Sacre's endearingly Canadian foot. Many people, including Kobe Bryant, are clamoring for the next star to come to LA now to help create an instantly more watchable team, not to mention one that's far more ready to compete for a playoff spot.
It's going to be very interesting to see if the Lakers try and deal for a star now, considering that a player like Love will be a free agent next offseason and other guys like Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant the years after that.
Will Mike D'Antoni remain head coach?
The D'Antoni effect
Improving the guards
Much has been made of MDA's continuing presence on the sidelines next year for the Lakers. One of the cases for him to play? Indisputable improvement from many players on the team.
The D'Antoni effect
Under any other circumstances, finishing with the worst record in LA franchise history should be grounds enough for dismissal, right?
But what if that team featured just six games from franchise star Kobe, around a dozen from Steve Nash and 60 from Pau Gasol? What if nearly all the role players--including Jordan Farmar, Steve Blake, Xavier Henry, Jordan Hill and Nick Young--missed double digit games with injuries as well?
And more importantly, what if, in the midst of this worst season ever, the team...never stopped playing hard? Not even in the very last game, during which nine healthy players defeated the best team in the league?
Mike D'Antoni is due $4MM in the final season of his contract and has been under fire since the moment he was hired. There are pros and cons to his tenure with the team which I have no doubt will be discussed ad nauseum throughout the summer. However, one way or another, the Lakers are going to have to decide whether or not MDA is the guy they want at the helm during perhaps their biggest rebuilding effort ever.
As our own Ben Rosales has noted for months now, the Lakers' cap situation this summer isn't quite as rosy as it may seem on the surface. I'll spare you the gory details, but Kobe's monstrous $23MM deal, Nash's $9.7MM contract, as well as contracts for a high draft pick and the remaining 11-12 guys on the roster won't allow for more than $15-20MM for a free agent signing. Essentially, the pipe dream of the team signing Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh or LeBron James looks like an even longer shot than twelve months ago.
Combine that with the organization's obvious desire to sign an All-Star like Love or Westbrook in future offseasons, a big money deal for a player like Luol Deng, Greg Monroe or Eric Bledsoe isn't likely either. Lakers fans should look more in the neighborhood of talented but flawed players like Kyle Lowry, Evan Turner or Gordon Hayward.
When free agency opens up in early July, the team should go through a flurry of offseason additions, but it might not be the dynamite moves that a dreaming Lakers fan might hope for. Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak will surely be busy this summer, but most likely because they have 11 roster spots to fill, not because they're swinging deals for All-Stars.
Will Steve Nash be waived via the stretch provision?
For the uninitiated, the "stretch provision" in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement allows any NBA team the ability to waive a player and "stretch out" his aggregate cap hit over three seasons. In Nash's case, this would mean a $3.3 million dollar cap figure from next season until the 2016-2017 season.
It's obvious to most people that the former two-time MVP point guard's days as an everyday player are done. The question now will be whether or not the Lakers will want to impact their future flexibility and waive Nash now (in the hopes to score a big free agent this summer), or simply eat the cap hit in 2014-2015 and live to fight another day. It's an interesting predicament for the Lakers, who could proceed either way depending on what free agent scenario presents itself.
Which Lakers will be re-signed? And what to do with Pau Gasol?
Another fascinating subplot this offseason will be which, if any, of the current crop of Lakers free agents will be re-signed. Gasol is obviously the most interesting question here, as he's noted many times that he'd prefer to stay in LA, but certainly couldn't be interested in taking too big of a paycut from his $20 million dollar salary in 2013. Could the Lakers work out a deal with the Spaniard to get him to retire in purple and gold? Or will he flee for a franchise that won't try to deal him every five months? As far removed as we think we are from Pau trade rumors, there may be another set this summer as the team could sign-and-trade him to another team for a few assets.
Players like Jodie Meeks, Jordan Farmar and Nick Young will definitely have their suitors and it'll be up to the Lakers to decide on if they feel like ponying up for these role players going forward. There will be a much smaller market for Xavier Henry, Kent Bazemore and Wesley Johnson, though the Lakers would probably want another look at them next season on the cheap.
If Pau Gasol is gone, which two-time NBA Champion and 4-time All-Star will Lakers fans criticize now?
Oh I'm sure they'll find someone new.
The Lakers certainly have no shortage of questions to answer between today and the beginning of October. Whatever moves they make--and whether or not you agree with the people making them--this offseason is a huge turning point for the Los Angeles Lakers. We are on the precipice of history my friends, for better or for worse.
Stay tuned to Silver Screen & Roll all summer for coverage, opinions and keeping the dream alive.
--Follow this author @TheGreatMambino