The season has ended for the Los Angeles Lakers after the San Antonio Spurs swept L.A. in the first round of the NBA Playoffs. For the Lakers, it means the organization can finally focus on moving forward instead of trying to salvage a broken present.
The 2013 off-season could be very interesting for the Lakers as they prepare for a new season that, hopefully, puts the nightmarish 2012-2013 season in the distance.
Dwight Howard's future
The biggest question for the Lakers' long-term future is Howard's decision when he becomes an unrestricted free agent. The Lakers made the big splash everybody had been expecting when they finally traded for Howard, but his first season with L.A. was less than ideal. Will Howard re-sign with the Lakers after a tumultuous season, or will the final moments of Howard's career with the Lakers be his ejection in Game 4?
Howard was brought into the franchise to be the bridge between the end of Kobe Bryant's era to the future, but it was always a gamble for L.A. If things didn't go well in season one all bets would be off with Howard.
Thing's did not go well.
Making matters worse is the Lakers current roster structure. There is little to no flexibility left for them to add players, and Bryant will be rehabilitating his Achilles through the Summer (which we'll get to in a bit). Is there enough left in L.A. after an injury that exposed the fragility of their health for Howard to stick around?
Mike D'Antoni was signed by the Lakers just a few weeks into the regular season after Mike Brown was fired, robbing D'Antoni of an off-season to discuss the roster with Mitch Kupchak, and the schematics with the players. With his first season in L.A. under his belt, he will now have the full Summer treatment to help adjust the team.
Will he be the coach going forward, though? D'Antoni struggled with the roster through much of the season, particularly his handling of Pau Gasol, and the Lakers may not be able to make any changes that outright improve the team. Does the Lakers front office believe in D'Antoni enough to give him another full seaso?
Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak will have to consider all options again as another Brown situation would be an embarassment and would potentially set the team back another year. Then, there's the wild card of Howard. What if Howard wants to return but under the agreement the Lakers would be going another direction with their coaching?
No matter how much public support the Lakers have shown D'Antoni, they will certainly have to consider what's in their best interest next season and beyond.
Bryant's torn Achilles is going to take the one thing the Lakers don't have much left of: time. Bryant is out of his cast and into a walking boot, but he will have to take to his recovery as carefully as possible. Causing further damage to the Achilles tendon and calf muscle due to overexertion is a definite concern for a player who maniacally plays through injuries.
His recovery will have more to do with his body adjusting than his will pushing him to a faster recovery. Bryant vowed to be ready to play by the season opener, and the Lakers have put a six-to-nine month time frame on his return, but the issue cannot be forced this time.
Expect plenty of updates on Bryant's recovery process through the Summer, which is a huge factor in the Lakers' Summer. Bryant's $30 million clog up the Lakers' salary cap situation if he isn't playing, and we've certainly not heard the last of the "amnesty" whisperings if the recovery is prolonged.
The expiring Gasol
Gasol has reached the final year of his contract while still wearing a purple and gold uniform. Was Game 4 Gasol's swan song? He stood as the only "Laker" left with Bryant on the bench and Howard in the locker room and received a standing ovation when he took his seat for the final time in the 2012-2013 season.
Could that be his last?
Gasol's trade value will definitely see an increase as he is a $19 million expiring contract, but that's also a big expiring contract for the Lakers who are looking forward to having cap space again once the 2014 off-season kicks in. It's unlikely the Lakers will be willing to taint the cap space they've created, but it's also unlikely they won't take calls on Gasol.
Making things trickier is if they Lakers do trade Gasol, what will they look for? Pieces to fit a head coach that they may, or may not, stick with? If Howard walks in the Summer, Gasol would be able to slide in as the Lakers' starting center. Many of the decisions the Lakers must make are linked to one another, making this a tricky slope to scale.
What does Steve Nash have left?
Nash played in only one of the Lakers' playoff games after being sidelined due to hamstring, hip, back, and nerve issues. This after he played only 50 games through the regular season and putting together his lowest minute count since the 1999-2000 season. Nash was brought in as a veteran point guard who could give the Lakers a threat at the position, but it backfired and the Lakers are now on the hook with Nash for another two seasons.
It was not a pretty season for Nash, who was nowhere near the ball-handler many envisioned when he became a Laker in the Summer. Teams were able to trap and pressure him when he had the ball, and he wasn't able to Houdini out of those situations like he once could.
Was that the last of Nash after years of defying his body, or will he come back strong after a Summer of recovery? The Lakers are in a tight position without other options at the position, and fewer options in finding a starting quality point guard.
Filling out the roster
Here's a list of players expiring this Summer for the Lakers (aside from Howard):
- Antawn Jamison
- Earl Clark
- Devin Ebanks
- Darius Morris
- Robert Sacre
- Andrew Goudelock
- Jodie Meeks ($1.5 million team option)
And Metta World Peace has a $7.7 million player option which is a large lump of money for a player to leave behind at this point in his career. There will assuredly be different faces on the bench next season, but it will be interesting to see which players the front office wants to keep (if any). Meeks at $1.5 million is a bargain, but money aside, does he help the team? Clark had a strong mid-season, but disappeared through the final month more often than not, and was a non-factor in the playoffs. The Lakers could likely bring him back at a bargain, but what terms would the Lakers seek out, and is he a legitimate rotation player or just a mirage?
Jamison was arguably the most productive bench player, but will he come back at a discount for a second-straight year? For Ebanks, it seems to be a foregone conclusion that his time in L.A. has come to an end, as even while the Lakers were ravaged by injuries he hung out in his warm-ups on the bench.
The Lakers don't have much to offer free agents this Summer and will again rely on exception and minimum contracts to fill out the roster. How many of these players come back, and which free agents will the Lakers target once free agency officially hits?
There are plenty of questions for the Lakers going forward, but they can finally put one of the most exhausting seasons in L.A. behind them. With any luck, the front office will make all of the right decisions, the players get healthy, and the 2013-2014 looks like a Van Gogh painting in comparison to the 2012-2013 season. Or at least better than the soggy Cheerios in my bowl after I finish writing this.
Expect more on this from us here at Silver Screen and Roll through the Summer.
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