The Lakers have already fired their opening shot in getting together their next great championship squad: drafting Jordan Clarkson.
But they also picked up a fellow named Julius Randle--the number 7 overall pick--who hopefully will be a building block in LA for the next decade or so.
Beyond that? This year's free agency could tell us a lot about where the Lakers are headed...or if we're just going to be asking the same questions for another twelve months. What are the Lakers aiming to do in the coming months?
Plan A: LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony or Chris Bosh. Or many of them.
As with most offseasons, even with no cap room or assets, the Lakers are going to be involved in the free agent rumor mill. But in an offseason where the team has room for a maximum salary contract? They'll be involved in every whisper, no matter how farfetched.
Which is exactly what this situation is.
The Lakers have virtually no shot at the former four-time MVP, nor the former scoring champion nor the former Miami Heat Harlem Shake video MVP. The Lakers are essentially bereft of proven talent, the largest factor that any of these free agents will take into consideration before committing to another team. In short, the Show kind of stinks right now and I'm not sure any of these All-Stars want to descend into this pit.
James has also declared his intentions for a max salary contract--around $22 million--which would essentially stop the Lakers from making any more free agent additions after him. Anthony's situation is a little less clear, but there's no reason for him to leave New York for LA, seeing as both teams have nearly the same blueprint going forward--wait for cap room to appear and take free agents when they can get them two at a time. Though Kobe's relationship with Carmelo could be a real X factor, I'm not sure if "being best buds", but without the carrot of competing for titles is what moves the needle in the modern NBA.
Bosh--whose name hasn't been connected to the Lakers at all--would only leave Miami for LA if he was concerned about being paid more money or wanted a more prominent role offensively. However, there's nothing I've read to suggest either is true--in fact, completely to the contrary.
If that's the Plan A for free agency, we can all but jettison that one right away, my friends.
Plan B: Roll over free agent money until next season
Wait. That's the next best plan. Seriously. Just wait.
The Lakers could just take 2/3 of their available cap room, roll it over to the next offseason and allow Steve Nash's $10 million dollar contract to expire and...do the same dance all over again when Kevin Love, Goran Dragic, Marc Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge and Rajon Rondo could all be free agents.
If the Lakers are going to strike out this summer, waiting until next year looks like a much more appetizing gamble than over-paying Luol Deng, Greg Monroe or Gordon Hayward. The hope is that Randle will look like a much more appealing option to spend the next four or five years playing with and the Lakers can grab enough young talent this summer to entice any potential free agents.
Plan B-ish: Roll over most free agent money until next season
There is a middle ground to the previous plan, which will sate those of us not patient enough to wait a year for a mere gamble and preserve the opportunity to sign an All-Star: spend some now, save most for later.
If the Lakers look to spend money this summer and it's not on James, Anthony or Bosh, it'll be on a player who's going to help them going forward...for the right price. In order to accomplish just that, LA has to be mindful of any contract that exceed $11 million, a figure that would seriously impact their ability to sign a premium free agent next summer for $20 million or more.
So, who fits in that range?
Greg Monroe, Gordon Hayward, Chandler Parsons and Eric Bledsoe are most likely out of LA's price range, as their current teams will most likely match those offer sheets. However, players like Kyle Lowry, Lance Stephenson, Trevor Ariza and even Luol Deng all fit that profile. If the Lakers can grab any of these gentlemen for $11 million or less, then perhaps they'd sign him and hope that a resurgent Kobe, a promising Randle and new player X will be enough to attract Love, Rondo, Aldridge, et al.
This is the least crazy plan out of the three, but a gamble nonetheless.
Beyond the big plans the Lakers have this offseason, there's still one serious matter: fielding a team of 12 guys. Because right now, the Lakers only have six official team members.
While the starting rotation of Nash, Kendall Marshall, Kobe Bryant, Julius Randle and Robert Sacre looks quite formidable, they'll need more guys come November 1st. Though I suspect several will come from their Summer League team (look out for Ben Rosales' article soon!), the Lakers will need to sign at least five to seven free agents (new team members as well as the former incumbents).
Most likely this means the Lakers will largely be employing the strategy they used last year--low salaried veterans on one year deals (perhaps with an option for a second year). As such, I'd expect to see the Lakers fishing for vets such as Richard Jefferson, Earl Watson, Beno Udrih and old friend Steve Blake, as well as former prospects like Cole Aldrich, Ekpe Udoh and Evan Turner. I haven't heard the Lakers officially connected to any of these players, but I'm just speculating about the types of players the team should be looking at.
Of course, the Lakers have their own guys to re-sign. LA has already been talking to Pau Gasol, Kent Bazemore and Nick Young, and I can only suspect Jordan Hill, Jordan Farmar and Xavier Henry will soon have similar conversations. From how poorly last season went for him, I doubt either the Lakers or Chris Kaman would want a reunion trip, and I can't imagine that MarShon Brooks will be back after he showed virtually nothing after coming to LA. Jodie Meeks has already bid adieu to the Lake Show with a three-year, $19 million deal, a contract that is well out of the Lakers' price range.
Gasol will, of course, be the most intriguing case of the bunch, as he could very well be re-signed for $10-12 million and still give the Lakers flexibility to pursue a max free agent next summer. However, his declining offensive game and already poor defensive repertoire could prevent them from pairing him with Randle for the next couple of seasons. Young is the next interesting free agent contract to come, with the great Swaggy P establishing tremendous value for himself during an otherwise horrible season in Los Angeles. He could fetch an even greater contract than Meeks, which would be difficult for the Lakers to match. Bazemore, Farmar and Henry could all be back on short-term, relatively cheap deals.
It'll be interesting to see just how the Lakers fill out their roster, let alone if they'll be able to grab players with All-Star potential.
The first step is for the Lakers to find out if James, Anthony or Bosh have any interest in coming to Los Angeles. After they go through those very necessary hoops (the Lakers front office worked for this cap room for years--they have to exhaust every infinitesimal morsel of hope) only to be rejected, they'll have to make a decision: roll over the money completely for two max free agents next summer and fill the team out with short-term deals OR find a mid-range free agent player they like and preserve room for one max free agent contract next offseason. In the meantime, they'll most likely play the waiting game with many of their own free agents to establish market value, and then deal with them when the time comes.
All in all, it's going to be an offseason of waiting for the Lakers, a fairly horrible fate for a fanbase that's just gone through arguably the worst season in franchise history. It's not the sexiest option ever, but LA ownership has always been a calculating lot--they'll strike when they feel they have the best chance to win, but undoubtedly balance that with trying to field a competitive team for next season. The Lakers can afford to be patient, but they certainly cannot afford to be horrible for another year.
Oh, and they still have to find a head coach. But one thing at a time, I suppose.
--Follow this author @TheGreatMambino