Fixing The Lakers

Milwaukee Bucks at Los Angeles Lakers

January 1st, 2014

The Lakers are sinking faster than the Titanic.  Half their roster is injured, the other half is barely talented enough to play in the NBA.  Their coach is a terrible fit for the roster, the team can’t play defense, and Jim Buss looks like the Tommy Boy of the NBA right now.

The news isn’t all bad though.  The Lakers should have at least $30 million in cap space this summer, and probably a lottery pick in the 2014 draft, which is expected to be the best in the last decade.  They also have one of the most savvy general managers in the NBA, in Mitch Kupchak, who has already shown he can rebuild a championship team very quickly.

The question the Lakers need to ask themselves is this: how determined are they to build a championship contender in the next two years, with Kobe still under contract?  The Lakers can either surround Kobe with some veteran players this summer,  or take a little bit slower process in hopes of building a team that can contend for a longer period of time.  Here are a few ideas:

Plan 1: Trade Pau Gasol, Steve Blake, and Chris Kaman to Chicago for Carlos Boozer, Luol Deng, and a 2015 1st round pick.

Explanation:  This trade would take the Lakers out of the running for any big 2014 free agents like Lebron or Carmelo, but it keeps them competitive in the West for the next season.  LA would probably re-sign Deng, and have a core of Kobe, Deng, Boozer, and their 2014 lottery pick.  The Bulls do this to save money, and begin a rebuild.  Boozer’s deal expires after next season, so LA could potentially still try to sign Kevin Love in the summer of 2015, and have even more flexibility in 2016 when Kobe’s contract expires.  This doesn’t make the Lakers a championship contender, but puts them back in the playoffs in the West.  The only issue here is that Boozer would probably struggle a lot in Mike D’Antoni’s system, since he isn’t the typical “stretch 4” D’Antoni likes.

Plan 2: Trade Pau Gasol to Cleveland for Andrew Bynum, Dion Waiters, and a 2015 1st round pick.    Sign Carmelo Anthony and Dirk Nowitski in the summer of 2014.

Explanation: The Lakers would acquire Bynum to waive him and get themselves under the luxury tax this season, and they also get two assets out of it.  Carmelo could get close to a max deal in LA, with an early opt out in his contract to make up what he lost by leaving NY.  If the Mavs miss the playoffs, Dirk could strongly consider leaving Dallas, and take a paycut to play in LA with Kobe and Carmelo for his final year or two.  LA would have a core of Kobe, Carmelo, Dirk, Dion Waiters, and their 2014 lottery pick.  This would be an interesting team that would score a lot of points, but could have some problems defending.  The Lakers also take themselves out of the running for any 2015 free agents going this route, and ‘Melo probably wouldn’t be amenable to playing in LA if Mike D’Antoni were still the head coach.

Plan 3 – Trade Chris Kaman, Jordan Hill, and Shawne Williams to Oklahoma City for Kendrick Perkins, a 2014 1st round pick(from Dallas) , and a 2015 1st round pick.  Trade Pau Gasol and Steve Blake to Cleveland for Andrew Bynum, Dion Waiters, Anderson Varajeo, a 1st round pick in 2014, and a 1st round pick in 2015.  Sign Kevin Love and Rajon Rondo in the summer of 2015, and sign Kevin Durant in the summer of 2016.

Explanation – This is a much more long term plan.  The Lakers take on the Perkins and Varejao contracts, which takes them out of the running for any major 2014 free agents.  However, they get a good young player in Waiters, and four 1st round picks over the next two seasons.  Waiving Bynum also gives the Lakers some luxury tax savings as well.  The Thunder and Cavs would be interested in these deals because they need to win now.  This trade also gives LA a shot at really bottoming out this year, for a low 2014 lottery pick.  The Lakers would then have four more 1st rounders (including two in 2015),  a young asset in Waiters, and the expiring contracts of Perkins and Varejeo to dangle in a trade for Love or Rondo, while signing the other as a free agent.  By the 2015-2016 season, LA could have a core of Rondo, Love, Kobe, their 2014 lottery stud, and their two more 1st round picks.  Once Kobe comes off the books in 2016, they can go after Durant or even Russell Westbrook.  The challenge to this plan will be convincing Kobe and the Laker fans to be patient through a rebuild.

Notice how each of these plans involves trading Pau Gasol.  Although he has been instrumental in the last two Laker championships, it’s clear he has mentally checked out and is unhappy.  It’s unlikely the Lakers will be able to re-sign Pau this summer at the discounted rate they would hope for, so LA should get something for him.

Another major issue with the Lakers plan moving forward, is what to do with Mike D’Antoni.  It’s very obvious that D’Antoni needs very specific type of players in his system to be effective.  If LA plans to stick with D’Antoni, it eliminates the possibility of Carmelo Anthony coming to the Lakers, and would force them to build their team around an elite point guard moving forward.  Buss and Kupchak need to figure out what the identity of their roster is before moving forward.

You might have noticed that none of the options listed include Lebron James signing with the Lakers this summer, or LA signing restricted free agents Eric Bledsoe or Greg Monroe.  None of those options are realistic.  One way or another, the fans need to be patient.  In most NBA cities, a 2-3 year rebuild is fantastic.  In LA, it fees like an eternity.  A quick fix will likely lead to many years of futility.  However, if LA starts a rebuild now that is similar to plan 3, they might even be contending again before Kobe retires.

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