The Los Angeles Lakers are suffering through one of their worst seasons in franchise history with their rash of injuries for the second straight season. The Lakers have been limited to 17 games between Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash combined, not to mention Pau Gasol, Xavier Henry, Jordan Farmar (has been hurt three times), and Steve Blake have all missed significant games due to injury.
They gave Bryant a heavily criticized $48.5 million extension, preventing them from bringing in two maximum salary free agents.
So, where do they go from here? I may have some answers.
The Lakers will get a top 5 draft pick most likely.
There are a lot of talented players available in this draft that they could select and bring in. Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid, Jabari Parker, Julius Randle and Dante Exum are all projected as the top-five players in this draft.
Parker has said he may stay at Duke. The incentive is there since the Blue Devils got bounced early in the NCAA tournament and they have a great player in high school All-American Jahil Okafor enrolling this fall.
Wiggins, one of the best prospects to come out of Canada, is likely to be the No. 1 overall pick. The Lakers will need to secure more ping pong balls from new commissioner Adam Silver to make sure they get the first pick.
Embiid is a raw project who reminds me of Michael Olowokandi, and his back injury may give teams caution when taking him too high.
They wouldn’t need a player like Exum if Bledsoe is acquired, unless they want to bring Exum as a possible replacement for Bryant in a few seasons. He has drawn comparisons to Michael Carter-Williams, except he has a better jump shot. Exum says he wants to play with Bryant (he and Kobe share the same agent in Rob Pelinka).
Exum could replace Bryant at shooting guard when he retires. When he played at the 2013 Nike Hoop Summit with Germany’s Dennis Schroder (rookie with the Atlanta Hawks) he played off the ball and was able to get to the rim off the dribble. He wow’ed NBA scouts, reinforcing that he was an impressive player to keep their eye on.
Anthony Bennett’s lackluster season may give teams a second thought in taking Randle. Randle is another tweener forward may cost a general manager his job if he doesn’t pan out.
Sign Eric Bledsoe to the poison pill contract that has been rumored.
Earlier this year, ESPN reporter Chris Broussard said the Lakers may be interested in overpaying Bledsoe (a restricted free agent) so that the Suns don’t want to match it and head in another direction. They have two point guards playing in the backcourt together and don’t seem like they will be able to keep both, the Suns have multiple selections in the upcoming NBA draft. If the Lakers offer Bledsoe $14-15 million per season that may be too much for Phoenix to match.
Bledsoe has had a breakout season with the Phoenix Suns (17.2 points per game, 5.7 assists per game, 4.5 rebounds per game) after being traded from the Los Angeles Clippers. Bledsoe is just 24 years old and has the dynamic personality and talent to replace Kobe once he retires in a few seasons. Bledsoe would be able to carry the torch for the Lakers as their next superstar to build a team around.
Sign Spencer Hawes to a 3-4 year deal worth $8-9 million per season.
Hawes is an underrated center who has always reminded me of Brad Miller, I like him a lot. He’ll be a seven year veteran but he’ll be just 26 when next season starts. He can score (13-14 points), rebound (8-9 rebounds), pass (3-4 assists) and he can shoot the 3-pointer (40% this season and 35% for his career). He isn’t a great defender but he’s a solid big man who could help replace Pau Gasol if he walks as a free agent, like he’s expected to. Hawes would give them a versatile big man who can step out and hit the outside shot, poor Mike D’Antoni would love to have him this season but D’Antoni will be gone by the time Hawes shows up in Los Angeles.
Sign Drew Gooden.
Gooden has only played in 11 games this season for the Washington Wizards but he’s still just 32 years old. Bring him in the veteran minimum of 1.8 million and he’s capable of putting up 10ppg and seven rebounds. He’s not going to play much defense but he can give the Lakers a serviceable PF, provided he stays healthy. If he can’t stay healthy, Kelly gets more on the job training as the stretch four (4?).
Use the stretch provision on Steve Nash.
If Nash doesn’t retire — and he has said he’s sticking around to collect the paycheck — the Lakers could use the stretch provision on him and his contract counts just $3 million towards the salary cap (instead of $9 million). Nash has shown he’s unable to stay healthy and they have a need to save as much money as possible with a lot of free agents this summer. Nash makes too much to keep as a backup to Bledsoe and they have to fill out a roster.
Re-sign some of the young players who have shown some promise this season.
Nick Young is most assuredly gone since he has had a good season (16.8 points and instant offense off the bench) and has a player option for $1.2 million. I’d be shocked if Young exercises that after having a solid enough season where he should be able to command $3-5 million as a sixth man off the bench for a good team.
Re-sign Xavier Henry. Henry showed some flashes this season but has played in just 40 games due to injury. They should be able to bring back Henry on a two-year deal worth $3 million, he made $884,000 this season. And the Lakers gave him a chance to save and revive his career.
Re-sign Wesley Johnson. Johnson was one of the few players who gave 100% effort on the defensive side of the ball. When he signed him, Mitch Kupchak said he could turn into a Michael Cooper-type defensive player, while that is a stretch Johnson has been a consistent defender all season. Sign him to a two-year deal worth $3 million also.
Re-sign restricted free agents Kent Bazemore and Ryan Kelly. Bazemore showed he could play after the trade from Golden State, averaging 13.4 points, 3.4 rebounds and 2.5 assists. He can be re-signed relatively cheaply, say $1-1.2 million or so, a slight raise from this seasons $788,872 salary. Have him come off the bench as Young’s scoring replacement.
Kelly has averaged just under 10 points since January 1st and has shown the capability of being a shooter off the bench. He has also shown he is a better rebounder than expected coming out of Duke. He had 24 points and 11 rebounds in a 134-126 loss to the Denver Nuggets on March 7. He had a career-high 26 points in a loss against the Philadelphia 76ers in February.
Fire Mike D’Antoni and hire Byron Scott.
First, let’s get this out of the way. Is this season D’Antoni’s fault? No.
They have been snake-bitten by injuries like I mentioned earlier. But life isn’t always fair as any coach knows and Byron Scott is just biding his time, waiting for the job in the Time Warner Cable SportsNet studio. Any incoming coach has to signed off by the Mamba. Scott returned to Los Angeles in 1996-97 (after playing for the Pacers and Grizzlies) and mentored Bryant when he was a rookie. They got along well and Bryant has a lot of respect for Scott.
He would most likely bring Michael Cooper as an assistant and he’d help give the Lakers some defensive focus, something they desperately need.
Here’s the Lakers’ potential lineup next season:
Exum, Henry/Johnson, Kelly, Kendall Marshall, Robert Sacre, Bazemore, second round pick.
Is this a playoff team? Probably not. But, it’s a team that could be in the mix and competitive, which is all you can ask from a team that has to manage the salary cap. It also leaves them some flexibility in a few seasons when Kevin Love hits the free-agent market and Kobe retires.
Darren Jacks is a regular contributor to OneManFastBreak.net. Follow him on Twitter @djroxalot.