It’s easy to say that the Los Angeles Lakers aren’t having the best of offseason summers, with losing Dwight Howard despite the weird sales pitch delivered by Kobe Bryant, amnestying Metta World Peace with weird timing and in general not looking like a team in great shape heading into next season.
But the question that should be asked – was re-signing Dwight Howard on a $116 million, 5-year deal the better option? I guess that depends on how much you value Howard as a player, and his chances to develop into a franchise cornerstone for the Lakers, not to mention his chances of playing under Mike D’Antoni and next to Kobe Bryant.
The current, most accurate hypothesis about Howard at the moment, in my opinion, is that he’s a player who doesn’t really want to lead, but doesn’t want to be led by someone either. He doesn’t want to feel like he’s pressured into the franchise center ordeal. He wants to win, but he wants to be part of team, while that team treats him properly. Along with all of the chances to win a title factors, the Rockets did a better job than anyone when it came to handling that aspect.
So what shape are the Lakers are in right now? By signing Chris Kaman, they’ve added a starting center for the mid-level exception, which leaves them in a position to add players on minimum deals only. Other than that, they have Kobe Bryant coming off his injury, Pau Gasol with his injury problems, Steve Nash with his injury problems and a bench that currently consists of Steve Blake, Jordan Hill, Jodie Meeks and Chris Duhon.
In short? Probably not even a playoff team, considering how bad the Lakers looked last season without Howard & Gasol or even without Howard. No bench, no defense, and a huge question mark about the ability of Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash to play the way they’re going to be asked to for 82 games.
One big problem for the Lakers is not having a small forward on the roster at the moment, and with the quality left on the free agency board not looking very promising, considering those who will take a minimum contract, veteran or less than that.
Of the players they might try and add are Cartier Martin (6.6 points per game last season), Mickael Pietrus (not a bad option, at least on defense), Wesley Johnson (8 points last season, although he might not be willing to take the minimum deal), Nick Young (maybe the best player on this list, but more of a shooting guard), Ronnie Brewer, Sam Young, Corey Maggette or simly keeping Devin Ebanks. Most likely? They’ll have to sign two of these players, and maybe play a lot in small lineups next season, with Bryant as the guard/forward.
The only silver lining? The 2014 summer. Yes, a year away. The Lakers will suddenly be rid of the Gasol and Bryant deals, and have only Steve Nash and his $9 million to cling on to. They can’t sign anyone on a long-term deal, unless the expiring deals of Gasol/Bryant suddenly become valuable near the trade deadline, although it’s hard to see Bryant get moved.
Winners? Only if you’re thinking about long-term, very long-term, and don’t see Howard as a building block for the future. Losers? In just about every other aspect, beginning in how this team was built last season and pulling the trigger on the amnesty clause a season too late without it actually helping the team in the free agency market, the Lakers will just need to rough a season out, crossing their fingers everyone stays healthy.