No matter what kind of mutterings you’ll hear, the Los Angeles Lakers failed in the 2012-2013 NBA season, barely making it into the playoffs and getting swept in the first round. Kobe Bryant will be back eventually, hopefully not too far from his ability from before the injury. The biggest decisions for the Lakers remain with re-signing Dwight Howard, keeping (or not) Mike D’Antoni while making up their minds about the future of Pau Gasol, Metta World Peace and Steve Nash.
Contracts are a big issue, but the first one that needs to be addressed is Dwight Howard’s. Now that Howard is hitting free agency, the Lakers need to tie him up as quick as possible. He might have infuriated some people in Southern California simply by not being Kobe Bryant, but he’s the best player on the market, and the only one you can build a team around. The Lakers can pay him more because of the CBA, which means a five-year, $118 million extension, over $30 million than what he can get with any other team. After the Lakers address that issue, they can start moving forward.
There’s the amnesty option everyone keeps talking about. Steve Nash looks not just past his prime, but closer to retirement than ever. He scored 12.7 points per game, but his defense and his fitness have been an issue, and despite being the only one who can run Mike D’Antoni’s offense like D’Antoni loves, it’s not quite sure he’ll remain the head coach, and it’s not quite sure Nash is worth the $19 million he’s owed for the next couple of seasons, having no trade value at all until 2015, when he can be used to clear cap space for some teams.
Metta World Peace was another big disappointment this season, despite averaging 12.4 points, his highest scoring numbers since joining the team. The worst thing about this season was his defense, which is clearly way off the level it used to be when he was regarded the best perimeter stopper in the NBA. He’s owed $7.7 million for next season, and for his limited scoring while shooting barely over 40%, maybe using the amnesty clause might be a good idea. It could net the Lakers as much as $20 million in salary and tax savings.
There has been talk about using the clause on Pau Gasol (making $19.2 million next season) and even on Kobe Bryant (making $30.4 million next season). It’s hard to believe that will happen. Even if the Lakers think that pairing Gasol and Howard is impossible in the long run, Gasol has trade value. Others fear LA riots if the Lakers actually get rid of Bryant. It might help them solve the long term cap situation, but it seems like something too brave for any team to do.
Injuries can be blamed for the down season the Lakers experienced, but it was clear to see something wasn’t working even when everyone was healthy. Bryant demands too much of the ball, and gets it. Nash is a smart player and can operate as a semi-shooting guard as well, but Gasol was mostly forgotten on the high post for most of the season while Howard was just frustrated. If the Lakers believe they can resolve their chemistry issues, they should give it another go with this crew, but it’s hard to believe that a bunch of players, most of them in the final seasons of their careers, can suddenly change and swallow their egos so suddenly it all works perfectly.
And lets face it – when building an old squad, you’re going to have injuries. Earl Clark was a nice surprise as he filled in numerous positions in the starting lineup but Jodie Meeks doesn’t seem like the most reliable of players, and Antawn Jamison is going to be 37 this summer. Steve Blake is the only reliable option left, but the Lakers can’t really stock up on a ‘bench mob’ without making some consolidations with their super expensive starting five.
The Lakers aren’t really a rebuild kind of team, but after 2014, besides a potentially signed Howard, the books are cleared to make some major moves. The question is how their summer moves on, and if Mike D’Antoni stays. The Super team idea was a failure, and the question that remains is if they’re willing to stick by their mistake and keep on trying to make it work, hoping that injuries don’t interfere next season.