The Los Angeles Lakers refuse to admit that they’re thinking about the 2014 offseason, when Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol become free agents and only Steve Nash will have a contract going beyond that. But all their hopes and plannings of landing the biggest free agents available might not turn out for the best, as their name alone might not be enough to attract players like LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and others.
The Lakers don’t speak of tanking. No one does, and with their attempts to somehow put on a competitive team that will challenge for a spot in the postseason making the most of a lousy situation in terms of cap space and a badly built squad they might, by mistake, miss out on a chance to become a lottery team and somehow land Andrew Wiggins or another big name from this year’s Freshman class in College Basketball.
Best-case scenario? Lakers don’t have a bad season, but closely miss out on the playoffs, which enables them to land a high draft pick, re-sign Kobe Bryant on a low-paying contract which allows them to add two maximum contract players like James and Anthony.
Worst-case scenario? A debacle of a season in which they’re not even close to the postseason, while failing to land a top draft pick (bad luck, but it happens) while free agents prefer sticking with their own teams or going to other places.
NBA stars, these days, want to play next to other big names. While Kobe Bryant is as big as they come, he might not be the attraction the Lakers think he can be. He’s not Dwyane Wade, pulling LeBron James and Chris Bosh to Miami three years ago. No matter how old he gets, age doesn’t seem to hurt his thirst for points and dominance on his team. Players want to win championships, and Carmelo Anthony should be one still seeking one 12 months from now, but is playing next to someone like Bryant the best option possible?
The Lakers will get a good player or two next year, there’s no doubt. They’ll have $9 million committed to Steve Nash, hopefully still a significant contributor and not someone who plays like a typical 40-year old with 18 years of NBA experience usually plays.
The question is how much of a pulling or pushing factor Kobe Bryant becomes. Big stars have the luxury of waiting for pieces to fall. This year, Dwight Howard seemed like the only big fish in the pool, and everything was on hold until he chose his next team. Next season, the opposite might happen: Someone like Paul George, who is up for an extension in three months with the Indiana Pacers and is likely to take it , in a hypothetical situation, might wait to see what decisions certain teams make before making his next move.
At the basis of this? Re-signing Kobe Bryant, at the moment, might not be the first move the Lakers make. Maybe Dwight Howard asked if the Lakers might amnesty Kobe Bryant – a question many ask, even though everyone knows the answer. Still, there might be a time for even the Lakers to admit that parting ways with Bryant, which can only happen next season due to their decisions this offseason, might be the best way to ensure the beginning of the road to the next NBA championship.