The Los Angeles Lakers are far from their normal, year-to-year expectations of being a championship-or-bust kind of team. Normally, they are among the top-five best teams in the league. This year, they find themselves in the bottom-five worst teams in the league, sitting at the fifth worst team. This year, their record is 22-46. Normally, that record is at least flipped. It’s no doubt that the Lakers have not been themselves as of late. They’re starting to go into a rebuilding process, something that would’ve seemed impossible for them a couple years ago.
As of right now, the question is: Are the Lakers in trouble moving forward? It is possible that they can be a playoff team next year, but it would take a lot of work. However, they will most likely need a couple of years to get back to their old ways. They are obviously already in trouble this year, already being guaranteed no playoffs. Let’s look at what they can do this offseason to make an improvement next year.
Big Man Gap
Mike D’Antoni tends to be obsessed with the small-ball, which has caused the Lakers to have some gaps to fill in the frontcourt next season. The team only has one big man guaranteed to return next year, being the ever-willing backup center Robert Sacre. They also have the chance to make a qualifying offer to Ryan Kelly, a rookie stretch 4.
Keep in mind that Sacre was picked last overall in the 2012 draft and Ryan Kelly was picked 48th overall pick last year. Yes, both of these players have shown their proclivity for hard work. However, there’s a good chance neither of the two players would be in the NBA if it wasn’t for the Lakers.
On the other hand, Pau Gasol, Jordan Hill and Chris Kaman will all become free agents, with the chances of them returning very slim. They have all expressed differences with Coach D’Antoni and the current methodology of the Lakers. Gasol, for example, questioned how he was being used by saying,” When I’m not getting the ball where I want to, where I’m most effective, where I can bang guys and utilize my skill, that affects my aggressiveness and overall intensity.”
Jordan Hill commented about a role elsewhere, saying “I think I fit in anybody’s system. Everybody needs an energy guy.” Last but not least, Chris Kaman came right out and said “Never did I think I would come here and not play, otherwise I probably wouldn’t have come.” Not being comfortable and feeling useless has caused a lot of problems for these players this season. It’s no question that they would like to move to a different team next year.
Hill and Kaman haven’t been getting the playing time they want recently because D’Antoni has been electing to go with either Sacre and/or Kelly. D’Antoni has even given a starting role at power forward to 6 foot 7 Wesley Johnson. Although Sacre is hard to dislike and works hard, it’s hard to believe that he will be the starting center next season. Or, that the team would rather fill up empty frontcourt roster spots with guards. Either way, the Lakers are going to have to find a better solution. The draft and free agency will be important as to how successful they’ll be next season.
2014 NBA Draft
The 2014 NBA Draft will be a good chance to get a quality player down low. Although they are having a terrible year, it does position them for a meaningful draft pick. At the rate they are going right now, there’s a good chance they will pick in the top five. The draft will be full of high-class prospects to choose from, including the highly touted Joel Embiid, a 7-footer with freakish athleticism. Embiid has even tweeted “I want to live in LA so bad #beautiful” to the public.
Also up for grabs is Julius Randle, a 6 foot 9 power forward with a sturdy body, athleticism and an innate ability to clean the glass. And if that doesn’t satisfy them, they can even elect to go with 6 foot 9 Aaron Gordon. Gordon has been compared to Blake Griffin due to his all-out hustle.
The only thing the Lakers shouldn’t do, even though they probably will, is use their pick to get the best available player regardless of position. Once they come on the clock, they will probably more drawn to a more talented guard, like Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins and Dante Exum. They need to make their pick according to what they need.
Even if they do draft a big, it’s not to say that he’ll solve their problems right away. Whoever they pick will probably need a couple of years before becoming an elite player in the league. So, if they do pick a big they need to keep that in mind.
The free agency period is definitely on the agenda for the front office, given that they’ve basically configured their roster to resemble a ghost town after the season ends – creating financial flexibility. Unfortunately, this summer’s class of free agents isn’t real deep with quality big men who are likely to test the waters.
Dirk Nowitzki is an unrestricted free agent, but has expressed his deep love for the Dallas Mavericks. He is pretty much a lock to stay in Dallas. Tim Duncan has a player’s option, but will probably elect to retire as a San Antonio Spur (if that day comes). Chris Bosh has an early termination clause, but there’s no reason to suspect him leaving the Miami Heat. Zach Randolph has a player’s option with the Memphis Grizzlies at roughly $17 million, so it’s likely he will exercise it.
Really, the best person they will have a chance at will be Marcin Gortat who will be an unrestricted free agent with the Washington Wizards. There could be a chance that the Polish Hammer reunites with Steve Nash. Another option could be Spencer Hawes, who was traded from the Philadelphia 76ers to the Cleveland Cavaliers. However, he has been putting up the best numbers of his career in Cleveland. So, there is chance that the Cavs make an offer.
There is plenty of work to be done in Los Angeles with the Lakers. There are plenty of ways to go about loading up the roster for next season. The question is whether management can pull the switch all at once or whether it has to work in phases. Regardless, the frontcourt holes will be filled – we just don’t know how yet. Needless to say, it will be a few years until they are back to their championship ways. This is just a speed bump they need to get over, first.
Editor’s note: This was a guess post from Justin Becker of FantasyBasketballMoneyLeagues.com. You can follow him on twitter at @NBAFantasyInfo, and can follow the Fantasy Basketball Money Leagues Google+ Page. For more NBA analysis visit FantasyBasketballMoneyLeagues.com, a fantasy basketball blog.