Contracts the L.A. Lakers Are Most Excited to Have off Their Books

Richard LeContributor IIIApril 2, 2013

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 27:  Pau Gasol #16 of the Los Angeles Lakers passes to Kobe Bryant #24 after a rebound during a 79-77 Indiana Pacer win at Staples Center on November 27, 2012 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

As this season draws to a close, the Los Angeles Lakers' roster is mainly composed of players who have contracts that will ensure they remain a Laker next season. However, there is no doubt that the Lakers are in desperate need of cap relief based on the amount of money they have invested into this roster. 

Dwight Howard, Earl Clark and Antawn Jamison are the only three players who are completely off the books next season without a player option or any similar strings attached. 

With Clark and Jamison being relatively cheap options at this point in their careers and Howard being heralded as the future cornerstone of the franchise, it is clear the Lakers won't be able to make any drastic moves the following season. 

However, following the 2013-14 season, Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol come off of the books for the Lakers. 

Although Bryant and Gasol are two of the most talented veterans in the NBA, they come with massive contracts that have crippled the Lakers' short-term ability to make drastic changes.

There is no doubt that when healthy, Bryant is the premier shooting guard in the NBA. Even with his age, there is no player with the killer instinct that he possesses. However, despite his excellent play in stretches this season, injuries have caught up with him these past few seasons and is hampering the "Black Mamba's" ability to stay on the floor.

Thus, when his contract comes off of the books, it will give the Lakers financial flexibility while allowing them the options of re-signing the veteran at a discount or letting him retire after an illustrious career.

Bryant is owed more than $30.4 million next season, which makes up almost half of the team's salary cap. That $30.4 million could be used to sign two all-stars or a superstar alongside a serviceable role player. 

With Bryant contemplating retirement and questioning his drive, the cap space he leaves behind would be a benefit for the Lakers.

Of course, a healthy and motivated Bryant is unmatched by most players in the league. There is no doubt he would be deserving of a max contract if he could stay healthy. However, despite his top-notch conditioning, his lingering injury woes and the mileage he carries with him might not allow him to stay at the top. 

While Gasol has had injury issues himself, he is two years younger than Bryant. At this point in his career, he might not be worth the $19.2 million he is owed next season. 

Once his contract comes off the books, the Lakers will have more financial flexibility. Furthermore, it might not be a bad idea to attempt to re-sign Gasol at a discounted price given his aging legs and waning production.

There is no doubt that in their hey-day, Gasol and Bryant led the Lakers to successful levels not seen since Shaquille O'Neal dominated the Staples Center. However, at this point in their careers, perhaps the Lakers would be better suited to thrive with the cap space their expiring contracts offer them following the 2013-14 season.