The OC Register’s Kevin Ding reported that if Howard hits the road as an unrestricted free agent, Los Angeles plans to let Pau Gasol play out the final year of his contract and release Metta World Peace—who just had his best scoring season in purple and gold—to save money. It will also insert Jodie Meeks or Steve Blake into the starting lineup if unable to sign another guard for cheap. Re-signing Earl Clark isn’t a given either.
The Lakers only finished two games ahead of the ninth-seeded Utah Jazz to make the 2013 NBA playoffs. If they lose their second-best player in Howard and fail to replace him, missing the postseason for the first time since the 2004-2005 campaign isn’t just a possibility—it’s probable.
Kobe Bryant will turn 35 years old in August. His critics have predicted a scoring drop-off each of the past few summers. Each fall, he proves them wrong, but this fall he’ll be coming off a torn Achilles tendon.
Odds will be against Bryant to replicate his 27.3 points per game. Combine his drop-off—even if ever so slight—with losing Howard’s 17.1 points per game, and who will make up for that scoring?
Gasol will turn 33 in July and is coming off the worst year of his career. Nash is coming off his worst year in the past decade and is 39. Injuries mounted up for both Nash and Gasol last season as well.
If Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak refuse to make any major moves, LA is doomed.
The Portland Trail Blazers will be playoff contenders next season. They added C.J. McCollum in the first round of the 2013 NBA draft and Damian Lillard and Meyers Leonard are sure to develop. With the return of Kevin Love, the Minnesota Timberwolves will contend as well.
Los Angeles can’t take a huge step backward and still edge out teams that are on the rise. It will miss the playoffs if it eyes the 2014 NBA free-agent class.
David Daniels is a breaking news writer at Bleacher Report and news editor at Wade-O Radio.