Blueprint for Lakers to Lure Kevin Love to Los Angeles
"No one thinks he's staying," one Eastern Conference executive told CBS Sports' Ken Berger of Love. "Everyone knows he wants to go to the Lakers."
With plenty of planning, a lot of maneuvering and yes, a dab of luck, the Lakers can make a truth-teller out of that executive.
Guarantees don't exist in the NBA, though, especially this far in advance. Stuff happens. Things change. Plans fall apart.
But this one doesn't have to.
*Salary information via ShamSports.
Step 1: Stay the Current Course
Maintaining the status quo sucks, I know, but it's necessary.
The Lakers are steeped in championship lore, and knowingly sticking with a roster that's 10 games under .500 and eight games off the Western Conference's final playoff spot feels sacrilegious. But what do you propose they do?
Tank? By dealing Pau Gasol and Nick Young and anyone else with value? No thanks.
Flipping Gasol and Young, among others, won't do much, even if the Lakers are looking toward this summer's draft. Bottoming out won't guarantee them a top pick.
The Eastern Conference is so unbelievably bad. No matter how horrible the Lakers are, another Eastern Conference team will be worse. Like the Milwaukee Bucks.
Trading assets likes Young and Gasol also doesn't jive with Los Angeles' future plans. Taking back anything other than expiring contracts jeopardizes the Lakers' impending financial flexibility.
Their best assets are also key contributors set to hit free agency themselves (Gasol, Young, etc.). Cutting ties with them now ensures the Lakers won't be able to keep them in the fold when they're looking to field a respectable outfit around Bryant this summer.
All Los Angeles stands to gain by blowing this roster up is (maybe) a few losses and more uncertainty, the latter of which it already has enough of.
Best to just stay the current course, then bask in the pliability it creates beyond this season.
Step 2: Be Smart During Free Agency...
General manager Mitch Kupchak must tell Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James to kiss off this summer.
Not in those words exactly, but you get the general idea.
Landing James or Anthony was a long shot to begin with. This side of Bryant's latest injury, conventional wisdom suggests whatever chance the Lakers had is completely gone. And so, they must look elsewhere—but nowhere that will cost them serious coin.
Bryant is owed nearly $50 million through 2015-16. Visions of pairing him with two legitimate superstars are gone, playing house with their chances of signing James and Anthony. There can only be one with him being paid like he is.
If Love is "the one," then Los Angeles cannot shell out superstar-type money this summer. Beyond James and Anthony, the free-agency pool is wildly overrated. Luol Deng will be the biggest name available if neither of the previous two goes anywhere (likely).
Feeling slighted or desperate, teams will begin overpaying glorified consolation prices (like Deng). The Lakers cannot, should not and must not be one of those teams.
One-year deals once again reign supreme. Signing veterans or promising misfits at steep discounts, too.
Anyone who cuts into their spending power for 2015 must be avoided, lest Love wind up outside the Lakers' price range.
Step 3: ...But Aggressive as Well
Let's not blow the previous step out of proportion. The Lakers cannot blatantly tank a second straight season. Bryant would be furious—Mamba-death-stare-plus-grizzly-bear-roar angry.
Lakers fans won't want to endure more losing, either. They'd like to see progress without the promise of long-term mediocrity.
By signing trade assets. Ones the Minnesota Timberwolves would have interest in.
Commitments extending beyond next season aren't completely taboo, so long as they're the right ones. Making sizable or reasonable offers to valuable trade chips like Lance Stephenson, Spencer Hawes or even Deng (provided the price is right) are all possibilities. Given Minnesota's past interest in Gasol, he's someone the Lakers (hopefully) bring back (on the cheap), knowing he can help them compete, but is also able to be moved.
Anyone who could be included in a Love trade proposal is who the Lakers must chase—not overpriced players capitalizing off suddenly shallow pools of talent. Basically, they must enter free agency prepared to spend, yet remain cash-conscious at the same time.
So, you know, good luck Mr. Kupchak.
Step 4: Strike Early...
Suggested Lakers credo for 2014-15 season: Why wait?
Love will be a free agent in 2015, but as Sam Smith of NBA.com writes, he could be on his way out of Minnesota before then:
Now the Timberwolves face the issue teams have with LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Deron Williams and Dwight Howard: Trade him now or this summer and get something? Try a sign and trade when he opts out after next season? Lose him? Utah traded Williams early and seems to have done well. Denver did reasonably well trading Anthony in midseason. But that clause to be traded and then extended for the maximum contract has been eliminated. Love, in the top four this season in scoring and rebounding, is said to be favoring the Lakers or the Knicks in free agency in 2015 when both will have money for perhaps two free agents.
Scared of losing Love for nothing, the Timberwolves could (should) trade him before next season is out, in which case the Lakers have an obvious advantage.
Love's trade value won't be through the roof next season. Aware that he can leave in one year's time, most teams won't be taken to the cleaners. They'll want assurances he will re-sign, which he won't provide if he's not dealt to New York or Los Angeles.
Using reasonably priced trade assets they acquired over the summer—once they're eligible to be traded—the Lakers can make a competitive offer built around (presumably) promising talent on flexible deals. They also have the ability to take back some of Minnesota's less favorable pacts.
Underwhelmed by other offers, or simply desperate to end this elongated soap opera, the Timberwolves may cave, shipping Love to the Lakers months before he hits the open market.
Step 5: ...And Later on
Just because Minnesota should trade Love doesn't mean it will.
Nabbing a playoff berth this season, or remaining in contention next year, may prompt them to stand pat, hoping to sell Love on the extra money it can offer and auspicious foundation it laid. Or he could be traded elsewhere. Or he could be in Los Angeles, where the Lakers must try to extend him upon arrival or re-sign him during the offseason.
Either way, they must be prepared to sell him on their future come summer 2015.
Bryant is no longer a selling point by now. He'll be more of a detriment thanks to his lucrative extension.
That doesn't mean Love won't be swayed by the possibility of spending one year (or more) playing alongside a living legend, but it does mean the Lakers must shed clarity on their future plans, on how they will contend for years to come.
The best place to start? Kevin Durant.
We're absolutely getting ahead ourselves, but only because we have to.
Stars don't win alone anymore. Once Bryant retires—or even before he hangs it up—Love will be alone, the only superstar for a Lakers team resting on past laurels to carry their future reputation. That is, unless they have a bigger, better plan.
Once Bryant's contract runs out in 2016, the Lakers, assuming they haven't been cavalier with their finances, will have more cap space to work with. Not a moment too soon, either.
Durant is slated to hit free agency in summer 2016, and he's not alone. Depending how his contract situation plays out, Kyrie Irving could be available. James, if he opts into the latter two years of his deal with Miami, could be available. There could be a lot of players on the market, making 2016 what 2014 was once thought to be: a free-agency lagoon teeming with star power.
And the Lakers, provided they play their cards right, could be at the center of it all, with Love as the superstar who delivers even more superstars.