Biggest Needs for Los Angeles Lakers During 2014 Offseason
The Los Angeles Lakers’ most pressing requirements heading into the 2014 offseason can be summed up in one word: everything.
The coaching situation is in turmoil, the franchise will be coming off its worst season since moving to L.A. in 1960-61 and only three players are under guaranteed contracts for 2014-15—Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and the immortal Robert Sacre.
Lakerland needs a lot of help. That was evident the moment Dwight Howard decided to pack his bags for greener pastures with the Houston Rockets, and only got exacerbated by a plethora of crippling injuries throughout 2013-14.
The Lakers are facing questions from management all the way down to the roster’s 12th man. As a result, the draft and free-agency period will be paramount toward building a respectable Western Conference contender once again.
Bryant’s illustrious NBA career is coming to an end, but he wants to compete for a sixth championship before hanging it up. “The Black Mamba” said in March, “How can I be satisfied with it? We’re like 100 games under .500. I can’t be satisfied with that at all. This is not what we stand for, this is not what we play for,” per the Los Angeles Times’ Mike Bresnahan.
Frustrations are at an all-time high, and the only way to remedy them is through a successful offseason.
5. Deep Bench
Say what you will about the 2013-14 roster—abysmal, disturbing, embarrassing—but Purple and Gold’s second unit actually managed to develop into a huge strength for the lowly Lakers.
After finishing 28th in bench scoring during the 2012-13 campaign by posting just 25.8 points per contest, L.A.’s subs flipped the script one year later by scoring 42.3 points per game—ranking them second behind the juggernaut San Antonio Spurs (45.1 PPG), according to HoopsStats.com.
When they were healthy, guys like Nick Young, Jordan Farmar, Jordan Hill and Xavier Henry helped L.A. orchestrate its offense when the starters caught a breather.
Young was the team’s leading scorer at 17.9 points per game. Farmar knocked down the three-ball with regularity while dishing out assists and grabbing a career-high 2.5 rebounds per game.
Hill has experienced a career year despite spending time in Mike D’Antoni’s doghouse—likely producing flashbacks to his days as a rookie with the New York Knicks—and Henry has attacked the rim with reckless abandon.
Now the Lakers front office must sift through the impending free agents that thrived under D’Antoni as a means of maintaining a respectable second unit.
Should any of the aforementioned guys be retained? Can they be brought back at reasonable price tags after career years? Are Young and Jodie Meeks the best options to help spell Kobe Bryant’s inevitable dip in minutes?
Those are all questions management needs to answer moving forward.
4. Point Guard Depth
Expanding on the Lakers’ need to retain a viable second unit is the importance for depth at the point guard position.
Steve Nash is 40 years old and will be 41 next February when the 2014-15 campaign is in full swing. He’s managed to play just 15 games this season due to nerve root irritation in his back—an issue that may never allow him to perform with any real durability during the final year of his contract.
Due to that disconcerting factor, floor generals should be a top priority for L.A.
Farmar did a tremendous job leading the team’s second unit at times, but what does the future hold for Kendall Marshall?
The 22-year-old youngster was picked up by the Lakers when injuries continued to pile up in the backcourt. He burst onto the NBA scene in January by averaging 11.9 points, 11.5 assists and 3.6 rebounds while shooting a scorching-hot 44.1 percent from downtown.
He continued his torrid shooting streak from deep the following month by cashing 43.2 percent of his attempts, but his numbers from beyond the arc have been in free fall since then.
Marshall’s three-point percentage during the month of March plummeted to 29.4 percent and continued to bottom out in April, with a 23.1 percent mark prior to draining all four attempts against the San Antonio Spurs in Game 82.
The North Carolina product’s distributing skills have not wavered, but his shooting is still very much a work in progress. If nothing else, he'll be a cheap security blanket to slot behind Nash, because he has a team option for 2014-15 at the league minimum salary.
3. Coaching Stability
When sources are saying that Kobe Bryant has “no interest” in playing for a specific head coach, per Sean Deveney of Sporting News, it’s safe to assume that man’s job is in serious jeopardy.
Although D’Antoni is under contract through 2014-15, the odds of him returning after the worst campaign in Los Angeles Lakers history are slim. The front office needs to put this skid mark of a season in the rear-view mirror as quickly as possible, and distancing itself from the fans’ honorary scapegoat would help start that process.
If the 62-year-old offensive guru is indeed let go, what coaching candidate would provide instant stability—and credibility—within one of the Association’s most storied teams?
As B/R’s own Dan Favale wrote in March, Jeff Van Gundy, Lionel Hollins, Stan Van Gundy and Steve Kerr are all viable options.
He added, “If the Lakers are looking for a savvy veteran who is no stranger to the spotlight, (Jeff Van Gundy) would be one of their best options.”
Van Gundy spent more than a decade on the New York Knicks sidelines as an assistant and head coach. His squad reached the NBA Finals in 1998-99.
The balder Van Gundy brother hasn’t coached in the NBA since 2007 with the Houston Rockets, but he’s 10 years younger than D’Antoni at 52 years old. He certainly fits the mold as a big name that would be seen as a splashy signing.
Another, more under-the-radar, candidate is former Laker Byron Scott, who won NBA Coach of the Year in 2008 with the New Orleans Hornets.
2. Lottery Luck
Bust out your rabbit feet, four-leaf clovers and horseshoes, Lakers fans, because L.A. will need plenty of luck to land a higher draft position in the 2014 lottery.
The Lakers finished the 2013-14 season with the league’s sixth-worst record. Assuming that the draft lottery plays out in order of lowest winning percentage, L.A. would net the No. 6 pick this summer.
While the Lakers are all but guaranteed to miss out on top-tier talents like Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid and Jabari Parker, it will be interesting to see if having the sixth selection in the draft is high enough to land a guy like Australian prospect Dante Exum.
The 6’6” combo guard has already expressed significant interest in playing for Los Angeles, as Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix wrote in late March:
Exum has been working out in Los Angeles in preparation for the draft. There have been reports that Exum, who is represented by Kobe Bryant's agent, Rob Pelinka, may be angling for the Lakers to draft him. But two executives from lottery teams said that wouldn't stop them from drafting Exum if he's available. Scouts rave about the Australian's natural talent. Exum can play both guard spots, but his long-term future is likely at shooting guard.
While Exum may not be the best immediate upgrade for the Lakers—since he’d be stuck behind Bryant on the depth chart—he’d be a suitable long-term option to usher in the post-Bryant era.
As Mannix notes, however, other executives may be thrilled to scoop him up before L.A. is on the clock.
1. Front Office Blueprint
Above everything else that is stacked against the Lakers moving forward, management needs to have a cohesive plan of action.
The blueprint of bringing in All-Star center Dwight Howard to slot beside Bryant during his twilight years was met with disaster when D12 decided to jump ship last summer. Not surprisingly, the organization has struggled since losing him for nothing in return.
Frankly, the Lakers are more than a few tweaks away from building a championship contender. Even if Bryant and Nash return to full strength in 2014-15 and play like All-Stars, the Western Conference will still be an unforgiving collection of talent.
A plan of “Carmelo Anthony or bust” simply won’t cut the mustard. General manager Mitch Kupchak and owner Jim Buss have to be thinking two, three and four steps ahead—knowing precisely what they’ll resort to if certain options don’t pan out.
If that means standing pat with one-year contracts and waiting until the summer of 2015—when guys like Kevin Love, Rajon Rondo and LaMarcus Aldridge can hit the market—so be it.
That won’t make Bryant happy, but the Lakers can’t be forced into tunnel vision simply to appease his short-term wishes.