The Mamba waits to pounce (Getty Images)
With every season that ends, for the playoff teams at least, we felt it right to take a look ahead. TNT already has the rights to "Gone Fishin'," and because we're sure that someone, somewhere, still likes that Wyclef song, we're going with "Gone Till November." And, yes, we know the season starts in October. Today? The Los Angeles Lakers.
In terms of overall word count, the NBA blogosphere probably broke the all-time record this season when it came to the 2012-13 Los Angeles Lakers. It’s true that the 2010-11 Miami Heat, fresh off of LeBron James’ annoying "Decision," really turned on the content providers, but something about this collection of stars hit home with both writers and readers.
It certainly hit home with me. The chance for the two greatest guards of their respective generation to mix with the NBA’s best center and most versatile big man had me salivating last summer. I didn’t appreciate Los Angeles’ borderline-cruel great timing as they seemingly fleeced both Orlando and Phoenix into acquiring the services of Steve Nash and Dwight Howard. Even with the caveats — age, health, the presence of Mike Brown on Los Angeles' sideline — I assumed that an 82-game season would last long enough for the Lakers to figure it all out and start to find their groove just as they hit the postseason.
And I, like many others, was way wrong. To a degree nobody could anticipate, with Pau Gasol acting as the only active member of the Lakers in the second half of their final game of the season — one that was played in April, no less, and not mid-June. Metta World Peace's, Nash's and Kobe Bryant’s injuries paired with Howard’s Game 4 petulance to create a disastrous and fitting end to a terrible season. A sad season, really, for those of us who love to watch great basketball at its peak.
The Lakers could have turned into something special. Instead, they turned into a soap opera, which was unfortunate in ways that went well beyond the sort of soap operas we saw in, say, New York with the Knicks during Isiah Thomas’ reign. That Knicks team had a terrible roster. This Lakers roster, though thin in depth and susceptible to injury and poor chemistry, had potential. It may not have had 73-9 potential, as World Peace predicted prior to the season, but it did have the potential to play well into June.
Or, at least, adequately into April. This never materialized. Instead, we got the soap opera.
Luckily for us, that’s all going to end.
Not the team’s makeup or roster or lineup, those aspects will remain in place, but the drama that fueled Los Angeles’ disappointing 45-41 (including playoffs) run in 2012-13 will probably be largely absent this summer. Those looking for major changes or more headlines might be disappointed, which isn’t a bad thing, because the Lakers probably have no choice but to keep it all together. Post-championship Laker fans are used to being disappointed anyway.
The team has the option to blow it all up. The Cleveland Cavaliers’ hiring of Mike Brown lessens some of the financial burden that the team owes its former coach, which could lead to the firing of Mike D’Antoni and the hiring of yet another would-be sideline savior. The team still has the right to use the amnesty clause, which means it could release either World Peace's, Gasol's, or even Bryant’s massive 2013-14 salary. The team could trade Gasol, a player who still has plenty of market value despite his sizeable contract, or it could decline to re-sign Howard.
None of these moves guarantee any further flexibility, though, or the ability to add significant parts to make this team whole again. Re-signing Howard while dumping Kobe would still put the team far over the salary cap. Cutting Gasol and declining to re-sign Howard would still leave the Lakers just over the salary cap, and using the amnesty clause on World Peace would do little to help the Lakers’ financial fortunes.
And on the sidelines, admitting a mistake with the D’Antoni hire would seem to fly in the face of the way Lakers front-office minder Jim Buss wants to do business. Spite is an important thing to him, y’know?
As a result, the Lakers will once again work around the fringes to attempt to bolster their roster while working deep within luxury-tax territory. It’s possible that Gasol could be dealt for various rotation-shaping parts. D’Antoni still hasn’t a clue as to how to allow Gasol and Howard to thrive together offensively while still trying to turn Pau into a Channing Frye-type, so I would not be surprised to see a three-team deal go down featuring one of the many teams that will boast 2013 cap space but few free-agent suitors.
The team won’t be waiving Bryant. There are various front-office machinations that could allow for some sort of happy return once Kobe mends from his Achilles surgery while saving the Lakers money, but none of them would be worth the hassle. It’s true that the 2014 offseason — with Bryant's and Gasol’s contracts coming off the books and LeBron James potentially taking yet another free-agent tour — will be boffo. This summer, though, will be relatively calm.
As it should be. The Lakers will go into 2013-14 hoping Howard returns to his pre-2012 defensive self. They’re hoping the summer off does wonders for Nash, they’re hoping sound free-agent talents will want to play for minimum salaries in Los Angeles (as taxpayers, the Lakers are hamstrung when it comes to adding players via contract exceptions), and they’re hoping the “rest” and rehab that Bryant will go through as he comes back from that tear leads to renewed legs as he stares down the second half of the 2013-14 season.
They won’t have to worry about renewed will with Kobe. That’ll always be there.
This might come as unfortunate news to those who want the scorched-earth treatment to take place in El Segundo, but a major or even minor rebuild doesn’t make sense on a basketball level — and it only barely makes sense on a financial level. These are your Lakers once again, Los Angeles, old and creaky as ever.
(And also full of potential. Who knows? The 2013-14 season could eventually end up being pretty fun.)
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- Los Angeles Lakers
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- Dwight Howard