COMMENTARY | The Los Angeles Lakers and their demanding fan base are used to competing for titles every year, and the 2013-14 season figures to test the patience of everyone with a stake in the well-being of the team.
Since trading for Steve Nash and Dwight Howard in the summer of 2012, the Lakers have been in a holding pattern of sorts, waiting to see how the team would come together and how long their offseason magic would take to materialize in the form of championships.
Unfortunately, injuries, a coaching change and issues with schematics contributed to a disastrous season where expectations and reality formed a gap far too wide for anyone rooting for the purple-and-gold to bear.
Those circumstances have left the Lakers in an unfavorable situation with many needs and limited resources to fill them. They used the amnesty provision to free themselves from Metta World Peace's contract, and their largest salaries come off the books in 2014, when they will join the LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony sweepstakes.
But that's not enough to make them competitive next season. They will likely be a middle-of-the-road squad at best, once again fighting for a playoff spot. It's worth asking: How did they get here?
The recurring Dwightmare
When Howard took less money to leave Los Angeles, it wasn't just the easy way out for the mercurial star, but a sound basketball decision. His max deal of $118 million would have cost the Lakers not only that amount against the salary cap for next season plus unprecedented luxury tax dollars. Still, the chance to compete for a title was worth paying for.
At least it would have been.
Now, the Lakers are stuck without a clear-cut plan for the future after being fully prepared to hand the keys to the storied franchise to Howard once Bryant decided to hang up his Nikes. What's worse is they'll lose the elite-level production he gave them while playing hurt (17.1 points, 12.4 rebounds and 2.4 rebounds per game) and miss out on what he can do when fully healthy and with an extra year to acclimate to the system.
He wanted no part of it, and bolted for the Houston Rockets. Now LA is going to be worse off in the immediate future without him. The product on the floor will be a suffer until another star comes along, and that won't be until beyond next season.
It's not a secret that the Lakers were constructed to compete for titles in a small two-year window after adding Nash and Howard. The 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons were supposed to be tangible shots at winning titles No. 17 and 18. When that didn't work out, the Lakers were left with a roster with its best players north of age 30 and lacking the team speed to defend the perimeter and in transition, two areas that left a lot to be desired last year.
Bryant is coming off a devastating injury, Pau Gasol is banged up and Steve Nash will likely never be as healthy as he once was. But that's the Lakers' core. They have to compete with young stars like Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard and Chris Paul on an almost nightly basis.
Something's going to give, and more than likely, it'll be someone's body before any opponents show signs of defeat. Again, Lakers brass knew what they were doing when they assembled this team, but it all fell apart with the challenges that mounted exponentially after parting ways with Mike Brown.
Free agent signings
General manager Mitch Kupchak hasn't added any significant pieces to the roster because he couldn't under the new guidelines set forth by the 2011 collective bargaining agreement. Nick Young, Jordan Farmar and Wesley Johnson are adequate pick ups who can add much-needed athleticism and youth to the roster, but none are the caliber of player to put the Lakers over the top.
Chris Kaman was the next best free agent option behind Howard in the middle, and to be fair, he'll be a solid fit in head coach Mike D'Antoni's system with his ability to stretch the floor and play off of pick-and-roll or pick-and-pop action.
None of these players will be difference-makers, and that's what the Lakers need in order to take a step forward. It's a band-aid approach that will have to satiate the hungry fans for at least one sub-standard season.
D'Antoni's first real shot
In many fans' minds, D'Antoni is public enemy No. 1 now that Howard is out of the picture. To be fair, he didn't have the benefit of a full training camp or a complement of players capable of running his system in its best form.
He's simply the scapegoat for a litany of things gone wrong. He does deserve some blame for being slow to adjust and fit the players' strengths as well as find his bigs often disengaged, but not all of it. He had too many lineups and injuries to deal with that prevented him from developing any continuity.
Fans want someone to blame, and he's an easy target.
Now, he'll have a chance at redemption in 2013-14. Despite the underwhelming composition of the newest free agent additions, they all fit what D'Antoni likes to do with his players. Young, Farmar and Johnson should be more adept at running the floor than their older counterparts, while Kaman can space the floor and allow Gasol to work in the paint where he's most comfortable or spell him to keep him fresh late in the year.
With the added benefit of a full offseason furnished with known entities, D'Antoni will have a chance to meet and exceed the tempered expectations. Mediocrity is the standard implicit for the upcoming season, and he won't suffer any consequences when it manifests itself with an uninspiring record and season finish.
The Lakers have been consistent saying they believe in their latest coaching hire, and for better or for worse, he'll get a real opportunity to justify their confidence in him.
Even if he fails, he'll succeed, because the Lakers have more than likely already hit rock bottom.
For more on the Lakers and the NBA , catch up with this author on Twitter @MikeJonesTweets.
Michael C. Jones covers the Los Angeles Lakers and the NBA as a Southern California-based sports journalist and editor. He contributes to SB Nation in addition to Yahoo! Sports and is the Managing Editor and Founder of Sports Out West.
- Sports & Recreation
- Los Angeles Lakers
- Dwight Howard
- Steve Nash