In the words of Los Angeles Lakers big man, Dwight Howard, this 2012-2013 NBA season for the Lakers was “a nightmare.” Indeed it was as the Lakers were expected to go far in the playoffs with the acquisition of point guard sensation, Steve Nash and obtaining arguably the best center in the league, Dwight Howard during the off-season last year.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough as they were plagued with injury after injury all starting at the beginning of training camp when they lost Nash and Pau Gasol for a while. Then throughout the season Steve Blake, Jordan Hill, Metta World Peace and Kobe Bryant among others went down in injuries. Plus after they were getting used to a defensive system set by Mike Brown, his job was ultimately and unjustifiably terminated after only five games into the season. The firing of Brown led to dropping the Princeton offense enforced by Brown, to learning a whole new offense first philosophy by Mike D’Antoni as he was hired by Jim Buss which adds a lot more unnecessarily stress. Oh, did I forget that the Lakers were also fighting for a pathetic 8th seed just to make the playoffs. Yes, they rarely made it reaching just above the .500 mark. So yes, this Lakers season was a nightmare set for failure from day one. A nightmare that is over… for now.
So as the San Antonio Spurs swept the Lakers in the first round of the playoffs, putting an end to such a miserable and dreadful season, three key questions must be answered. First, with Dwight Howard only signing a one-year contract with the Lakers, declaring him as an unrestricted free agent now available to a large NBA market, what should the Lakers do about Dwight Howard?
This should be obvious. Howard must and will stay in L.A. Yes it’s true. Love him or hate him, Superman needs to stay in L.A. He’s however expected to test free agency this summer and talk to a couple of teams around the league. But if he decides to stay in L.A., he would be making more money.
According to Mike Bresnahan of The Los Angeles Times, 27-year-old Howard can sign a five-year guaranteed contract worth $118 million in July. So he’ll be locked in until he’s 32 years old, which would presumably reach the pinnacle of his career (assuming on average an NBA player’s career last only 20 years; 20-years-old to 40-years-old). If Howard decides to want to look around, and walk away from a disaster of an experiment in the City of Angeles, he could sign a four-year deal worth $88 million with another team. Either way he’s making money, but he could obviously make more in L.A., where he also has a better chance of obtaining that ever so desired championship ring, right now.
Lakers general manager, Mitch Kupchack, Steve Nash and even Kobe Bryant have said on numerous occasions they want Howard to stay, with Kupchak not hesitant to give Howard that deal. But Howard’s hunger for that championship ring is only getting stronger, and if an opportunity to be with a better, much more younger playoff contender team, say the Houston Rockets or Oklahoma City Thunder (if they were to get rid of, just to name a few, Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka) arises, he’ll probably contemplate the decision to leave. The greats and legends in the NBA are remembered for championships. Howard wants to be one of them.
Therefore the future of the Lakers starts with Howard. With Bryant and Nash nearing the end of their careers, the Lakers could and should build around Howard. Nonetheless, as the Lakers all want Howard to come back, he has the final say.
To be safe though, let’s imagine the worst case scenario if Howard did indeed decide to come back. If everything failed during Howard’s extended time with the Lakers, the team could use him as bait for trade and restock the roster. Regardless, they have to get Howard back because if he walks away on his own terms, the Lakers will get nothing in return and have a bunch of un-athletic, old players on their team. Case in point, they must bring Howard back.
The second decision the Lakers must do is decided if they’ll keep D’Antoni and if they do decide to keep him around; give him a roster that’s more his style.
While Kupchack has been a strong advocate to bringing back Howard, he’s also been supportive of bringing back Mike D’Antoni. Just like Howard, he’s here to stay folks. The only way D’Antoni leaves is if the relationship between him and Howard gets tense to the point where Howard becomes so dissatisfied that he demands D’Antonio leaves hence firing him. I doubt that happens though as D-12 wants to be perceived as the lovable 6’11 big man that everyone looks up too as a role model. He already has bad reputation as a coach-killer with the termination of his former head coach, Stan Van Gundy’s job in Orlando. I doubt he wants to get another coach fired.
D’Antoni and Howard can co-exist and win games. Howard can be that defensive leader in the paint, blocking and rebounding while also running the floor well executing the pick and rolls. The only area he could improve is in the post, but that’ll require work by him and require D’Antoni trusting him more.
Still the Lakers need to make some changes. Besides Earl Clark, Devin Ebanks, Andrew Goudelock and Jordan Hill, the Lakers are old. They need to get more, better shooters from beyond the arc (You can’t expect World Peace to drop 18 three-pointers every night), better defense/more athleticism across the perimeter and younger, fresher legs. Howard, with the exclusion of Pau Gasol, need more guards to set his shots up. Bryant, Blake and Nash could do that, if healthy, but the Lakers will need more to help the big men on the roster.
The Spurs were able to win against the Lakers because they used their defense to drown out Howard out of the post and gain possession. With Howard constantly double-teamed in the post, the Lakers needed players to be able to move the ball inside out from the weak to the strong side to get the open look and nail down the jumper. To do that, they’ll have to obtain smarter and younger guards with precise court vision.
The last important decision the Lakers need to do is cut down on spending. Bare with me here for a minute with the finances and mathematics. According to Forbes magazine, the Lakers had the highest payroll in the NBA at a staggering $100 million; with $75 million going towards Bryant, Howard, Gasol and Nash.
As the luxury tax kicks in this year, the Lakers will have to pay around $30 million extra for all player costs therefore bringing their bill to an unbelievable $130 million just for players cost. Also don’t forget that the Lakers had two head coaches who made $4 million a year each, so there’s that.
To save and cut down on spending plus increase revenue, the Lakers would’ve been able to gain some money towards paying down their bill have they had a long playoff run, but they lost that portion since they got swept. However, as Forbes states, the Lakers would be able to pay all these necessities with the help from Time Warner Cable. The Lakers recently signed a deal with the television network that is expected to be worth $5 billion over the course of 25 years, gaining $120 million a year. So if you’re a fan of BackStage Lakers, expect more episodes.
Nonetheless, the T.V. deal won’t be enough because things are getting expensive for the Lakers. Next year, if all players stay (which is unlikely) they’re looking at $105 million and a luxury tax bill of $95 million. To save money the team can amnesty a player or two. I won’t talk about amnestying Bryant because quiet frankly that idea seems farfetched and highly unlikely. Mitch Kupchak even downplays amnestying Bryant so it won’t happen. The Lakers will most likely let Bryant rehabilitate and welcome him back when he’s ready. So who are the likely candidates to get amnestied? If you guessed Metta World Peace and/or Pau Gasol, than you’re correct. Let’s start off with Gasol.
Gasol is owed about $30 million next year. The Lakers would consider amnestying him because he is the most tradable player on the team. The Lakers, as mentioned above, need more shooters and more athleticism to fit D’Antoni’s offensive orientated system. Trading Gasol, who is valuable on the market, would definitely bring in few young players to fill that role, while cutting down on salary costs. The Lakers however won’t be looking to trade Gasol until Howard’s contract is locked in. The team made a lot of room financially, for the summer of 2014 with hopes of Howard and Nash returning (Bryant only has one year left on his current contract ending before summer ’14). Ideally, the Lakers want to build around Howard. As well, finding a team willing to take Gasol’s contract won’t be easy since they can’t take any multi-contracts in trades.
Which now brings Metta World Peace in the equation. World Peace is the most likely candidate to be amnestied. According to Forbes, World Peace and his $7 million dollar, if cut, will ultimately save the Lakers about $30 million in payments. Replacing him won’t be easy but it may be a move the Lakers may ponder about going into the next season. Another thing to add is the revenue sharing under the new CBA, which is another burden they’ll have to endeavour.
In short, the Lakers must make three key decisions. Persuade Howard to come back to the City of Angels, find players that are more suitable to D’Antoni’s system and cut down on spending, which may require amnestying a player or two.