Underwhelming. This was the sad sentiment of the Lakers regular season that was plagued with debilitating injuries to key players along with a controversial coaching change that seemed to cause more internal strife than it did unity. Arguably, the two best centers in the league, Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol were never fully utilized under Mike D’antoni’s system and seemed to get in each other’s way rather than providing the Lakers with a reliable and consistent defense.
A Laker team that seemed to be rejuvenated with newly acquired superstars at the beginning of the season (Dwight Howard, Steve Nash), quickly succumbed to a life of mediocrity that was completely foreign to a city which prided itself on fostering one of the best NBA franchises of all time.
Now, after a possible career ending injury to the Lakers leading man Kobe Bryant, this team is faced with the difficult reality that they may no longer be the dominant franchise to beat in the west. Even if Bryant were to make a triumphant return sometime next season, it would only delay the inevitable retirement of the future hall of famer for only a year or two. With that looming prospect in mind, the Lakers have a grim but necessary decision to make; Do they rebuild their franchise back from the ground up or do they take the ultimate risk by signing Dwight Howard to a max contract (making him the face of the franchise after Bryant’s departure) and hope that the atrocities of this season were simply a one time fluke in the Lakers illustrious and treasured basketball existence?
Initially, it would seem fairly clear that the Lakers will be forced to deal with at least one ultimatum; Either keep Pau Gasol, who was been Bryant’s right hand man since his initiation into the Lakers organization resulting in two national championships. Or, if Dwight Howard decides he wants to stay with the Lakers, reciprocate his loyalty with a maximum contract in hopes he’ll be the crux to your team in the upcoming years. It is possible that the Lakers could opt to rekindle a previous deal with the Clippers to trade Gasol for their star point guard Chris Paul. Given their premature elimination in this years playoffs against the Grizzlies, Paul could be seeking an organization that is predicated on being not only competitive but also on building a championship caliber team that is usually a contender for being a national champion. While this may seem like the ideal situation for the Lakers going forward in terms of having a younger and more athletic roster, simply dismissing Pau who is a proven dominant center is easier said than done.
However, the Lakers have a more pressing predicament at hand when it comes to essential personnel; Kobe Bryant’s status going into next season. It’s hard to imagine Kobe not coming back for at least one more season given his unwavering tenacity and unrivaled toughness, which is difficult to find especially in players who have participated in the NBA for over 17 years and continue to post elite numbers nearly every game. While Jodie Meeks has proven to be a fairly sufficient back up, he isn’t a scoring juggernaut and still has yet to prove that he can step up as a supremely confident leader for the long haul. In this case, the Lakers may decide to look to the draft to discover a talented prospect that can fill their lofty needs at the position. While top prospects such as Ben McLemore and Victor Oladipo are clear favorites, the likelihood of them being available by the time Los Angeles gets to pick is slim to none. Given this disappointment, the Lakers have a shot at grabbing the younger sibling to one of the best shooters who is currently playing for the Golden State Warriors: Seth Curry.
According to CBS Sports Jeff Goodman, Seth Curry (Duke Blue Devils) is ranked 17th out of the top shooting guard prospects going into the 2013 NBA draft. Assuming these rankings hold true, Curry could be a steal for the Lakers if he falls to them. Not only does Curry follow in his eldest brothers footsteps by being extremely accurate from beyond the perimeter (43.8%, 2012-2013 season), he also has a beautiful mid- range shot that is hard to contest (46.5 FG% 2012-2013 season). If Curry can carry these impressive accomplishments over to the NBA he could prove to be not only a prolific shooter in his own right, but also an adequate replacement for Bryant somewhere down the line.
Even if the Lakers make all the right decisions, it’s hard to fathom that they’ll be immediately competitive right out of the gate. However, if this franchise is patient and weighs its decisions properly there is little doubt that this team won’t be back to their dominant selves in the years to come.