With only four teams remaining in the NBA Playoffs, it means a few “contenders” have already been eliminated from title contention. The offseason is the time for these teams to retool to prepare for deeper runs next season. Last offseason brought many changes in Los Angeles. The Lakers completed two blockbuster deals that brought star talents Steve Nash and Dwight Howard to Hollywood. Big things were expected. With Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol still on the roster, the Lakers would have four future Hall of Famers in their starting lineup. They were an early favorite to dethrone the Miami Heat. But as the saying goes, the games aren’t played on paper.
The Lakers started off the season 1-4 and promptly fired head coach Mike Brown , controversially replacing him with Nash’s former coach in Phoenix, Mike D’Antoni. However, D’Antoni’s offensive schemes and genius wasn’t enough to right the ship in L.A. right away as Kobe and Howard constantly bumped heads over the first half of the season. Following All-Star Weekend, things turned around for the Lakers. They went 20-8 in their final 28 games. And thanks to a victory against the Houston Rockets on the final day of the regular season, they were able to secure the seventh seed in the West.
An injury to Kobe and a matchup against the San Antonio Spurs brought an end to one of the most tumultuous seasons in Lakers’ history. With Bryant most likely out until February of next season, with Nash and Gasol getting longer in the tooth, and with Dwight hitting the open market, this offseason will be a big one in Los Angeles.
For the remainder of the post, I will assume the role of Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak. I will give my suggestions and analysis on who the Lakers should keep, who they should lose, and players to target in free agency and the draft.
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KEEP: Dwight Howard, Earl Clark, Jodie Meeks and Robert Sacre
Dwight Howard’s first season in purple and gold did not turn out like many expected. Howard was in line as the next great Laker big man, following in the footsteps of George Mikan, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O’Neal. However, somewhere along the way the kryptonite to Howard’s Superman was discovered. For the season, he averaged only 17.1 points and 12.4 rebounds, some of his lowest totals since his sophomore season. Howard also made his fair share of mistakes last season that hurt his reputation in Laker Nation. Since the end of the season there have been reports saying Howard isn’t a fan of D’Antoni’s system and how he was used in it. Still, the Lakers need to bring Dwight Howard back if they want to remain competitive in Kobe’s final years in the NBA.
Earl Clark and Jodie Meeks aren’t two pieces that assure the Lakers will be raising banners at Staples Center. Yet as long as D’Antoni is running the show, Clark and Meeks could become important parts of the team’s rotation. Meeks is a deadeye, knockdown shooter and with the way D’Antoni wants to play offense, having shooters that can make shots from deep is crucial. Meeks would serve as the perfect kick-out option for Howard when a double-team comes in the post. Clark is heading into his fifth season in the NBA and last season he took advantage of the opportunity given to him in Los Angeles. Due to injuries, Clark was thrust into the Lakers’ rotation and fit in surprisingly well. At 6-10, he can play the stretch forward position and create mismatches with his ability to shoot from the perimeter and handle the ball for a player of his height. Robert Sacre should be brought back to the team solely on the basis of continuing his end-of-the-bench celebrations.
LOSE: Metta World Peace, Antawn Jamison and Darius Morris
Metta World Peace’s NBA career needs to come to an end. World Peace, formerly known as Ron Artest, is not the same player he once was. He is no longer a lockdown defender — instead he just tries to physical pound whoever he’s defending. World Peace’s defense was his main calling card for the last three seasons and with that deteriorating, he’s just another super average player. World Peace isn’t a great outside shooter and with age, he lost the explosion and athleticism he once possessed. World Peace has an early termination option in his contract, but it is highly unlikely that he will use that option and become a free agent. This offseason marks the last time that teams will be allowed to use the new amnesty provision that was negotiated into the CBA. The amnesty provision would allow the Lakers to release World Peace and have his contract not count against them on the salary cap.