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.
Jamison and Darius Morris don’t bring much to the table for the Lakers, either. Jamison is far past his prime. If this was the same Jamison that played for the Washington Wizards he would’ve been a great addition. However, now four years later Jamison is just a shell of his former self. Morris, on the other hand, has yet to show he was worthy of the second-round pick the Lakers used on him in the 2011 NBA Draft. Morris hasn’t shown the ability to crack into the Lakers’ rotation. When he was inserted into the lineup it was for defensive purposes and even then, Morris didn’t have any true impact.
FREE AGENT TARGETS: Tony Allen
One of the things missing from the Lakers last season was defense. Their defensive rating for the year was 103.6, which ranked 18th in the league. When the Lakers added former Defensive Player of the Year Dwight Howard, it was thought he’d bring an immediate improvement. With defensive coach Mike Brown, everything seemed to be lined up and in place for a turnaround. However, Brown didn’t last long in L.A. and Howard was a shell of himself to begin the year. The Lakers defense suffered. Insert Tony Allen. He’s one of the best defenders in the NBA. In this year’s playoffs, he matched up against Chris Paul, Kevin Durant and Tony Parker, and has often limited them to below-average production. What’s more is the Lakers have a history of making moves like this in the past. Matt Barnes used to give Kobe difficulty defensively and when he became a free agent the Lakers snatched him up immediately. The same happened with World Peace, following an intense seven-game series against the Houston Rockets in 2009. World Peace was in purple and gold the next season. The Lakers also made a run at Raja Bell, but were ultimately unable to land him. Signing Tony Allen would pair Kobe Bryant with another elite defender and would allow Kobe to not have to guard the opposing team’s best wing player.
DRAFT TARGETS: Myck Kabongo, Ray McCallum Jr. and Isaiah Canaan
The Lakers are currently without a first-round pick in the 2013 NBA Draft. They do hold the No. 48 overall pick (the 17th overall pick in the second round). That doesn’t mean they can’t find a player of value in that slot. Throughout the draft’s history, there have been numerous great players drafted in the second round (Manu Ginobili, Gilbert Arenas, Monta Ellis, etc.). At this spot I’ve focused in on three prospects — Myck Kabongo, Ray McCallum Jr. and Isaiah Canaan — that could help the Lakers.
Kabongo was one of the most heralded recruits to come to the University of Texas. However, though he stayed two years in Austin, Kabongo only played in 45 games during his collegiate career. Kabongo is a speedy point guard with great size at 6-2. He’s also a pass-first point guard, but due to the lack of surrounding talent he had with the Longhorns he was forced to have more of a scorer’s mentality. For his career, he averaged 5.3 assists per game and he would be able to watch and learn from one of the best point guards in the NBA today, Steve Nash.
Ray McCallum Jr. is another player that was a highly-touted recruit coming out of high school. He had a choice of numerous high-major schools, but instead chose to attend mid-major Detroit and play for his father and head coach Ray McCallum Sr. While McCallum Jr. helped improve the Titans, they were unable to make an appearance in the NCAA Tournament where McCallum Jr. could’ve made more of an impression on a national audience. However, during his three years as the star player and leader of Detroit, McCallum Jr. averaged 18.7 points, 4.5 assists, 5.1 boards and 1.9 steals a night.
Isaiah Canaan is another player from a mid-major school, Murray State. Canaan almost entered his name in last year’s draft, but after receiving feedback from league executives thought it would be better if he returned to Murray State for his senior year. The Racers were coming off an NCAA Tournament appearance where they advanced to the third round and gave Marquette all they could handle before being eliminated. Canaan has been a solid and reliable player during his four years at Murray State, finishing with per-game averages of 21.8 points, 4.3 assists and 1.5 steals in his senior year.
What should the Lakers do this summer?
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