How to Rebuild the Lakers
I am a rabid NBA fan. I may be even more rabid of a Lakers fan. I constantly like to make up fake trades and directions that teams may take. So, naturally, I like to do this exercise with my favorite team. I don’t want my team to suck, but I also don’t want to mortgage our possible future on free agents like Luol Deng (old and has played a million minutes) or Lance Stephenson (may very well kill someone on the court). The goal of this is to create a legitimate and creative way to be good right now and to be even better in the future. If anyone of importance in the NBA is reading this, yes, I will come work for your team. I can turn any team around! Here we go.
The Current State of Affairs
Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Ryan Kelly, Julius Randle, Robert Sacre, and Jordan Clarkson. This is what the Lakers roster looks like. Steve Nash is a walking corpse, Kobe is coming off of a major injury, Ryan Kelly looks like an 8th man in your rotation, Julius Randle may actually be a gem, Robert Sacre should never step onto a court, and Jordan Clarkson could be Kelly Clarkson’s brother for all I know. The team isn’t very good right now. So, how do you turn this team into something? Luckily, Lakers do have pieces and cap room. The key is not signing any long term players at this point unless he is absolutely going to be a major part of your future.
Trade Pau Gasol in a sign and trade. The Bulls are wanting Pau Gasol in a bad way. So lets give him to them! However, the big Spaniard comes with a price. The Bulls cannot sign Pau outright and are too cheap of a franchise to amnesty Boozer to sign Pau. So lets just spark a deal that makes everyone happy. Sign Pau to something like 3 years/$30 million or 4 years/$36 million, then trade him to the Bulls for Boozer. Obviously, the Lakers can’t (and shouldn’t) do this without something make it worth their while. The Bulls need Pau. He would make a stagnant offense go and him and Noah would simply put on passing clinics and create almost endless open looks for other players, so they need him. They want to get rid of Boozer, and clearing him to get Pau in a sign and trade is a kind gesture by the Lakers. So in order to make this happen, the Bulls would either throw in a 1st rounder this year or Mirotic, the best player in Europe. A 1st rounder is more likely, so lets just go with that.
The starting line up now looks like this: Nash Bryant FA SF Randle Boozer This still isn’t that great, but we are getting somewhere. The Lakers now have 3 things with the Pau trade: 1)Boozer and Nash will come off the books for a combined $26 million for 2015-16. That is a max contract. 2) Randle is allowed to be featured even more, since he will be the most skilled big man, allowing the Lakers to show him off for a potential trade or keep him to be an anchor. 3) A 1st rounder in an even more loaded draft than this years. So, what do we do now? Sign your next piece going forward. That piece is Gordon Hayward. I know that unless you are a basketball purist, you probably don’t know how good he is. Hayward is not a 1st or 2nd banana, but he would absolutely be the best 3rd banana in the league. He can score off ball, he rebounds great for his position, he is a great defender, and most importantly he is someone who can pass at an elite level for his position. Put is this way, if Hayward played for the Spurs and not the Jazz, people would be talking about him as the best young player in the game. Throw the full max at Hayward (starts at $17 million) and dare the Jazz to match. They most likely won’t because Hayward doesn’t deserve the max. He is more a 10-12 million dollar player. Giving him a contract at almost 33% higher than his market value seems foolish, but this is what must happen.
Things are starting to look a little better. The Lakers should re-sign Jordan Hill on a one year deal with a good chunk of remaining salary (around $13 before luxury tax, so lets say 1 year/$9 million). The line up SHOULD look something like this: Nash Bryant Hayward Randle HIll 6th man: Boozer This team could absolutely contend for the playoffs. Lets assume Kobe can be 85% of what he was. That is still a 21/5/5 player. This starting line up could be very dangerous, due to the fact that 4 out of the 5 positions contain elite level passing. The Kobe/Hill pick and roll was an especially dangerous play a few years ago when Kobe became the main point guard. Another great thing about the starting line up is that Randle, Hill, and Hayward are all going to be great rebounders for their positions. The Lakers would have 2 elite team skills, rebounding and passing. It also does not hurt that Kobe is an all time great shot creator, something so many teams lack. Boozer coming off of the bench is an especially good thing. Boozer is productive, but is a black hole. Having him being the sole scorer off of the bench would allow him to get his touches and produce without holding the skills of the starting 5 back.
The 2014-15 Lakers could make the playoffs as an 8th seed, even 5th, but they won’t win a championship. But this is ok. It is about contending and allowing yourself room to get better. 2015-16 is where all of this could really turn around. With Nash and Boozer off of the books, the Lakers should be flush with cash again. The Lakers SHOULD only have Bryant, Hayward, and Randle on the books. That would set them at roughly $50 with a projected $71 million dollar cap. This is where it could get fun. The Lakers should have their eyes on two main targets, and I will describe what the route would be for each.
Guys, Goran Dragic is secretly a top 5 point guard and will surely opt out of his contract that will only pay him 7.5 million. He is in line for a big payday. With $21 million in cap space, the Lakers could absolutely offer something to the tune of 4 years/$55 million. This would leave around $7 million more dollars to sign an extra very good role player, or divvy that up to strengthen the bench. This scenario could potentially be amazing. And best of all, Lakers can sign him outright without giving up talent. Dragic Bryant Hayward Randle Hill (resign at a lower rate because of the previous inflated 1 year deal) That is the best back court in the league with a high rebounding front court. With the 3 or 4 solid role players the Lakers could grab via the leftover salary, this could be a lethal team that could absolutely contend for a championship if the role players are chosen correctly. And lets not forget, the Lakers could flip that 1st round pick from the Bulls (The Lakers 1st round pick is jettisoned to Phoenix thanks to the Steve Nash trade) to dangle in a trade for a player of note. Probably the most flexible option because it allows you to address to point guard position and upgrade the bench. However, the next is the superstar option:
Kevin Love does not want to come to the Lakers as currently constructed. But with Bryant, Hayward, and a trade chip in Randle? Yes. Yes he does. Again, the Lakers could outright sign him and not need to give up talent, but the Lakers will and should. Here is how it will go: the hope is that Randle is clearly showing signs of progress. If nothing else, Randle will rebound in the NBA at a good to great level. However, Love plays the same position and Randle cannot play with Love. Trade time! The Lakers can offer up Randle to acquire a rim protecting big man. A prime target I am looking at is Omer Asik. Omer Asik is one of the 3 best defensive centers in the league and also happens to be a very good passer. By this time, Asik will be 30 and making something like $10 million. This fits in a trade because the Lakers will be under the luxury line, allowing them to go over the cap in trades. So, you can sign love to a contract starting at $20 million, and then flip Randle for Asik (no matter where he is, team love young scoring and rebounding big men). At this point, you are capped out, with nothing but minimum contracts to hand out, but it is ok because here is the starting 5: FA point guard (honestly doesn’t even matter) Bryant Hayward Love Asik That, ladies and gentleman, is a team that is going to give you nightmares. The passing on the floor would be ungaurdable, and you now have 2 elite shot creators. This is what gives coaches gray hairs. Asik and Hayward would be an amazing front and back line defensive wall, allowing Kobe to gamble and Love to gamble passing lanes (which they both do well). What is probably even better about this scenario is that Kobe comes off the books for 2016-17 season. $25 million coming off of the books just in time for Durant to hit free agency. A Durant, Hayward, Love combo would absolutely contend for years, but that is an article for another time.
If it were up to me, I would lean for the Love option. Top 3 player in the league and someone who is just going to make your ceiling higher. Although the Dragic route allows more options for the bench and role players, it doesn’t give you quite the superstar power that Love has. So, will this happen? Maybe, maybe not. I don’t run the team (I probably should). But if the Lakers have any sense and want to keep the winning culture going, they must absolutely consider these moves. These are both realistic options but require a little luck (Jazz not matching, Love not being traded and signing long term, Randle realizing his potential), but everything in the NBA requires luck. It is now up to the Lakers to put themselves in a position to make their own luck.