The NBA trade deadline is almost two weeks away and the Los Angeles Lakers stand as the third-worst team in the Western Conference. In order to salvage the last two years of Kobe Bryant‘s contract, the Lakers need to start making moves now that will allow them to be championship contenders again before Bryant’s inevitable retirement. A blueprint for success has to be laid out, team resources need to be used and a little luck (in the NBA draft lottery) has to strike along the way.
Owner Jim Buss must place aside his ego where he believes he can construct a championship team without any help. He has to use the brand to his advantage, a brand that has brought 16 championships to the city of Los Angeles. Former Laker greats are enjoying success with other franchises, such as Jerry West with the Golden State Warriors and Pat Riley, who has won consecutive titles down in South Beach. So, what is Buss and general manager Mitch Kupchak‘s plan to get the Lakers back on top?
Below is the blueprint the Lakers need to follow in order to become championship contenders once again.
With little chances of realistically making the playoffs even when Bryant returns, it makes no sense for the Lakers to keep Gasol especially when he can walk as a free agent. Ideally, trading him will net them an expiring contract and a first-round pick this summer. The best way to rebuild in the NBA is through the draft using the Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs and Indiana Pacers model. Of all the deals rumored to go down for Gasol, the latest one with Phoenix makes the most sense, landing Emeka Okafor (expiring contract) and one of the Suns four potential first-round draft picks. By using the stretch provision on Nash, a little more than $3 million would be on the Lakers cap for next season instead of the $9.7 million he’s due. The team has a plethora of young point guards anyway and in a perfect world, Nash retires.
2. Bring Phil Jackson on board
Either as coach or in a management type of role, Jackson needs to be incorporated back into the franchise. He’s simply too valuable as an asset for the Lakers — an asset who won five championships from 2000-10. Even though he was denied the opportunity to coach them last season, Jackson would likely want to get involved again, especially since he’s engaged to Jeanie Buss, executive vice president of the team. Just like how Pat Riley was the mastermind behind the Miami Heat forming their big three, Jackson could play that role for the Lakers. He doesn’t have a total of 11 championships and a “Zen Master” nickname for no reason. Let the man do what he does best – build a dynasty.
3. Draft Joel Embiid and a young wing to groom behind Bryant
It was initially frowned upon when the Lakers traded away Gasol and Lamar Odom (only for the trade to be nixed) only because a general rule of thumb is that you take big over small. Dante Exum will enter the draft and wants to play for the Lakers or Orlando Magic next season, but if both players are on board, how can the Lakers pass on Embiid? Being such a franchise rich with some of the greatest big men of all-time, it would make sense for them to draft Embiid who is still very raw but is drawing comparisons to Hakeem Olajuwon. A perfect mentor for Embiid would be Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. As a legit 7-footer with developing post moves who only started playing the game a few years ago, Embiid is seen by many to have the highest ceiling of all prospects in this draft class. With an additional first-round pick, the Lakers could draft a player like James Young, Glenn Robinson III or P.J. Hairston to develop under the tutelage of Bryant and eventually be his successor.
4. Sign Kevin Love in 2015
This seems to be a foregone conclusion according to one GM in the league, reported by Chris Broussard last week. Though they have been linked to Carmelo Anthony this summer, the Lakers have to pass on him to even be in contention for Love’s services when he is a free agent. It may be best for the team to hand out one-year deals similar to this season so that they do not compromise the cap space they will have in 2015. Love would give Bryant one last shot at making a championship run who would retire after the season most likely.
5. Go after Kevin Durant
It is no coincidence the Lakers signed Bryant to just a two-year extension when his contract will be up in the summer of 2016 when Durant is a free agent. Knowing they had a very little shot of signing LeBron James this summer, why not plan to go after the next best player on the planet in Durant, who will only be 28 then? This is obviously a long shot since it’s possible Durant might not even want to leave Oklahoma City if he’s winning championships there. The Lakers have a proven track record to always swing for the fences though. They did it by pairing Shaquille O’Neal with Bryant. They got rid of Kwame Brown for Gasol back in 2008. If you think about the Hornets trade, they turned Gasol and Lamar Odom into Chris Paul and Dwight Howard before the deal was nixed by the NBA. If they can use the championship pedigree of Phil Jackson to lure Durant to L.A. and form a trio with Love and Embiid, along with the other young building blocks selected in the draft the next few years, the Lakers will undoubtedly be a championship contender again.