On July 1, free agency will begin for the Los Angeles Lakers and the rest of the NBA. And what a crucial date on the calendar it is.
This is what the fans suffered through 82 games of losing, purposeless basketball for. This is the opportunity to add some real pieces for both the present and the future.
This is the time that will dictate the product put in front of all of us in the 2014-15 season.
The plan has been to target this free agency period, along with 2015, in order to build the next great Laker roster. With marquee names available, and even top-tier role players, the Lakers are in position to make a difference in terms of wins and losses in the upcoming campaign.
Before we get into how and why the purple and gold will look into some of the free agents, let’s take a look at the current roster (if it even constitutes being referred to as such) and how much cash the Lakers have to throw at the big name guys.
Familiar Faces … And The Rookies
If this was 2007, the Lakers would be in prime position to be the best team this league has ever seen.
Unfortunately, it’s 2014 and the headliners of this five man show are 40-year-old Steve Nash and 35-year-old Kobe Bryant (he’ll be 36 when the season starts). There was a time when I questioned if either of these guys would ever slow down, and it would not surprise me to see Kobe return as a scoring machine and Nash bounce back to have an above average point guard year (think end-of-the-road-Jason-Kidd-esque).
I also would be not surprised to watch Nash fall further into oblivion, or see Kobe settle into the “Michael Jordan circa 2002″ stage of his career; so these guys are question marks right now (Note: I will not bet against Kobe being good offensively again).
Now, you could do worse than the 25-year-old as an end of the bench guy. He’s got real size (7’0” is always an asset), and is a great teammate.
However, when he’s one of three experienced guys you have on your roster (and the other two guys are a combined 75 years of age) it does not exactly draw a ton of confidence in attracting the top stars that are all about winning immediately.
Thankfully, the Lakers had themselves a good draft. With the seventh overall pick they selected Kentucky power forward Julius Randle.
The big guy would have gone No. 1 in a lot of drafts, and was considered one of the three can’t-miss prospects at the beginning of the season. He fits here, and likely slots in as the starting power forward from Day 1.
Randle is a selling point for getting free agents to buy in to the future of the franchise.
The Lakers also bought a second-round pick from the Washington Wizards to select guard Jordan Clarkson from Missouri. He’s an interesting combo-guard that I think will make the roster based on his potential and versatility, but he’s certainly not going to factor into any free agents coming over to the Lakers.
So, if the season started today (it doesn’t), here is your 2014-15 Los Angeles Lakers starting lineup:
PG- Steve Nash
SG- Jordan Clarkson
SF- Kobe Bryant
PF- Julius Randle
C- Robert Sacre
Super fun right?
Okay, let’s look at how this horrific roster can be avoided next year!
C.R.E.A.M. (But How Much Do They Have?)
According to ESPN.com, the Lakers have the eighth-most cap space to use this summer. The total is about $22.5 million.
To put that in perspective, a max contract for LeBron James (or any player with more than 10 years of experience) would have a price tag of $22.1 million in the first year. However, according to Spotrac.com, a player with up to six years of NBA experience (Eric Bledsoe, anyone?) would command $15.8 million in the first year of a maximum deal.
There have been rumors of the Lakers trying to move whatever is left of Steve Nash and his contract in order to create more cap space, but they obviously have been quite unsuccessful thus far. It’s unlikely any team would take back Nash’s deal without getting rid of a veteran contract themselves or getting draft assets/young talent.
So, unless clubs are lining up to do a sign-and-trade for Kent Bazemore, we can safely assume the only way Nash is leaving is via a trade for more veteran help.
Long story short: Nash’s contract probably is staying on the books for this free agency period.
When looking at the Lakers roster, there are clearly many holes to fill and much talent to be added. Quickly one realizes that $22.5 million does not go far enough for Los Angeles to throw its money around at whoever, and there needs to be a set-in stone plan. So, what is that plan?
Plan A: LeBron-Melo
The big picture here is to get LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony to sign in Los Angeles.
The bigger picture is this is every NBA city’s dream, and probably not happening for any city but Miami.
If the Lakers were to land the two biggest fish that are currently in the free agency pond, they would be in a position to compete immediately in the Western Conference (assuming they can fill out the rest of their roster with a few rookies and ring chasers).
The problem with this plan is, why would LeBron leave his current sun-drenched city (Miami) where he is surrounded by talent, good ownership, and familiarity to play in the pressure cooker that is Los Angeles under similar to worse basketball circumstances? It just does not make sense, unless the Lakers have a killer pitch to draw in LeBron and Melo, all while swinging a trade for Kevin Love (Spoiler alert: this is next to impossible).
The Lakers will explore this option, as they should, but this one just is not happening. (Note: I would love to be wrong on the above statement).
Plan B: Melo-Bosh
Lakers’ dream is to add LeBron & Melo this summer. If that fails would go for CBosh & Melo, sources say. That’s assuming Bosh opts out
— Chris Broussard (@Chris_Broussard) June 27, 2014
Now this one is a bit more interesting. The Lakers would have to maneuvering to do in terms of being able to get the contracts to work, but adding Carmelo and Chris Bosh would be much more realistic than the Plan A.
Carmelo, at least from my view of things, wants to be in a city like Los Angeles. It seems to be in his DNA to love the spotlight.
However, he wants to be a part of a contender, and if he’s the only one coming to the Lakers he will not be at all.
Enter Chris Bosh.
While Bosh could very well remain in Miami with James and Dwyane Wade (and this is admittedly the most likely scenario) the motivation for Bosh coming to Los Angeles with Carmleo is out there. Bosh is the forgotten member of the Big Three.
He takes a ton of flak, and admitted as much this season.
Above all things, somehow, people have forgotten that Bosh is a very good player.
The motivation to go to Los Angeles would be to show the world how good he is, without LeBron James, and try to win a title with Carmelo Anthony (a guy who knows he needs help) and Kobe Bryant (a guy that plays well with big guys who are as selfless as Bosh).
The roadblock? Bosh doesn’t seem to be that guy.
He has never been a ‘I’ll-show-them!’ type of player, sometimes to his credit. If he has that in him, and the money is right of course, I could see him coming to the Lakers.
However, I do not. I think he’s content to play with LeBron and Wade, and will return to Miami if James does.
Which brings us to …
Plan C: The Field
While it’s still possible Carmelo Anthony comes to Los Angeles with a couple of B-List free agents, I still think that he would rather go to the Dallas Mavericks or Houston Rockets if he is not going to be paired with another bona-fide star.
So in this case, the Lakers can chase the other guys, and build around Kobe Bryant with an eye toward the future.
Eric Bledsoe and Greg Monroe are two restricted players that could garner a max offer from the Lakers.
In this case, I assume the Lakers would take the approach the Dallas Mavericks have over the past few years. They give out smart contracts, putting themselves in the position to be competitive during the regular season, and in the free agent market in the off-season.
The biggest mistake the Lakers could make would be to overpay above-average guys in the long-term and be stuck in basketball purgatory until years after Kobe is gone.
Plan C is the most likely option, and it really is not a bad one. Adding a player like Bledsoe as a cornerstone, and pairing him with a few select free agents on team-friendly contracts could propel Los Angeles back into the playoffs sooner rather than later.
We’ll see on July 1.
Tags: Los Angeles Lakers