The storied Lakers franchise has gone through their worst season in their history this year. Some fans (and players) may consider this a wasted season.
While Kobe does have a point in the fact that this season was not fun, it does not mean it was not important. Kobe feels this way because of his absolute winner mentality. Kobe is not a loser. It is not something he is used to or ever will be. Kobe is one of the biggest disapprovers of the disaster in L.A, but with the disaster comes renewal. Building by destruction. That is what the Lakers losing has forced them into. The following five points will explain why this season will help the Lakers get back to their winning ways in the future.
1. They found their bench for next season
The breakout years of Nick Young, Kendall Marshall, Jodie Meeks, Wesley Johnson, and Xavier Henry and the great young play from young guys like Ryan Kelly, and Kent Bazemore along with the reunion with long time point guard Jordan Farmar have all contributed to a huge factor in the Lakers trip to success next year. While none of these players really have what it takes to be a starting unit for the Lakers (except Nick Young), these players solve a major issue for the Lakers next season. These players make a great bench unit. Coupled with the veterans of Jordan Hill and Steve Nash, the Lakers already have a formidable team in the works, save a few starting pieces. Those pieces can be brought in a variety of ways. Lets break it down piece by piece.
2013-2014 stats: 17.9 PPG, 1.5 APG, 2.7 RPG, 2.1 3 pointers made a game
Nick Young has been the best player on the Lakers all season, and thats an understatement. His breakout year was unexpected by all and cherished by many. Nick “Swaggy P” Young has become the medias favorite player this season as well, constantly providing them with things to talk about. Always in the news, he makes up for it with great box scores. While those box scores don’t usually turn into wins for the Lakers, the contribution is there. Young has scored over 40 points twice in just the last 10 games, putting on his best Kobe Bryant impersonation. Speaking of Kobe Bryant, Nick Young has done his best Kobe impression all season long. Constantly putting out his best effort, Young has changed the opinion on him. He was once thought to be a lazy, misguided journeyman. Now he is the Lakers savior in a bitter, Kobe-less season and is the Laker most likely to lead the team into success next season.
2013-2014 stats: 8.0 PPG, 8.8 APG, 2.9 RPG, .9 SPG
Kendall Marshall was brought in by the Lakers in midseason supposed to add depth behind their injury riddled guard pool. Not only did he do that, but he bursted onto the scene Jeremy Lin style. Marshall was not the scorer that Lin was, but his passing was ridiculous. Marshall brought the Lakers together for a short period of time. After a disastrous rookie year in Phoenix where he was supposed to replace Steve Nash, Marshall was fortunate to get the chance to sign with LA. He finished tied for second in the league in assists per game. It is safe to say he made the most of his opportunity.
2013-2014 stats: 15.7 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 1.8 APG, 1.4 SPG, 2.1 3 pointers made a game
Meeks was another player who had a superb year for the Lakers and his career. Originally brought on to be a sixth man for the superteam Lakers of last season, Meeks has found success off the bench this season more than last. His great PPG probably won’t hold up next season when Kobe returns, but his production will likely be there. That is, if he returns to the Lakers. He becomes a free agent this offseason. He has expressed interest in returning to LAL, though.
2013-2014 stats: 9.1 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 1.6 APG, 1.1 SPG
Wesley Johnson was coming off of 2 disappointing seasons in Minnesota and a mediocre year as a role player in Phoenix. What the Lakers thought they were getting when they signed him this offseason was an ok shooting guard with good length and perhaps some still untapped potential left. They definitely tapped that potential. While his scoring is not too far above his career average, his production when he was on the court was fantastic. Johnson can serve as a reliable bench role player, something that he has only experienced for one year in PHX.
2013-2014 stats: 10.0 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 1.2 APG, 1.0 SPG
Xavier Henry, perhaps the biggest surprise of all these players,was near the end of his career before the Lakers picked him up in their free agent frenzy (of signing small name role players) last offseason. Henry has bounced back from some poor seasons in his past, playing for 3 teams in 4 years (Memphis, New Orleans, LA). Henry is also a free agent this offseason, but the Lakers could look to retain him and bring him back as one of the leaders of their bench mob next season.
2013-2014 stats: 8.0 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 1.6 APG, .8 BPG
Kelly has played fantastic this season for the Lakers. The second round pick out of Duke has played well above his expectations and put up some nice numbers.
Kelly can score a lot of ways, and that kind of versatility is very useful coming off the bench. He plays like a more talented Byron Mullens, and the Lakers could use that type of guy in their road to rebuilding success.
2013-2014 stats: (as starter for the Lakers, was traded from GSW at deadline) 13.5 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 3.0 APG, 1.3 SPG
Kent Bazemore went from being a fan favorite for dancing in GSW to being a starting guard in LA. Bazemore has been impressive in his stint with the Lakers, and chances are he is back with the team next year. Bazemore would obviously not start over Kobe, but his wing slashing ability would make him a valuable commodity off the bench.
2013-2014 stats: 10.1 PPG, 4.9 APG, 2.5 RPG, 44% 3pFG
The Return of Jordan Farmar has been beneficial for both sides. He was able to log heavy minutes this season with Steve Nash and Steve Blake going down with injury often. Farmar has put up some impressive numbers for the Lakers, and has probably secured the backup point guard role for the team next year.
2. They had their farewell season for Pau Gasol
Pau Gasol has always been a great teammate and great player for the Los Angeles Lakers. His heart and toughness were always among the best in the league and his versatility in passing and scoring was universally appreciated. But times are changing in LA and it is time for the Spaniard to move on. Gasol helped Kobe lead the Lakers to back to back titles in 2008 and 2009, and he will always be remembered as a Laker great.
Gasol will likely look to sign elsewhere this offseason. This move will not be a slap to the LA front office or an angry stomp off from the Staples Center. It is a chance for Gasol to spread his wings and join a different contender more ready to utilize him for what he is now. Gasol has been in trade talks since I can remember, most notably Dwight Howard, Josh Smith, Chris Paul, and Andrew Bynum trade talks. Gasol should feel a bit done with the Lakers situation.
The Lakers are attempting to surround Kobe with youth and talent in his final few seasons in a quest for Bryant’s sixth ring. Gasol would not be considered youthful by any standards. He is 34 in July and has suffered countless injuries this season.
Gasol could easily sign on a team like Charlotte or Toronto this offseason. Those teams are young and could use the experience of Gasol in their newly born playoff hopes season to season.
A return to LA for Gasol is not out of the question, but it is the worst option for Gasol. Still a long way from retirement, Gasol should take his talents elsewhere and not soak in the stress and pressure of trade rumors constantly put onto him by the Lakers front office.
The Lakers will appreciate his contributions and also appreciate his departure, as the two parties can go separate ways peacefully this offseason, rather than ending in a trade that would have sent Gasol to somewhere not of his choice.
This move helps the Lakers build their new core and accept their new reality of being a young team trying to rebuild fast enough for Kobe to get another shot at victory.
3. They found a Star
This section head may confuse you, and that is understandable. As I mentioned before, the Lakers season has only found them a bench for the next year. This is not entirely true.
Enter Nick Young.
Young has been nothing short of a star this season. He leads the team in points per game with about 18 and has been the moral leader all season in a tragic disaster. Young is ninth in scoring among shooting guards according to hoopstats.com. He is also 8th in free throws made and 3 pointers made compared to fellow shooting guards.
Young has been relegated to an off the bench his whole career for Washington, Los Angeles, and Philly. In 2010-2011, Young was able to start 40 games for Washington. He really paid off, averaging 17.4 points a game. In the beginning of the season in 2011-2012, Young was still starting for Washington. He was averaging a healthy 16.6 points. After he was traded to the Clippers, he started to show that he can still be a contributor on a good team (the Wizards were not a good team). Young was signed this offseason by the Lakers to be same player that he was with the Clippers- a good, streaky shooting reserve. Young has blown by those expectations.
Young has come out and said that he is going to opt out of his contract this summer on 710 ESPN Radio (viaInsideSoCal.com):
“I believe I deserve more. Coming back home means the world to me. It would be a blessing to be able to stay here. But I believe I came here and prove I deserve a little more. They’ve been disrespecting Swaggy P.”
He is only making $1,106,942 this season. That is a bargain deal for a player with his production. His option of next season is only $1.2 million, and Young has a point. He does deserve more than that when players like Andris Biedrins are making $9 million this season.
Despite this, Young does wish to return to the Lakers. If the Lakers decide that pairing him with Kobe Bryant would be foolish, then it is the Lakers loss. Young could easily slide in as small forward next to Kobe in the starting lineup, an upgrade from previous tours by Metta World Peace and Luke Walton. He could also easily become their sixth man. While the Lakers will not overpay him (maybe he could get $5 million a year), they would be out of their minds to not retain him – or try to.
4. They can rebuild through the draft
The Lakers have never been a team to build through the draft, but that could change this summer. Depending on where their lottery balls fall, the Lakers may have a shot at players like Jabari Parker, Dante Exum, Julius Randle, Joel Embiid, Noah Vonleh, and others. These players are top prizes for failure of this past season, and the Lakers should look to capitalize.
Rather than trading their pick along with every pick on the horizon for a player like Kevin Love, the Lakers should invest in young talent. Many of these players could be the savior to lead the team into a good transition after the Kobe era comes to an end. Also, some of these players, like Exum and Randle, could actually help the Lakers title chances immediately. Both players are very “NBA ready” and could jump right in the starting lineup alongside Mr. Mamba and his crew.
The Lakers have never been a team to build around youth in the past. The Lakers have not had a first round pick since 2009, and that pick (Toney Douglas) was traded away. The only Laker draft picks still on the team are rookie second rounder Ryan Kelly and sophomore second rounder Robert Sacre.
The Lakeshow were always a team that brought in a superstar to pair with the once young Kobe Bryant. While the acquisitions of Shaquille O’Neal, Pau Gasol, and Lamar Odom all paid off, the newly tried moves of trading for Dwight Howard and Steve Nash have not worked out.
This shows that young Kobe was a very different player than older Kobe. Championship runs were common for the Lakers when they had Shaq and when they had Gasol and Odom together. Last season with D12 and Nash saw nothing but failure.
This fact should scream in the Lakers front office’s face, “DON’T TRADE THIS PICK”. This pick could be their best option to getting back to relevance and not screwing their future.
The Lakers must understand that Kobe cannot play for ever. Their will come a day (perhaps soon) that he hangs up his sneakers and falls out of the limelight. To capitalize on the still capable play and moral leadership that Bryant will bring next season, they must start building around him with youth. The above mentioned prospects are the Lakers key to unlocking a successful future after an otherwise tumultuous catastrophe of a season.
5. Cap Space for solid free agents
The NBA salary cap as it stands today is $58.679 million. The Lakers cap space this offseason will be over $23 million. With the contracts of every player except Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, and Robert Sacre coming off the books next season, the Lakers could really make a splash in the offseason. The highly rumored Carmelo Anthony is looking more and more likely to opt out of his deal this offseason. The Lakers could snag him and form a big 3 of Kobe, Melo, and their lottery pick.
They could also go a bit smaller and invest in players like Greg Monroe, Kyle Lowry, Gordon Hayward, or Lance Stephenson. Two or more of these players could be brought in this offseason and immediately help them win now as well as secure success for the future.
The Lakers need a lot of help this offseason. whether it be a superstar like Melo or smaller stars like the four players mentioned, they are sure to be active this summer. Their cap space will definitely be used this offseason, but how they use it is a different story.
If they go all out to trade for Kevin Love or bring in a player that would not fit well with Kobe, this season may only prove useful as reality check. But if the Lakers and the front office play their cards right, they could walk away from this season and offseason a better team. The Lakers have finally tasted failure this season for the first time in a very long time. The lessons they have learned and the development of younger players should end up being beneficial in the long run, and the whole season can eventually be considered just a bump in the road on their way back to the top.
stats courtesy of espn.go.com and nba.com
salary information courtesy of http://hoopshype.com/