Lakers fans haven’t seen the men in purple and gold play this badly in more than ten years, but the good news is a winning future is a very real prospect if the franchise is guided correctly by GM Mike Kupchak. Solid work needs to be done in free agency and the draft, but the blueprint to winning another NBA title starts with the current players on the roster.
The Lakers have been destroyed by injuries this year to Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Pau Gasol and Xavier Henry, and although they snapped the Portland Trailblazers’ winning streak last night with a last-second bucket, they are tied for last place in the Western Conference. Los Angeles will almost surely miss the playoffs for the first time in ten seasons and eyes are already being set on next year.
Kobe Bryant has only played six games this season, but remains the heart and soul of the Lakers. He has urged his teammates to savor the agony of defeat this year and to, “Let it sit in now, because revenge is sweet and it’s quick,” referencing what he has in store for next year. He’s saying the right things, as is Pau Gasol, the big man who will be a free agent at the end of the year. Gasol said his first priority isn’t re-signing for a ton of money, but rather being on a team “with a real chance of winning a ring and where I can help to compete for it.” These positive comments come on the heels of criticisms of head coach, Mike D’Antoni, who Gasol blames for the Lakers lack of discipline, but it looks as if he could return next year to bring stability to the front court.
While the Lakers have their sights set on winning in 2015, their best bet at a legit future shot at an NBA title will be in 2016, when it is expected that Kupchak will lure then free agent all-star, Kevin Love, from a bad Milwaukee Bucks team and guide him in LA. In a dream scenario, it is feasible that with Love in place, the Lakers will potentially have enough cap room to make a play for signing LeBron James and/or Kevin Durant, but a lot of things have to fall into place for that to happen. Meanwhile, the blessing of a bad record this year is the growing potential to lottery a top-five pick in the upcoming draft.
This year’s draft class is expected to be deep, and the Lakers would do well to secure Joel Embiid, the 7-foot center from Kansas. Though Embiid is sure to be a project for his first few years in the league, it is a good bet the Jayhawk will develop into a dominating presence down low and will be able to make up for Love’s average defensive skills. If Embiid is not the choice, the two fantastic forwards from Duke, Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood, may be. If LA falls out of the top five in the lottery, the impressive Gary Harris, guard from Michigan State, should be available possibly as a seventh or eighth overall pick.
As for Coaching, it might make the most sense for the Lakers to let Coach Mike D’Antoni go. D’Antoni’s spread-the-ball-around offense has found little success, though to be fair, he has not had much of a chance to implement it with his marquee players. The word is Kupchak will make a play for Carmelo Anthony, who will be a free agent at the end of the season, and there’s no way Melo will be open to sharing the rock all that much. If the Lakers fire D’Antoni, they will immediately attract more talented free agents in the off-season.
There are multiple roads back to title prominence open for Los Angeles, considering the cap room that could be created over the next two years by not resigning expensive players like Nash and Gasol, the potential of a robust draft class as well as free agent pool, and the ever-present draw of Southern California. So downtrodden Lakers fans should take heart, because the winning ways will likely return in the very near future, as Kobe will look to guide the purple and gold to one more title before the end of his career.
Opinion By Matt Stinson