2014 NBA Futures: Lakers still gunning for Title Next Year

la-lakers-titleLast season, the Los Angeles Lakers featured a loaded roster that seemed perfectly capable of winning the NBA Championship. But even with a team of Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Steve Nash, Metta World Peace and Pau Gasol, the Lakers struggled to a seventh place Western Conference finish and were promptly swept by the San Antonio Spurs.

Now the Lakers enter the 2013-14 season having lost the battle to re-sign Howard and with Bryant rehabbing his torn Achilles tendon. They also cut World Peace, who later signed with the New York Knicks. That leaves LA with the aging core of Gasol, Nash and Bryant – not exactly the chic pick to win it all next year.

Taking this into account, some people thought that the Lakers would be best served by bringing Kobe along slowly, clearing up cap space and waiting until the summer of 2014, when they could sign a big-time star like Carmelo Anthony or LeBron James. By tanking next season, the Lakers could also pick up a high pick in the talent-laden 2014 NBA Draft.

la-lakers-title-1But none of this seems to be in the cards for LA as they’ll be entering October with the same mindset as always: compete for an NBA Championship.

Bryant is rehabbing with plans to be ready for the preseason, the team signed big man Chris Kaman to a one-year, $3.2 million deal, and Nash is also healing from his injuries in hopes of playing a full season. As if these aren’t signs that LA is preparing for another shot at the title, general manager Mitch Kupchak recently said so himself.

“You know that’s not our plan. Our plan was to bring back Dwight Howard and that would have sky-rocketed our payroll,” Kupchak said, when asked about mailing in next season. “That’s never a plan here with our fan base, to throw in the towel before the season begins. We always try to win, and that’s what we’re going to do this year.

“We have challenges. There’s no doubt. We don’t know when Kobe’s coming back, and we don’t know what level he’s going to come back at, although we’re optimistic. Everything’s good with Steve. Pau should be fine. We’ve added some athleticism. We’re hopefully putting ourselves in position where we can compete in every game.”

la-lakers-title-2No NBA general manager is going to flat-out admit that they hope to be non-competitive just to pick up a high lottery pick. But there’s sincerity in what Kupchak says because the Lakers fan base has come to expect winning, and throwing an entire season away just isn’t acceptable. Plus they have some stars left over in Bryant, Gasol and Nash, who would be pretty mad if they got another year older without another playoff run.

But do the Lakers truly have a shot at winning the NBA Championship? If you were making a 2014 NBA futures bet, odds are that you wouldn’t put your money on Kobe and company. But then again, with the chemistry disaster that we witnessed between Bryant, Howard and Gasol last year, perhaps playing without Howard can only improve the Lakers’ chances next season. And even if they have another difficult, injury-riddled season, well, at least Los Angeles still remains an attractive destination for big-name free agents next summer.

James, Anthony, John Wall, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh, Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph and Andrea Bargnani all hit the market in 2014. And while some of these players will re-sign with their team, it’s likely that LA could land at least one of them based on location and reputation alone.

Kobe Bryant not Happy – Lakers continue to struggle

A few weeks ago, we did a piece on if the LA Lakers were a playoff team or not. Our general consensus was that the Lakers were likely to make the playoffs because of the following:

1) Steve Nash wasn’t playing at the time.
2) LA was more talented than other teams chasing playoff spots.
3) The Lakers were only 1 1/2 games behind the West’s eighth seed.
4) Only a quarter of the NBA season had been played.

Well Steve Nash is back, the 2012-2013 NBA is over halfway finished, and LA is now 4 games behind Houston for the eighth seed. Following a 106-93 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies tonight, the Lakers are now eight games below .500. This being said, it’s starting to look questionable as to whether or not this team can really make the postseason.

Not surprisingly, Kobe Bryant isn’t happy about his team’s performance on the season. And Bryant was sounding more like a coach than player when he stated:

We need to go back to basics. We need to put guys in positions to do what they do best. We need to strip it down. Steve is best in pick-and-roll. Pau is best in the post. I’m best from the free-throw line extended down. Let’s go back to basics.

We’ve got to evaluate what’s going on. Management is looking at it. The players are looking at it. I’m looking at myself. I’m shooting a low percentage right now, and I’ve got to look at that. It’s on me to make shots, but I’m having to make tough shots, getting the ball 30 feet from the basket and (expletive) like that.

Besides discussing some of the general things that LA needs to do to change things around, Bryant also talked about Dwight Howard’s discontent on offense. Howard thinks he needs to touch the ball more, as evidenced by his declining scoring average. However, Kobe doesn’t quite agree with this since he said:

I’ve tried to go out of my way to get him the ball. Sometimes I end up looking like an idiot, because I get up in the air, I’ve got a shot, but I try to find him. But he thinks I’m going to shoot, so his back is turned. I’m trying to think about getting him the ball a lot – take care of him as much as I possibly can. It takes me out of rhythm a little bit, but I’m fine with that. If that’s going to help our team, I’m more than willing to do that.

Bryant and Howard aren’t the only two players who are frustrated during the LA Lakers trying times. Pau Gasol seems to have gotten the worst of the deal since he’s been forced to shift from center to power forward because of Howard’s arrival. The end result is that Gasol is shooting a career-low 43.1% from the floor while often playing outside the paint.

Thanks to his struggles, coach Mike D’Antoni replaced Gasol in the starting lineup with Earl Clark. We’re not sure if this is a designed motivational move to get Pau playing better, or D’Antoni truly thinks that Earl is a better fit in the starting lineup. Clark has provided a nice boost off the bench, but Gasol is a four-time All-Star who was part of two championship Lakers teams.

In any case, Bryant, Howard, Gasol and the rest of the Lakers need to find a solution to the team’s struggles sooner than later. If they don’t, this club could be among the NBA’s biggest bust in history….if not the biggest bust.