It’s been a tough month since the return of Kobe Bryant for the Los Angeles Lakers. Prior to the return of their superstar the Lakers were contending for the 8th seed in the Western Conference with a revitalized young roster playing a more exciting brand of basketball. Upon Bryant’s return the Lakers struggled incorporating their star back into the lineup. Less than two weeks into his comeback Bryant suffered another injury, putting him on the shelf for six weeks and sending the Lakers into a tailspin. Since Bryant returned on December 8 versus the Toronto Raptors the Lakers are 4-13, including a current streak where they’ve lost nine of ten games. The poor run of play includes STAPLES Center losses versus Philadelphia, Milwaukee and Utah. The Lakers are now third from last in the Western Conference, just two and a half games up on last place Utah. Even with the return of Kobe Bryant the playoffs are unlikely for the Lakers this season, giving Lakers management some big decisions to make regarding whether or not to hold a fire sale before the trade deadline. The presence of one of the greatest college draft classes in years has once again brought up the possibility of teams ‘tanking’ the season in order to get more ping pong balls in the lottery. The NBA’s system doesn’t guarantee the top draft pick to the worst team but the weighted lottery does give teams with the best record a higher chance of a low draft pick. Right now the Lakers are well-positioned to not only have the flexibility to add a max free agent after next season, they should be in the running to draft a potential future All Star in next June’s draft.
Should the Lakers tank the second half of the season?
They’ve earned the slack: The Lakers have continually put a winning product on the floor for decades, avoiding the full rebuilding process that many great franchises have gone through. Next to perhaps the San Antonio Spurs it’s difficult to find another NBA franchise that has had such continued excellence over the past 20 years. For that reason the Lakers have earned a bit of slack from their fan base.
The upcoming draft is important: Next June’s draft features one of the best crops in years with several potential All Star talents. A poor finish can mean a top five draft pick. Kansas center Joel Embiid and forward Andrew Wiggins, Kentucky power forward Julius Randle, Duke forward Jabari Parker, Oklahoma State guard Marcus Smart and Arizona forward Aaron Gordon should all be available in June’s draft and are potential difference makers. The selection of a top draft pick combined with the targeting of a key free agent could rebuild the Lakers roster quickly. This June’s draft is important since the Lakers traded their 2015 first round pick to Phoenix as part of the Steve Nash trade. It’s hard to imagine a proud franchise like the Lakers tanking the second half of the season, but if they are going to tank this is the year to do it.
They need value for Gasol: The Lakers would be wise to deal Pau Gasol before the trade deadline. The potential Cavaliers trade which would have sent Gasol to Cleveland for Andrew Bynum (who would have been waived), fell through and the Bulls ended up making the deal. The Lakers need to determine quickly if Gasol is not in their long term plans. Dealing him and getting a package of players or an expiring contract to waive would help Los Angeles avoid the luxury tax while potentially picking up a player or draft pick. With the February 20 trade deadline fast approaching the Lakers should find a suitable place to ship Gasol, getting some value in return. Even with a player option for next season it’s questionable whether he would want to return. Letting Gasol walk for nothing next summer would free up cap space, but wouldn’t give the Lakers anything of value for a top ten NBA center.
The Lakers decision to re-sign Kobe Bryant to a 2 year/$48 million deal does limit their options over the next few seasons. At best they have the opportunity to sign one max free agent. Next offseason Kevin Love will have the ability to opt out of his contract and the former UCLA big man may be interested in moving back to Los Angeles. A good draft pick this year combined with moving Gasol for an asset and leveraging the Lakers remaining cap space well could give the Lakers the ability to contend after next season. The most important thing now though is to maximize their draft value this season.
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Published by Barry’s Ticket Service.