LA has the glitz and the glamor, as well as the hoops history and success, but is it going to continue? Join us as Hoop Diary continues our Future Trends segment with the Los Angeles Lakers, looking at the current roster, ownership and management, the salary cap and analyse these items and formulate the best way for the Lakers to succeed in the future.
Los Angeles Lakers
After finishing second in the West to a surprising San Antonio squad, the Lakers entered the Playoffs full of confidence. Chris Paul badly exposed the Lakers lack of quality at point guard before the Mavericks swept the Lakers out in the second round.
The off court considerations for Los Angeles are strong however, as the team is estimated to be the most valuable in the entire League (US$643 million) and live in a media mega-market which gives them the enviable ability to make more money through marketing and ticket sales, as well as attract players who wish to be a part of that additional revenue stream and/or lifestyle.
These facts give the Lakers a huge amount of uncertainty in terms of their outlook for 2011/12. They could rally around Kobe Bryant, fully embrace a dynamic Andrew Bynum and blitz the league, or they could fall completely off the rails under Mike Brown.
Anything is in play, so let’s analyse the particulars.
Dr. Jerry Buss is still the owner, but there is more and more handover of power to his children Jim and Jeanie. While Dr. Buss’ Basketball chops are unquestioned, the same cannot be said of the younger generation, and this poses significant risk to the long term future of the organisation as they look to step away from Phil Jackson and, eventually, Kobe Bryant.
General Manager Mitch Kupchak has faced his share of fire in his decade at the helm, but has generally been proven right in his personnel decisions in the fullness of time including the potentially disastrous trading of Caron Butler for Kwame Brown, which famously turned into Pau Gasol and another two Laker championships.
The most successful Coach of the modern era is out, replaced by Mike Brown. Brown is known for his exceptional defensive strategy and his very simplistic offensive patterns, so it will be interesting to see how the Lakers adjust from a complex spacing and movement package like the triangle, and also to see if Brown moves away from the isolation heave offense he was known for in Cleveland.
The Lakers could not have less cap room if they tried. They are over the cap before you even throw in the millstone deals for Luke Walton, Steve Blake, Derek Fisher and Ron Artest which total 20M for at least two more years. Of course they pay market rates for several high profile players; it just happens that those players would command a lot on the open market (Kobe 25M, Gasol 18.7M, Bynum 15M and Odom 9M). The good news for the Lakers is that Theo Ratliff, Joe Smith (yes he’s still alive) and Trey Johnson come off the books this year. The bad news is that saves the Lakers only 1.8M next year and they still need to sign the incoming draft picks and hopefully find someone not named Blake or Fisher to play point guard.
The Lakers roster has its flaws, but there aren’t many franchises in the league who wouldn’t swap rosters with Los Angeles in a heartbeat. The story starts and ends with Kobe, and the Lakers will go as far as he is able to carry them as they are very lopsided. They have significant talent up front in Gasol, Bynum and Odom, but their only real perimeter threat and game closer is Bryant.
The rest of LA’s perimeter players are toothless, as shown by the torching the Lakers have received from quick point guards for years. No one on the roster other than Kobe is capable of chasing guards around pick and rolls or containing penetration with the exception of Shannon Brown who is not expected to return. Beyond that, they have a real issue at small forward. Sure, Ron Artest is still a beast defensively IF he gets the right matchup, but it’s very hard to play the personality game and keep Odom from starting when he is clearly better than Artest (we’ll delve into this more later).
Besides the players already mentioned, it starts to become quite morose as you get further down the roster. Matt Barnes, in much the same way as Shannon Brown, has done enough to earn a pay day elsewhere, so Mike Brown is looking down his bench for production from players like unproven Devin Ebanks or Derrick Caracter, which has to give the new coach chills. But with a veteran team, he has to understand he can’t play his aging studs big minutes so the young bucks will have to play unless the Lakers are able to sign some out of contract veterans on the cheap.
The big change for the Lakers has already happened with Phil Jackson leaving and Mike Brown coming on board. How Brown handles the troops and sets up his offensive and defensive schemes will play a big part in the future success of the franchise. It’s no secret that Phil Jacksons ability to coax the best out of a diverse group has always been a core strength and that ability allowed Mitch Kupchak to be somewhat reckless in gathering talent with less regard to personality that would otherwise be required. The growing tension between Lamar Odom and Ron Artest is a key here as Ron’s best days are behind him and Odom really deserves more limelight than he gets. The trouble of course being that Ron fits perfectly with the starting group who can hide his deficiencies, while Lamar’s ability to be a multifaceted threat and scoring option are ideal with the second unit. Swap the two around and you get defensive lapses with the starting group and no scoring with the second unit, but convincing reality star Odom of that will be an issue for the new coach.
The real change that the Lakers need to see personnel-wise is a solid point guard like Kirk Hinrich or even better, a young kid like Jrue Holiday who would start the youth movement and be a part of the rebuilding post Kobe.
The Lakers are exceptionally well placed for next season, although the long term outlook is not quite so rosy with an aging and bloated roster. It’s easy to see the veteran core responding to the urgings of a coach as they collectively understand their window is closing.
The big variables are if Mitch Kupchak can swing a deal for a defensive minded point guard (or at least one who isn’t a complete liability) or alternatively trade assets to somehow fulfil the rumor of acquiring Dwight Howard. Bynum is nice and all, but having Howard on hand would mean there is no need to prevent penetration, you can actively invite it and make teams pay.
The reality will be that likely none of those two things happen and the Lakers go into next season with a roster very similar to what they have now, which will give them results very similar to what they just achieved. I don’t think anyone is ready to write Kobe off yet, so if the team can get him close, he can finish that deal.
We try to take a look at another team and assess their fortunes in the coming seasons every few days so check back regularly. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @HD_RyanB