With Dwight Howard bolting for Houston (barring another change of heart), the Lakers face a tough season and tougher decisions. At the top of the list are questions surrounding Kobe Bryant. Will he return this season? If so, how will he play? Should he be amnestied? Is he part of L.A.’s future at all?
But beyond questions about the (former?) face of the franchise lurk other questions. Chief among them: what to do with all of these veterans?
Steve Nash, Pau Gasol, and Metta World Peace still have value, but not necessarily on a team without Bryant or Howard. Without any real hope to contend this season the Lakers would do well to cash in on these veteran assets while they still have the chance.
Just making the playoffs may be a chore this season with teams like Minnesota and Portland adding pieces for a playoff run. Given that they have their own pick in the 2014 draft, which promises to feature a number of top prospects, it would also be in the Lakers’ best interest to lose. A lot. The best way to do that would be to sell off veterans for draft picks, expiring contracts, and cheap young players.
Each of these players is movable. Gasol and World Peace are both on the last year of their deals. The artist formerly known as Ron Artest will be valuable as a low-ish minutes stopper to throw at LeBron James or Kevin Durant. In this area his reputation outpaces reality at this point, as both Synergy ratings and 82games.com rate him as an average defender on the wing. His numbers at power forward are much more promising, and Synergy rates him as being a very effective post up defender, so spending time as a small-ball 4 may be in his best interest. He is owed nearly $8 million next season, but on the right team he can be very valuable, and his reputation alone may be enough to draw trade interest.
As for Gasol, his high price ($19.2 million) may make it tougher to find a suitor, but a team that is looking for post scoring should be willing to deal for him. The important thing for the Lakers is to avoid taking on long-term salary in any deal. A team like Dallas, who didn’t get what they want in free agency, should be the first place the Lakers look for a deal, but any deal without long-term salary coming back would do the job.
Nash is the only player under contract for 2014-15, and at 40 he is probably the most difficult to move. The Lakers will be best served taking a chance that Nash will start the season strong and trying to pull off a deal before the deadline. If he does start strong it will be important for L.A. to move him before he performs any last miracles. If they get anything back it will be a plus, but removing him from the books will let the Lakers start completely over in the 2014 offseason.
The worst thing that can happen is for the team to show signs of life. It would be too easy for Kobe to come back early, the team to win a few games, and management to decide to hold things together, costing them a shot at getting a top pick or anything in return for their current vets.