Posted July 09, 2013

Dwight Howard’s departure leaves Lakers pondering a wide-open future

Dwight Howard, Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers, Pau Gasol, Steve Nash
Pau Gasol (right) will have to step up next season with Dwight Howard gone and Kobe Bryant recovering from an Achilles injury.

Pau Gasol (right) will have to step up next season with Dwight Howard gone and Kobe Bryant recovering from an Achilles injury. (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

Over the past 15 years, the Lakers have built and bridged empires through stout basketball operation and uncanny good fortune. They’ve run through a wealth of basketball riches that might seem incomprehensible to some of the league’s long-suffering franchises, and in the process become both beloved and reviled, largely because of a string of star player pairings that goes beyond the serendipitous.

When it comes to the acquisition of prized players, the Lakers seem to get their way — be it in the signing of Shaquille O’Neal, the re-signing and appeasement of Kobe Bryant, the acquisition of Pau Gasol, the fulfillment of a long-rumored trade for Dwight Howard or even in flipping a few draft picks to land Steve Nash. All teams have grand designs, but the Lakers seem to follow through on their pipe dreams at an outrageous rate.

That appears to have changed in the last week. Howard has opted to switch teams just a year after landing in Los Angeles despite the Lakers’ most deliberate efforts to woo him. Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak fully understood how outstanding Howard could be when healthy and what value the league’s preeminent center would offer L.A.’s aging core. But Howard ultimately chose to go elsewhere, proof enough that the Lakers’ aura might well be extinguishing.

As a franchise-changing superstar departs for Houston, so begins the Lakers’ new order — that of a franchise with high-level players but little momentum. L.A. is due for a renovation unlike any it has seen since 1997, as Howard’s exodus and Bryant’s drift toward retirement have put the Lakers in a position to build up from a relatively blank slate.

Before that opportunity even arises, however, the Lakers will need to play out what may well be their least promising season since their 34-win campaign in the wake of trading O’Neal to Miami in 2004. Bryant, Gasol and Nash will still be Lakers, but Kobe will start his season rehabbing from a torn Achilles tendon while the rest of the roster aches for more reliable contributors. In fact, with the Thunder, Spurs, Clippers, Rockets, Grizzlies and Warriors all heavy favorites to make the postseason, and the Nuggets, Trail Blazers, Timberwolves, Pelicans and perhaps Mavericks fighting for the final two slots, it’s entirely possible that the Lakers slide out of the playoffs altogether. L.A. was able to scrape together just enough to make the cut last time around, but the void left by Howard’s departure positions the Lakers to be an even more disastrous defensive team next season with no guarantee of offensive solvency.

GOLLIVER: Winners and losers in Howard signing | Why Howard left

Howard wasn’t at all himself last season, but in diminished form he still stood as one of the better interior defenders in the league. His effort wasn’t consistent enough and his rotations were often a full beat slow, but a lesser Howard is still a significant deterrent and a genuine difference-maker. Removing him from the back line can only hurt a team that suffers Nash’s limitations and Bryant’s freelancing on the perimeter, creating entirely too many problems for Gasol and his frontcourt partner to handle.

For a taste of what might soon come: In the 235 minutes that the Nash-Bryant-Gasol trio played without Howard last season, according to NBA Wowy, the Lakers surrendered 108.6 points per 100 possessions — a fraction of a point short of the Bobcats’ league-worst season average. (This isn’t a very dependable sample size, but the Lakers’ injury woes of a year ago leave us very little to work with in terms of specific statistical analysis.) Things should improve a bit with Gasol potentially sliding over to center and the team overall developing better chemistry, but this is still a perilous combination of flawed perimeter defense and lacking inside protection.

There should be enough offense between the Lakers’ three stars to carry L.A. to top-10 offensive efficiency if all goes according to plan, though it’s tough to project specifics with Nash a persistent question mark because of age and injury, Bryant no less predictable given his massive undertaking in rehab and Gasol set for a possible positional shift. Still, as long as Nash is functional and Bryant aware of his potential limitations, that three-man combination would seem to be too balanced and viable offensively to cave.

Gasol’s pending move should inspire plenty of confidence, as he was a much better scorer, rebounder and defender when operating as L.A.’s nominal center last season. The most glaring of differences comes in Gasol’s shooting efficiency, which jumped from 45.4 percent (eFG%) to 51.7 percent as he slid from the 4 to the 5, per 82games.com. Positional lines are largely fluid for players as versatile as Gasol, but the combination of Howard’s presence and coach Mike D’Antoni’s offense put Gasol in a strange, ineffective place. His game is far more form-fitting at center for D’Antoni’s Lakers than power forward, and that could play out in the season ahead.

ROSENBERG: Pressure now on Howard to lead Rockets to title

As to how much that really matters, it’s honestly tough to say. There are still plenty of moves to be made across the league as free agency wraps up, but at present the Timberwolves would seem to be a safer postseason bet than the Lakers among the bubble teams competing for the final few spots. To make matters worse, the Lakers could well be cooked in their playoff hunt if Bryant’s rehabilitation drags on longer than expected or Nash suffers another nagging injury — both very real concerns given the age of the players involved (Bryant will be 35 by the start of the season, Nash 39). L.A. had a shallow roster last season even with a high-quality center logging 36 minutes a game, and it will now have to make do through potential injuries and all without Howard’s presence. Early signs of trouble could quickly shift the Lakers’ attention to the future; they will likely have little to scrap and claw for in 2013-14 save another early postseason exit.

That’s where things get pretty interesting for the Lakers, who — as has been made known in every assessment of Howard’s decision — will have cap space aplenty after next season. By next summer, only a single Laker will be on the books: Nash, who will make $9.7 million in the final year of his deal. Beyond that, Kupchak will be in a position to re-sign Bryant to a more cap-friendly contract (his current $30.5 million salary is tops in the league), re-up Gasol if there’s mutual interest and add a max-level free agent with change to spare. There’s still a lot to work out in terms of what kind of deals Bryant and Gasol might find amenable, but if the pair can be sold on Tim Duncan-/Kevin Garnett-type contracts that would pay them an average of $10 million per season, L.A. would stands to have about only $34 million in committed salary next season. (This number could drop even lower if 1) Bryant agrees to an annual salary of less than $10 million, 2) Gasol decides to sign elsewhere or 3) Nash were to be dealt before his final year under contract.)

THOMSEN: Even with Howard signing, Rockets have long way to go | Surprise of offseason

That Bryant, Nash and Gasol aren’t getting any younger does make things a bit more complicated, but a blank salary-cap outlook puts the Lakers in great position to land a high-level target. In 2014, they could potentially aim for LeBron James (who has an early-termination option), Chris Bosh (ETO), Carmelo Anthony (ETO) or Dwyane Wade (ETO) if they’re looking for an established star, or try for DeMarcus Cousins, Larry Sanders or Derrick Favors in restricted free agency if they’d prefer an up-and-comer. But unlike most teams with cap space, L.A. could also pocket its room and wait because there are no costly extensions set to kick in or increasing salaries that could complicate the situation going forward. If the 2014 free-agent class doesn’t produce the desired targets, Kevin Love (player option), Rajon Rondo, Marc Gasol and LaMarcus Aldridge could be in play for the following summer.

Further, the 2014 draft class is expected to be strong. If things go south quickly next season, the Lakers would be in position to add a quality piece early in the first round.

It would be a very different look for the Lakers to rebuild through such patient, conventional means, but such is the reality created by Howard’s departure. L.A. might still have smart decision-makers and a general mystique, but the superstar it intended to rebuild around just shipped out for Texas and left one of the league’s most storied franchises looking oddly ordinary.

UPDATE: The Lakers have agreed to a one-year deal with Chris Kaman and are reportedly prepared to amnesty Metta World Peace.

MORE COVERAGE: Kobe reacts to news on Instagram | Shaq on Howard

44 comments
Cherrie
Cherrie

Winners or losers, I'd root for the LAKERS as soon as they're done with Kobe!

longbordr52
longbordr52

If the organization can just please send Jim Buss on an extended vacation to Madagascar where he doesn't get cell phone reception or internet, Jeanie Buss and Mitch Kupchak can stabilize the Lakers. If there's one thing we know about Kupchak, it's that he absolutely abhors mediocrity. If he doesn't feel at the beginning of the season that his roster can legitimately contend for a title, he'll blow the entire thing up. The Lakers will struggle next year, but I doubt they'll be down for too long.

Steve Moore
Steve Moore

Guaranteed - NBA rigs 2014 draft, Lakers finish in lottery (keeping their pick) and get Wiggins - there's too much TV money at stake - bet the ranch on it.I

livelakerlife21
livelakerlife21

Trade kelly Meeks trade hill amnesty metta Meeks Blake and sacre and get lillard odom iguadala Carmelo Labron Romel beck from the dLeague keep Nash kobe gasol and kayman..

livelakerlife21
livelakerlife21

Trade hill give up meta to amnesty so do with hill and trade Meeks trade sacre and Nash keep blake kayman Kelly kobe gasol and get Ellis iguadala carmelo Labron and odom and from the d league Romel Beck ..or trade Blake and Kelly for lillard from the blazers AsaP ProNTo Lakers need this major upgrade oh and f *** Dwight

livelakerlife21
livelakerlife21

Lakers need iguadala Ellis Carmelo and Labron if odom wants let him in to and Romel Beck.

Kp
Kp

While SI can claim the Lakers' future is bleak, 

as a fan of Portland the one good thing I can say about the Lakers is they've always been THE NBA team that rebuilds at full speed and ultimately very well - better than any team in the League over the past 4 decades. 

Of course The Buss is buried. This rebuild will tell the world if Junior has his father's touch (and contacts). 

But one thing he's already done very well : NOT re-signing Howard was in his team's best interest. Plan for the 2014 season to come back with a vengance should be LA's goal. Howard wouldn't survive another year in LA.  

RonHawkster
RonHawkster

What exactly has "Superman" accomplished?  

Oh yes... He has filled up some stat sheets, but mostly goofed around his entire career, been lazy, aloof and uninterested, gotten some coaches fired and thrown some teammates under the buss, never worked on improving his game (including his horrid FT shooting), never committed to any team or goal, disappeared if there was ever a big game, and generally mastered the art of underachievement.

Superman, my big, hairy foot.  By the time his career is over he will have never won any rings, nor have any fans left.  He'll be known as the Superclown.

MikelArtist
MikelArtist

spurs need ron artest..... that's really good addition... whip some assss...

brodilitz
brodilitz

Wait:

 'Gasol’s move should inspire plenty of confidence, as he was a much better scorer, rebounder and defender when operating as L.A.’s nominal center last season.'.  Did I miss something, or did the Lakers just sign Chris Kaman - another true center?  So, if Kaman is the center, Gasol will (fill in the blank)

OrvilleGodby
OrvilleGodby

The Lakers need to go back and watch the films of Gasol before they aquired him. He was an elite scoring machine. Get him back in that mindset and the Lakers will be fine.


RafalPruszyn-ski
RafalPruszyn-ski

If Kobe was a reason why Howard flew the coop then I'm glad Howard flew the coop. Kobe will be a Laker for the next 3 years, so if Howard can't handle that, he is better off far away in basketball Siberia a.k.a. Houston. Superman would have been able to handle Kobe.


Howard NEVER showed the qualities needed to lead a franchise like the Lakers. There are 2 special teams in the NBA, Lakers and Celtics, that demand more from their leaders. Leaders for teams like the Clippers or Rockets need to be simply good players. Leaders for teams like the Lakers need to be killers. Always have been, always will be. Howard is never going to be that guy; and to shell out max money for someone who lacks that killer instinct is folly. Let Houston have him, I am sure he can lead them to the 2nd round of the playoffs a few times over the next 3 or 4 years. Don't look to him to do much more.


Howard's departure is a godsend for the Lakers. They need to transition from the Kobe era to the NEXT ONE's era over the next few seasons. I would honestly love to see everyone currently with the team out of LA but Bryant by the start of the 2014-15 season. And maybe even sooner. Tank the next season, its a small price to pay for getting a high draft pick. The next team would ideally be Kobe + top 5 pick + an up and comer free agent and a young, fast roster of supporting players. The stink of a dying franchise needs to be removed and we need a fresh start.

jcnewen.fjc
jcnewen.fjc

KB better tell Gasol to lay off any Spain-related world basketball tournaments this summer.  This is what killed him in the past. By the NBA mid-season he was out of gas.

Larry C1
Larry C1

King Kobe, was probably the biggest reason superman flew the coup

bobdevo
bobdevo

Dump Kobe - dump Gasol - start over.  They're not going to make the playoffs in the forseeable future unless the reload.

alienbun
alienbun

What makes more sense: Dwight Howard is one of the biggest divas to ever play the game and didn't fit into the brand of basketball that the Lakers require from their stars OR the Lakers mystique has faded away and superstars no longer want to play in LA under the bright lights?

That's what I thought.

Houston will be better than the Lakers for one season. One season, and that is all. Dwight leaving LA was the best thing that could ever possibly happen for all parties involved.

Lakers let D'antoni play out his contract this year. They fire him, sign Phil, acquire Melo (Kobe's boy), acquire Chris Bosh, draft top 5 player, re-sign Kobe and Pau ... win it all. Next ...


shamrockpapa
shamrockpapa

Houston will be sorry they signed Dwight when Hardin asks for a trade & when they don't win it all or even make it to the top of the West....

Buzz Menzies
Buzz Menzies

The Lakers will have one bad year. Then will pull off big signings and trades in 2014 and be a top team again and all the Lakers haters will be able to go on hating for years to come.

say_wuh
say_wuh

Over the past 15 years, the Lakers have bought empires through stout basketball operation 

- Fixed

JoeCabot
JoeCabot

@Steve Moore It never takes the conspiracy crowd long to put its overactive imaginations to work.   Oh, and how much are you betting on this tall tale?

Sportsfan18
Sportsfan18

@Kp It wasn't Buss Junior that decided NOT to resign Howard.  You do know that he and Mitch and everyone else WANTED him to resign.

You said Junior Buss did well by not resigning him.  He and the rest of the Lakers brass dearly WANTED Howard to resign with them.

So how did Buss Jr. do well by not resigning him?

Sportsfan18
Sportsfan18

@MikelArtist  Please no.  He of the career .417% FG% and the .342% 3 pt career percentage.  He's older and not getting any younger.  

The Spurs were tied with the Thunder last year for the 2nd best shooting team in the NBA.  Sadly, the Heat were first.

Metta would not help the Spurs nearly as much as he'd hurt them.

Spurs have enough older players and they do well because they're great players and because they've been together a long time, in the same system and play together well.

Outside of the older players they already have, they need to get younger and more athletic.

Sportsfan18
Sportsfan18

@RafalPruszyn-ski  Well your Laker team desperately wanted him to resign with them, from Buss to Mitch to everyone else, including Phil and Kobe.

I'm not a Laker fan so I don't care either way but all the Laker fans are saying they're glad he didn't sign yet that is exactly what the team, it's leaders and players wanted to happen.

I've never seen such disconnect between all of a teams fans and all of those associated with the team.

All these Laker fans were happy last summer when he came to your team.  I didn't hear people saying no, he's terrible, don't sign him etc...  He'd already been in the league for 8 yrs and butchered his last 2 yrs with Orlando.  People already knew what he was like yet it was OK when he was coming to your team.

Please don't tell me that you just learned what he was like in this past year because he wasn't any different than in years before.  You said it yourself many times in your post.  He "NEVER showed the qualities needed to lead a franchise like the Lakers."

So many Laker fans are crying sour grapes.  He was great when he was coming to your team.  He's terrible now that he left.

You do know your team put up billboards around la la land to try and entice him to resign.

This means that those running your team wanted him yet all the fans say good riddance.  

Well those running your team are the ones who are going to make more decisions next year the way they made the decision to sign Dwight last summer and to try and get him to resign this summer.

Good luck Laker fans...

cjsamms
cjsamms

@bobdevoNo need to do that. They both come off the books next year. If they're smart (and I'm not claiming that Jim Buss is), they'll re-sign them to much more manageable numbers. If Kobe is smart and wants to win another title (and I'm not claiming he can put his ego aside), he'll sign something in the $10 mill range to give the team max flexibility in signing or trading for better talent. If they do that, then Kobe and Pau might have another title run left in the tank.

But even in the Lakers' wildest dreams, I don't see them acquiring Lebron, Wade or Bosh. Because LeBron already hinted that they'll probably all re-sign with the Heat for smaller numbers to stay together. I don't think any of them will be willing to play 2nd banana to Kobe any more than Dwight was.

Sportsfan18
Sportsfan18

@alienbun  D'Antoni's contract doesn't end after the 2013/2014 season though so the Lakers can't let D'Antoni play out his contract this year as you stated.

He signed a 3 yr contract and he's only completed one of the three years...

I'm not a Laker fan and for the sake of this argument, let's say I agree with what you said that Dwight didn't fit into the brand of basketball that the Lakers require from their stars.

What does that say about those running the Lakers then?  They all wanted him to resign from Buss to Mitch to Phil to Kobe.

They put up billboards around town asking him to resign.

All the fans say good riddance, we'll reload.  Well those running the team signed him last summer and wanted to resign him this summer.

These are the same guys who are going to go about reloading your team yet you and so many other Laker fans say he shouldn't have ever been a Laker.

Since those running the team wanted him to resign, what do you think of them?

Sportsfan18
Sportsfan18

@alienbun I hope the Lakers do get Melo, because he sucks.  Kobe is only 130th in true shooting percentage all time in the NBA.  Melo is currently 199th in all time true shooting percentage.  Melo shot .449% from the field this year.  His fans say, hey he led the league in scoring.  Yes he did because he took 22.22 shots a game, more than one quarter of the Knicks total shots as a team and he only played in like 68 of their 82 games.  Kevin Durant only took 17.69 shots a game this past season and Melo barely beat him for the scoring title.  Had Durant taken even a half a shot more per game, he would have beaten Melo for the scoring title.  Kobe took over 20 shots a game last year.  Kobe's homers say he had a great season last year, one of his better offensive seasons.  He shot .463% from the field and that is good for him, it's above his career FG%.

Now I'm NOT a LeBron fan (I'm a Jordan fan) but to give you and idea about his shooting percentage compared to Kobe's and Melo's, you better sit down.

LeBron just got done increasing his FG% for the 6th CONSECUTIVE season.  This is not easy to do.  It wasn't easy for him to do because he began with such a low shooting percentage.

7 NBA seasons ago, LeBron's shooting percentage was "only" .476% and then he increased it for 6 consecutive seasons.

Kobe and Melo can't even dream of doing that.  Hell, Kobe's fans say he had a great season and his shooting percentage was way lower than LeBron's was 7 yrs ago and LeBron increased his from that terrible mark of only .476% for 6 straight years.


The Lakers deserve another volume scorer to come and be a Laker and take over for Kobe as he winds down his career.  I hope he does come to LA.


People, please look at the stats.  Numbers.  They aren't opinion.  They aren't subjective.  Even if one is a fan, one must acknowledge reality.  I'm a Cubs fan and they suck.

RafalPruszyn-ski
RafalPruszyn-ski

@alienbun Let's give Phil a rest, OK?


I like what Boston did. Let's bring in fresh thinking, someone who could create a new identity and have new ideas. Phil was awesome. WAS. Now, he is an old man who won't be able to coach forever.


D'Antoni should not be fired. What better way to assure failure and allow the Lakers to maybe get a top 5 pick than by keeping D'Antoni? Fire him at the end of next season and start again.

dorado
dorado

@alienbun phil will be 68 come start of basketball season THIS year, so that means 69 next october.  do u really think he will coach again?

Sportsfan18
Sportsfan18

@Buzz Menzies They will NOT be good in 2014 either...  Which big free agent star or stars will they sign?  You said they will pull off big signings and trades.  throw at least two scenarios out there for us...

bobdevo
bobdevo

@Buzz Menzies Please - as long as they're carrying Kobe and Gasol they're never gong to compete.  As for D'antoni?  Sheesh.  Time to re-make/remodel and swing for the fences.

JoeCabot
JoeCabot

@pcwhite2 That trio of gibberish seems like more than just the result of a temporary high.

pcwhite2
pcwhite2

@Sportsfan18 @Kp 

It is clear - by sending in Kobe to tell D12 about "teaching" him to be a champion - the Lakers knew D12 would get made and walk.  They didn't want him.

RafalPruszyn-ski
RafalPruszyn-ski

@Sportsfan18  

Maybe. However from all I've read, Buss wasnt 100% enthusiastic in his meeting with Howard, Kupchak put in token effort and they let Kobe do his pitch. Everyone knew what Kobe was likely to say. On top of it they hired D'Antoni when Howard wanted Phil. I would argue they didn't try all that hard. But even if they did, sometimes fate intervenes for the benefit of all. Here she intervened for the benefit of the Lakers.

 Yes, we were happy when we got him, but can you blame us for turning unhappy? Howard disappointed. He feuded with Kobe. Whose side do you think we will take: the half-arsed rent-a-center with a bad attitude or the guy who has been the heart of the team for nearly 2 decades and has given everything to the team? 

 Sadly, its what we learned. We thought maybe the opportunity to play in LA would change him, give him a new start. We were wrong. Now Houston is banking that Howard will change for them.

IhatetoForgetG
IhatetoForgetG

@Sportsfan18 @alienbun Why do you want us to look like another team??? we really don't give a F.U.C.K maybe you are ticked off that us Lakers fans are Optimist and we know we won't be bad for that long who cares if an OVERRATED C went to a Rocket team it won't work that simple it just won't work nothing eveer goes right for the Rockets or there fans makes me remenisce to the days of YAO and T-Mac wanna be Shaq's and Kobe Lmao like Nas said "You were supposed to be Biggie and he was Puffy" LOL ROCKETS YOU WILL NOT WIN A CHAMPIONSHIP EVER AGAIN WE HAVE WON 17 F.U.C.K.I.N Trophys missed the playoffs 3 times in FRANCHISE HISTORY WE WONT BE BAD FOR LONG.................

IhatetoForgetG
IhatetoForgetG

@Sportsfan18 @alienbun why would you type that its obvious all you are is a stat geek, why is Lebrons FG% that high? because he is a Football player playing basketball that's why, it doesn't make him a better shooter, If Kobe wouldn't take so many difficult shots his Percentage would be up big time likewise if Lebron wasn't as physical as he is he wouldn't be a better "shooter" like why are sports fans all reliant all  stats now do you really forget about what goes on in the game like the intangibles??? SMH

RafalPruszyn-ski
RafalPruszyn-ski

@bobdevo  

Shmucks like you never understand what they are reading. Pau and Kobe come off the books after this season. 

DanaBunner
DanaBunner

@RafalPruszyn-ski @bobdevo Yes, and then the Lakers will resign those aging, fading players.  At this point, there are no bright lights on the Lakers horizon.  They do not have a single player who figures to be a top 20 NBA player in 2015.  And they will likely still have a 37 yr old Kobe and 35 yo Gasol as starters.  They don't even have anyone with trade value.  They will have to overpay some free agents and try to build a team which can compete in the NBA West.  Not a easy task.