Posted September 03, 2013

Offseason Grades: Los Angeles Lakers

2013 Offseason Grades, Ben Golliver, Chris Kaman, Dwight Howard, Jim Buss, Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers, Mitch Kupchak, Nick Young, Wesley Johnson
(@Lakers)

The Lakers fell short in their summer campaign to keep Dwight Howard in Los Angeles. (@Lakers)

The Point Forward will grade every team’s offseason over the next few weeks. Click here for the complete archive.

Additions: Chris Kaman, Nick Young, Wesley Johnson, Jordan Farmar, Elias Harris, Ryan Kelly (No. 48 pick in 2013 draft)

Losses: Dwight Howard, Antawn Jamison, Earl Clark, Chris Duhon, Andrew Goudelock, Metta World Peace (amnestied)

Other Moves: Re-signed Robert Sacre

What Went Right: The very best thing that you can say about the Lakers’ summer is this: Once general manager Mitch Kupchak knew he was beaten, he simply admitted defeat.

For longtime, well-respected and fully entrenched executives such as Kupchak, an NBA summer is like a hand of cards or a game of chess within an extended tournament. Surrendering, folding, resigning — that’s never the goal or the ideal outcome, but everyone from card sharks and chess masters on down eventually reaches a point where the best play is to pack it in and go on to the next one.

D’Antoni: Lakers can improve this season without Howard

Pride, ego, ownership, expectations, pressure, impatience and the health and age of the key roster pieces are just a few of the many factors that can stand between an executive and his white flag. One assumes that every executive has a hypothetical backup plan in mind for a worst-case scenario, but we don’t see it come to fruition all that often. Instead, GMs prolong and compound sticky situations by pursuing desperate contingency plans, or ownership decides that it’s time to find a new guy to unravel the old guy’s mistakes.

The Lakers lost Dwight Howard, and they lost Dwight Howard bad. The franchise became the butt of a million jokes nationwide with its failed “Stay!” billboards. The Lakers watched, prone, as the Rockets pushed all the right buttons in their recruiting pitch, while the details of Howard’s frustrations in Los Angeles bubbled to the surface. And, once they lost, often-mocked Lakers VP Jim Buss willingly played the part of the scorned ex.

“[Howard] was never really a Laker,” Buss told the Hollywood Reporter. “He was just passing through.”

Come on, man. Really?

D’Antoni: Howard’s decision to leave ‘mind-boggling’

From start to finish, the one-year Howard era in L.A. couldn’t have gone worse: He didn’t click with Kobe Bryant. Coach Mike Brown was fired after five games. Howard’s father took shots at coach Mike D’Antoni. Howard didn’t seem comfortable on offense or dominant on defense, he played through pain and had his toughness questioned, and he was ejected from the last game of the season as San Antonio swept the Lakers in the first round.

The whole thing was a total, giant letdown. One can only imagine how frustrating it was for Kupchak, who swung the blockbuster deal in the first place. Imagine the ecstasy of selling Andrew Bynum at the absolute height of his value in exchange for the best center in the NBA. Now imagine Kupchak’s anguish as all that ugliness began spilling forth as soon as the Lakers took the court for the 2012 preseason.

Resisting every urge to truly salvage his summer in pursuit of a cobbled-together, competitive roster, Kupchak admitted defeat and proceeded to the worst-case scenario backup plan: preparing for the summer of 2014. Yes, Kupchak’s hands were clearly tied by a payroll that was the highest in the league last season and on track to exceed the luxury-tax threshold again this year. Yes, a lack of quality trade assets further limited his options. Steve Blake, Jordan Hill and Jodie Meeks aren’t attractive chips. Pau Gasol? Not particularly easy to move when the 33-year-old stands to make $19.3 million, one of the league’s highest salaries. Still, Kupchak punted, and the Lakers will be better for it, even if it means the franchise could very well miss the postseason for just the third time since 1977.

Admitting defeat here amounted to saying goodbye to 2010 hero World Peace via the amnesty clause, a move that cut the team’s tax bill and potentially set up a scenario where the Lakers could get completely out of the tax this season with the right midseason trade(s). The strategy also included signing a series of short-term, low-dollar deals: Kaman, Farmar and Johnson were all given one-year deals, while Young was added at the veteran’s minimum for a maximum of two seasons. No meaningful future salary was added, keeping the Lakers’ 2014 cap space house in order. L.A. will face decisions (and negotiations) with Bryant and Gasol next summer, but they will otherwise have incredibly clean books to go star-hunting via free agency or trade.

One other nice by-product of punting to 2014: The Lakers are on track to get their best draft pick in years in what is regarded as the best draft class in years. Solid timing. (God help Adam Silver if the first lottery drawing of his tenure as NBA commissioner sees the Lakers win the rights to Canadian prodigy Andrew Wiggins.)

The end result for Kupchak? A team that will likely finish anywhere from seventh to 13th in the West, depending on how far Bryant can carry the group on a rehabbed Achilles and how healthy/productive Gasol and Steve Nash, 39, can be. That, plus some brighter days ahead thanks to a 2014 free-agent class that could include LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and others. Again: Not the goal, not ideal, but the right decision.

What Went Wrong: Writing at any length here would just be beating a dead horse. Howard has moved on, and so should we.

One nice aspect of handing out mostly minimum deals is that it’s hard to make a serious mistake. Young’s price represents the ultimate hometown discount: The L.A. native signed for $5.6 million with the Sixers in 2012 and will make less than one-quarter of that this season. Johnson, a former No. 4 pick, is coming off a rookie deal that paid him $4.3 million last season. He, too, will play for less than a quarter of that in 2013-14. Even though Kaman is a shell of the player he was when he made the 2010 All-Star team, his deal with the Lakers ($3.2 million for one year) is less than half of what he earned last year and his lowest salary since his rookie deal. Are any of those three players good? Not really. Kaman, 31, was barely above average in Player Efficiency Rating last season, playing just 20.7 minutes per game, and the other two were below average. They are definitely not saviors, but they’re not being paid to wear that hat.

Even the departure of Clark, who signed a two-year, $9 million deal (non-guaranteed second year) with the Cavaliers, wasn’t as bad as it might have seemed at first. Lakers fans rightfully appreciated the sparks Clark offered early last year, but Kupchak was clearly right to let him walk. Nothing about Clark’s overall season — 44 percent shooting, 12.4 PER, an on-court net rating of minus-2.6 — suggested that he was worth the $4.5 million per year that Cleveland gave him, especially considering the Lakers’ luxury-tax position. L.A. lost a player — an occasionally exciting one — but there was no reasonable alternative.

It goes without saying that the departures of Jamison and Duhon did not cause any teary eyes in Lakerland.

Grade: D-minus. Kupchak nobly knocking over his king gets him a handshake and a pat on the back, but there’s no way this summer — given the expectations created in 2012 — was anything but a terrible loss. Here’s to a speedy recovery and a gallant 2013-14 season from Bryant.

18 comments
HancockPark
HancockPark

A strange "D-" grade to punctuate an interesting article.  Ben Golliver makes the point here that after Dwight walked, Mitch did the right thing by not trying to salvage an unsalvageable roster.  He signed some below average players for minimum salaries - and let go of guys (Clark and World Peace) who weren't worth their price.   So that does that mean Mitch gets a higher grade if he does try to sign these guys - or go for overpriced talent?  Does he get a higher grade if he keeps Dwight Howard? What else could he have done to make that happen? 

bambam824
bambam824

The Lakers could get to 50 games with a healthy Kobe, but it will depend on Pau Gasol, who will have no choice but to step it up. Good play by Chris Kamen will be required and he'll have the opportunity for lots of it.

Thug Nasty
Thug Nasty

Dwight Howard wasn't that bad of a deal considering the production Bynum put up last year... The Lakers need to stay healthy and they could have a better record than last year, although the west is gonna be tough conference to play in.  A lot of these 1 year contract guys are gonna be playing for a paycheck, hopefully eliminating some of the lack of effort and desire we saw from the Lakers last year, excluding the Mamba.

icedeal
icedeal

It is interesting that the Lakers refused to court a player that dominated the D - League, then showed both offensive and defensive superiority in the 2013 summer league, and after three years of grooming by the Lakers until he finally showed the promise, the Lakers allowed him to think he wasn't good enough for the team. Andrew Goudelock goes to play in Russia while we give a partial contract to.....Sebastian Telfair...??. I guess he has had more experience with D'Antoni in a past life! How do we let the talent we develop go and then clamor for lesser talent? What did we think we were going to get when no positive signs were given to Andrew G? Andrew G at least could hold his own without Kobe on the floor. Andrew G knew how to play on and off the ball with Blake, P. Gasol and Kobe B.. Andrew G has never seemed to have an injury in his entire basketball career. Couldn't Lakers brass at least value this with so many hospital operations in our midst? Now finally the Lakers, with Nash probably still unable to run at full sprint, grab at straws having let their ace in the hole fly the friendly skies to Russia!  Goudelock was poised to show off and show out this season. We should have believed! Again, our mistake - ouch!!!

Diablo
Diablo

I love me some Lakers and always will but we need to get a team on the floor, like we use to have with Cooper, Worthy, and Magic out there knocking down shots all game long. D12 was a horrible move all around and we need to start drafting better and build our roster back up there where it belongs, full of awesome depth and talent!! Kobe will be fine given enough time to heal properly and they can easily build around him as long as they keep drafting great players, especially the guy that replaces him sooner rather than later!! Come on Kupchak, use the draft wisely and you won't need those expensive FA's or at least not as many!

chipdavis
chipdavis

Having hated the Lakers for 20+ years, Howard the Coward did'em wrong. He should have at least offered up some Vaseline. It'll be good to see the Fakers tumble this year, although I hate to see Nash go out this way. No way he deserves that. Kobe deserves it, but not Nash.

Herroldo
Herroldo

Nobody who needs to have the ball meshes well with Kobe Bryant.  Unfortunately for the Lakers, I think they need to wait until Kobe retires before they will be able to assemble a competitive team again.

Building around Kobe at his age, coming off an achilles injury, with the salary he commands is a risky strategy at best.

If he has lost his ability to get to the hoop and has become just a jump shooter (he is not a great % shooter), they may have amnestied the wrong player.

BlackieCats
BlackieCats

Even if DH signs with the Lakers this year, it's bad chemistry with this current roster, system, and coach  even though he's a top 10 player.  Lakers fan need to be patient while the team tries to rebuild; even if that means if Kobe can "rest" a year due to injury.

FredFlintsone
FredFlintsone

Expecting a 3 time NBA defensive player of the yr. to mesh with a coach whose teams have never pretended to play any D was not the best decision lakers ever made

Steve Moore
Steve Moore

Typical Laker 'fan' - it's Pau's fault if they lose, and the Bean gets all credit if they win.

HancockPark
HancockPark

@icedeal I was a fan of Goudelock's...but I think his defense was a real liability.  Tough to stick if you can't guard anyone. Unless you're unstoppable on offense.

Thug Nasty
Thug Nasty

@icedeal there is a reason he was in the D-league and now going to Russia, he's not that great at an nba level.  I was hoping for more from him too since the "busted & elderly" back court needed a boost, but it didn't pan out too well.

eddie767
eddie767

@Herroldo You are absolutely right,with Kobe still on team they will not get any good fa's. They need to stress the importance to Kobe that he needs to share the ball. LbJ,Melo not happening,this isn't the olympics,where you are mandated to share to win. But,stranger things have happened,Kobe wants that 6th ring so he might share and take a severe paycut.

M20
M20

@BlackieCats Uh, you're a few months behind the times, it seems...

M20
M20

@FredFlintsone Actually, it made a good deal of sense. A player like Howard papers over a lot of the cracks in D'Antoni's hyperswitching defensive schemes. (cue predictable "what defensive schemes LOL" jokes)