For once, a large segment of the Lakers’ fanbase no longer have championship or bust aspirations.
So many uncertainties have happened clouding that picture, ranging from the pending return of Kobe Bryant (left Achilles tendon) and Steve Nash (back). So many offseason departures left the Lakers with depleted talent, including Dwight Howard (bolted to Houston via free agency) and Metta World Peace (joined New York after being waived in a cost-cutting measure). So many of the team’s struggles both past (last year’s first-round sweep to San Antonio) and present (a 5-7 record) suggest rocky times ahead.
That’s why plenty of fans are targeting next offseason when a crop of free agents, including Miami’s LeBron James and New York’s Carmelo Anthony, will be available on the open market. But former Lakers star James Worthy, who is an analyst for Time Warner Cable SportsNet, tabbed those scenarios as “media hype” considering the unlikelihood James would leave a championship contending team and Anthony leaving a franchise that has revolved around him. Instead, Worthy tried to offer a more pragmatic outlook.
“I love a guy like Kevin Love if a guy like that would be available,” Worthy said in an appearance Wednesday at the Lakers’ All-Access event at Staples Center, hosted by the LA Sports & Entertainment Commission. “You don’t need to just go for the LeBron’s, though who wouldn’t want to play with LeBron? But look at the youth movement the Lakers have now. Kobe probably has a few more years left. Pau has a lot of years on his body. So you have to look for somebody who’s a variety player and who can complement everybody.”
It makes sense for Worthy to tout Love as the top candidate. With the Minnesota Timberwolves, Love ranks among the best at the NBA’s power forward position in scoring (25.4 points per game), second in rebounding (13.4) and has both a solid post and mid-range game. It also doesn’t hurt he went to UCLA. But with the a Lakers fanbase hardly known for seeing patience as a virtue, Worthy conceded one problem.
“If they can get Kevin Love, that’s awesome,” Worthy said. “But the only thing is he’s not a free agent until two years from now.”
The Lakers have set themselves up in hopes of having a legitimate shot of attracting any free agent. Only Steve Nash, Robert Sacre and Nick Young remain on the books past next season. But the Lakers could waive Nash’s $9.7 million contract next season via the so-called “stretch provision.” Young’s future with the Lakers hinges on whether he will exercise his $1.2 million player option or opt out in hopes of a longer and more lucrative deal. Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol are also in the last years of their contract that will pay them $30.45 million and $19.3 million, respectively. Harsher luxury tax penalties stemmed from two-year-old labor deal and the Lakers’ want to have financial flexibility for the free-agent spree likely will force both players to take a paycut. But it remains uncertain how much.
As always, the Lakers will also lean on their past success (16 NBA championships) and their desirable location, considering the beach-friendly climate and the Hollywood proximity. But will that be enough for Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak and executive vice president of player personnel Jim Buss to attract the likes of James, Anthony, Zach Randolph, Chris Bosh or Rudy Gay in 2014. Or Love, Marc Gasol and Rajon Rondo in 2015?
“It’s tough to say what player they’re going after,” former Lakers forward Luke Walton, who works part-time as an analyst for Time Warner Cable SportsNet. “Unless you’re in that office with Mitch every day, But they make calls every single day. But one thing I know about the Lakers and Mitch is they’re going to do whatever it takes to win. I love Mitch Kupchak and the Lakers. We have a great relationship. But that didn’t stop him from trading me to Cleveland to try to better their team and bring in a young point guard.”
Walton was referring to when the Lakers traded him, Jason Kapono, a first-round pick and cash considerations to the Cavaliers in 2012 for Ramon Sessions. His departure the following offseason then paved the way for the Nash acquisition followed by Howard’s arrival. That assembled group of talent exploded last season amid overlapping injuries and competing agendas, but it didn’t discount the Lakers ability to acquire talent despite a stricter labor deal calling for competitive balance.
Will the Lakers pull off some more magic next summer?
It’s the only reason many fans are staying patient amid what appears to be a rebuilding year.
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org