Remember how tedious and boring the Dwight Howard drama was in Orlando? It could happen again and very soon. The reality is: the Lakers’ star center is on his final year of a contract he signed in Orlando; he came to Los Angeles to team with the large amount of star players it has in Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash. Obviously, it’s early in the season so an 11-14 start means little to a team that is extremely banged up (remember: the 2003 Lakers started out 11-19 before getting a healthy Shaquille O’Neal back and ended up winning 50 games), but if the Lakers don’t find their groove come playoff time, Howard will likely be packing his bags to go elsewhere.
What would the potential plan B be for this team? The Lakers have been known to care little about the luxury tax, no matter how harsh it is with the new CBA, but the 2013 free agent class isn’t exactly star studded, so, should Howard leave, the Lakers will likely fill in the cracks by taking their choice in some quality but not exactly star players, and be ready for the 2014 free agency where Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki and potentially the whole Miami Big 3 will be free agents. (Note: This is assuming Pau Gasol isn’t traded during the season):
· With D’Antoni getting a 4 year deal, I’m sure the Lakers would like to get a backup point guard to be able to run the show when Nash isn’t on the court (Nash has never played more than 34 minutes a game in his career), and this free agency class has some nice options to choose from, the best (and most realistic, so no Chris Paul or Brandon Jennings on this list) being:
o Mo Williams: The former Clipper and current Jazz point guard isn’t the fastest player on the court, doesn’t have the best court vision out there and he isn’t exactly the best passer on the list, but he is a lights out shooter. For his career, Williams is shooting an excellent 38.6% from long range, as well as 87% from the free throw line. His assists per game for his career is a low-for-a-point-guard 4.9 (although he’s doing a good job this year as he is averaging 7 per game so far). He may not be the prototypical run-n-gun point guard Mike D’Antoni requires, but he can get the job done better than Chris Duhon, Steve Blake or Darius Morris ever will. Realistically, he could be had from the Mid Level Exception (5 million a year) to his current 8.5 million a year salary.
o Jose Calderón: The Spanish point guard is already being linked to the Lakers in a potential swap for Gasol and we know what he brings to the table: good passing (6.8 assists per game with only 1.9 turnovers), good spot up shooting (45.6% from deep, 91.4% from the line) and generally an above average point guard to keep things moving. I’m sure Gasol would like to play with another fellow Spaniard and vice versa, which could lower the price down a bit. I think he could be had for the mini mid-level exception (3.6 million a year).
o Jarrett Jack: Another good scorer and shooter, though he isn’t a top guard in the passing department. He does have one thing going for him that neither Williams or Calderon does: defense. I know D’Antoni doesn’t require good defenders, but if Howard indeed bolts, it would be time to get better perimeter defenders, and Jack fills that need while providing a quality back up on the offensive end. He is making about 5 million a year with Golden State, but he could lower his price range for the sake of a championship opportunity.
· The Lakers look set at the shooting guard spot with Bryant having one more year on his contract and Jodie Meeks having a team option that will likely be picked up for a measly 1.5 million a year. I would be seriously surprised if the Lakers thought about picking another player for this slot (the best of the bunch being Andre Iguodala).
· The starter role for the small forward slot is also filled with Metta World Peace still having another year on his contract with an early termination option (though the odds of him using it are near 0% as he is making a lot of money at over 7 million a year). However, the team is missing a decent back up who can either play defense or is a dead-eye shooter (no, Antawn Jamison doesn’t really count as a SF).
o Kyle Korver: one of the best three point shooters in the game, Korver has bounced around in recent years, going from the Jazz, to the Bulls and now is on the Hawks, but he is a very affordable player, as I doubt he gets the contract he got from Chicago a couple of years ago for 5 million a year. Korver is notorious, however, for playing little, to no defense. Still, the Lakers will likely take a look at him, as he is what D’Antoni prefers to have for his system.
o Luke Walton: No, not really.
· With Howard leaving, it’s likely Gasol moves over to the center position to make room for a player with perimeter skills at the power forward position. Though I doubt the Lakers will actively pursue a stretch 4 with Howard gone, they would more than likely take a more versatile player who has some speed and some defensive capabilities with Howard’s shot blocking gone. Here we have:
o Josh Smith: I don’t really need to say much about him. He’s a second tier star in the league, with enormous amounts of athleticism and a knack for blocking shots. He is nearly as good as Gasol is at passing the ball and has the excellent ability to put the ball on the floor. His only true weakness is his willingness to take the jumpshot when he should be trying to get to the rim.
o Paul Millsap: Millsap is a do it all type of forward. He has a nice mid-range game, can put the ball on the floor and his sheer energy makes up for him being undersized in the big heavy Western Conference. It’s doubtful the Lakers get him because it looks like he will be trying to cash in after being a quality player in the league for the past 7 seasons.
o Lamar Odom: Out of shape coming into the season for the Clippers, Odom has worked hard to get into game playing shape. Odom is the most versatile player in the NBA. He is still a fan favorite for his services during the repeat from 2009 to 2010. The Lakers will definitely be asking his agent what his price would be about returning to the purple and gold.
· It’s possible that Mitch Kupchak could be looking to fill in the void left by Dwight by getting another center who dominates the low-block. With Howard being the biggest free agent prize, there are other quality big men on the market such as:
o Al Jefferson: The Jazz big man likely has the most complete post game in the NBA. His array of lefty and righty hook shots often leave opposing centers wondering what they can do just to slow him down. He has a very nice turn around jumpshot from anywhere within 15 feet and a decent enough spot up jumper to keep defenses honest. He has had his issues with injuries, however, which is why he is never mentioned among the top players in the league, but Jefferson is definitely a sleeper.
o Chris Kaman: Not exactly dominant in the low-block, but he has a nice enough skill set at 7 feet for the Lakers to take a look. A good enough jump shot to help create space for his fellow teammates, Kaman is a guy who isn’t shy about doing the dirty work to help his team win. He isn’t a player with the biggest name, but he’s a guy who can get the job done.
o Andrew Bynum: Highly unlikely the big man comes back after his comments about the Lakers following his team’s 111-98 loss to the Lakers on Sunday Night.
The reality is the Lakers, aside from Howard, are looking more and more like an old folk’s home: going into 2013, Gasol will be 33, Metta World Peace will be 34, Bryant will hit the 35 mark and Nash will likely be the oldest player in the NBA at age 39. The Lakers will need to help keep the ship running while they wait for 2014 where the Lakers will only have Nash on the books to make a run at some of the big names on the market, like Bryant himself, or potentially LeBron James.