Dwight Howard Sweepstakes" or, as Magic and Laker fans know it as, the
"Dwightmare", since I'm sure we've heard enough of the new Houston Rockets center and his baggage.
Howard left the Lakers high and dry, with virtually no young talent on the roster and only one first round draft pick in the near future (next year's 2014 draft). One would be tempted to suggest the Lakers should tank next season to get a Top 5 draft choice, but I don't see it. Unless Kobe Bryant misses the first 3 months of the year and is slow in getting his stroke back, this team simply isn't bad enough for a Top 5 pick. They are too talented for it. Now, that's not to say the Lakers won't be in the lottery, because if Bryant misses a lot of time rehabbing the torn Achilles injury suffered last season, the Lakers could likely miss the playoffs, thus putting them at about a low probability of getting the No. 1 overall pick. And while a lottery pick is very valuable to an aging team, that's not really where Mitch Kupchak seems to be going with this franchise.
As of this writing, the Lakers would have only 2 player on the roster for next season as Bryant's massive 30 million dollar cap hit finally comes off the books as well as Pau Gasol's 19 million cap hit. The only two players on the roster for next season is Steve Nash and Robert Sacre. Nash would be owed 9 million and Sacre will be earning the league minimum. Let's make this clear: The Lakers will be getting 67 million off the books next season, finally getting under the cap limit for the first time in a long time and that is huge because free agency is what Mitch Kupchak and the Lakers are eyeing, and it's easy to see why. Here's a partial list of potentially available free agents in 2014:
* LeBron James (Early Termination option)
* Dwyane Wade (Early Termination option)
* Chris Bosh (Early Termination option)
* Dirk Nowizki
* Rudy Gay (Player Option)
* Paul George (Qualifying offer)
* Danny Granger
* Carmelo Anthony (Early Termination Option)
* John Wall (Qualifying offer)
* Luol Deng
* Zach Randolph (Player Option)
* Greg Monroe (Qualifying offer)
And those are just the bigger names; the 2014 class can include some very good, starter caliber players like Darren Collison, Gordon Hayward, Greivis Vasquez, just to name a few. With the 60 or so million in cap space, the Lakers would have the ability to offer two top tier free agents max contracts (in the range of 4 years, 88 million dollars) and still have roughly 16 million to sign other, quality free agents (assuming Kupchak finds a way to rid the team of Nash). Though they wouldn't be able to offer "true" max contracts (it's 1 extra year, 30 million more that the player's current team can offer), Los Angeles remains a top destination for free agents, especially if the Lakers can keep both Bryant and Gasol on team friendly deals, using the Bird Rights they have on them. And while some will point out that a team isn't constructed on merely 4 or 5 players, the Lakers would still have players on the rookie scale (newly drafted power forward Ryan Kelly, any other player(s) they draft in next season's draft), and they would still be able to offer the veteran minimum of 1.4 million without it counting against the cap, as well as 3.1 million of Mini Mid Level Exception money.
There are a lot of players with the Qualifying offer tag next to them, this means the player's current team can offer them a qualifying offer, basically making them a restricted free agent, enabling the player's current team to match any offer from other teams made to their player. If the offer is matched, the player returns to the original team, unless they do a buy out, which would make him an unrestricted free agent. This rule is what will make guys like Paul George and John Wall very unlikely to acquire. With that said, if the Pistons or Wizards believe their players with qualifying offers aren't worth max contracts (Wall certainly is, Monroe is getting there), then they won't match and the player is free to go where he so desires.
Now, granted, a lot can change between now and next summer, but it appears that Bryant wants to team up with current New York Knicks star Carmelo Anthony; should the Knicks flame out early in the playoffs yet again, Anthony could end up donning the Purple and Gold. It helps that Bryant and Anthony are apparently "very close" thanks to the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games. If I had to guess, after the Lakers strike out on LeBron, Mitch will target Carmelo and a quality guard like Wall.
As bleak as people make the future seem for the Lakers, it simply isn't so. All in all, the Lakers look to get back atop the NBA world in one off season; armed with 60+ million in cap space, anything is possible for Mitch Kupchak and co.