CBSSports.com's Eye On Basketball is taking a team-by-team look at the 2014 NBA offseason. We continue with a once elite franchise trying to transition to the next era, the Los Angeles Lakers. Check out the rest of the offseason reports here.
How they finished 2014: Well, the Los Angeles Lakers of 2013-14 finished with the worst season in the history of the Los Angeles era of the Lakers' franchise, so it's safe to say they didn't finish it all that well. The start and end of the Lakers' season was Kobe Bryant's return from an Achilles' injury and then his subsequent injury that ended his season. After working so hard to return to the Lakers 20 games into the season, Bryant lasted just six games before fracturing a bone in his kneecap. It was a rather unspectacular six games, but it's impossible to expect him to be crisp in his first games back from such a hard injury to overcome. And even if he had been "Kobe," I'm not sure it would have mattered.
The Lakers started out 10-9 on the season, but it was mostly smoke and mirrors. Even if Kobe had come back at full strength and scoring with the efficiency he had in the 2012-13 season, the team around him was abhorrent. By season's end, it was a glorified summer pro-am team looking to secure themselves contract consideration for next season. Empty stats piled up in a system designed to maximize the play of the marginal. Mike D'Antoni was a sitting duck in every sense of the term and the only joy to take out of it was trying to find something promising in Ryan Kelly or figuring out if Kendall Marshall was the real deal and reviving his career. They had four different losing streaks of six or more games throughout the season and Steve Nash's career playing into the final season of his contract started looking like a pipe dream.
Jodie Meeks and Wes Johnson played the most minutes on the Lakers during the season. Kent Bazemore and Shawne Williams both played more minutes than Kobe and Nash combined. It was a season to forget in every way for the Lakers.
Offseason needs: Get a star or get ready for a restart. The Lakers need stars to fuel their roster and bring in the discounted role players that round out a championship roster. By giving Kobe a two-year, $48.5 million extension before he came back from injury, the Lakers locked themselves into a tricky cap situation in terms of adding a couple of stars beside him over the next two years. That meant they either had to get lucky or maintain a pretty poor roster to keep the flexibility they might need in the summer of 2015 or the summer of 2016.
The Lakers also needed to find a new coach after parting ways with D'Antoni. A brand new roster of replacement parts was going to need someone who could find a way to preach and teach defense. But with so much up in the air for the Lakers' future and not knowing where the next star might come from, it was hard to figure out whether or not this was going to be a placeholder coach or the coach of the next Lakers' era.
This roster needed an overhaul though and one that would keep their flexibility while keeping Kobe happy about them trying to contend. It's a tricky balance to find.
The draft: The Lakers' horrendous season landed them the seventh pick in the draft -- their highest selection in the draft since 1982 when they selected James Worthy with the No. 1 pick. It was only the third time in the last 20 years in which they picked in the lottery. They used the seventh pick on Julius Randle out of Kentucky. Randle was regarded as a top 3 or 4 prospect heading into the college season and had a very good freshman season. He's a power forward with All-Star potential. He can dominate the boards and use his strength and quickness to score in the halfcourt. He's also big on running the floor and impacting the game on the move.
They didn't have their second round pick, which belonged to the Milwaukee Bucks after a bevy of deals, but they gave the Washington Wizards cash considerations in exchange for Jordan Clarkson out of Missouri. Clarkson can play both guard positions and is a very good shooter. He could easily become a rotation guard for a good team in the NBA.
Free agency and trades: The Lakers were extremely active in the offseason, building up a team of veterans who can possibly be competitive enough to satiate Kobe's appetite. To help the Rockets clear cap space for their bizarre offseason, Mitch Kupchak traded for Jeremy Lin, a 2015 first round pick, and a 2015 second round pick in exchange for the draft rights to Sergei Lishouk. Lin will provide them with great insurance in case Nash isn't able to give them much on the court in what is likely his final season. The team also claimed Carlos Boozer off of amnesty waivers, paying $3.1 million this season while the Bulls cover the rest of his salary owed.
Nick Young re-signed for four years and $21.3 million. Jordan Hill re-signed for two years and $18 million, which is an astounding number when you remember Paul Millsap signed for two years, $19 million in Atlanta last summer. The Lakers re-signed Ryan Kelly on a two-year, $3.3 million deal while bringing back Wes Johnson and Xavier Henry on one-year deals, as well. They also grabbed a potential steal/bargain in Ed Davis. The power forward agreed to a two-year minimum deal with the second season as a player option.
The Lakers lost Pau Gasol to the Bulls, Chris Kaman to the Blazers, Jordan Farmar to the Clippers, and Jodie Meeks to the Pistons. They also didn't have the assets to trade for Kevin Love, nor were they able to convince Carmelo Anthony to team up with Kobe in Los Angeles.
They were also the last team to hire a coach, agreeing with Byron Scott on a four-year, $17 million deal. Scott has been a fine coach in some stops in the past and has also bombed in others. He's coached good defensive teams but also coached some disasters, leaving you wondering if he has the defensive schemes to keep this Lakers' team treading water for most of the season.
Overall grade and accomplishments -- C-minus: It's hard to kill the Lakers over the moves they made because there is some good stuff going on. While people can laugh about Boozer and how he was with the Bulls, he's still a productive player who will rebound and score for them. He's played in arguably the best defensive system for the past four years and was mostly passable during this time. The signing of Lin gives them a solid point guard, who won't change the world but will also give them more substance than empty stats like they had the previous season. Lin can be a fine backup to Nash or he can be a decent enough starter if Nash can't stay on the court.
With someone like Ed Davis, they can see if he tries to destroy the competition, fight for minutes in a surprisingly crowded frontcourt, and treat this like a contract year. He and Randle can push each other as young big men trying to carve out their own space in the NBA, breeding healthy competition that makes them both better in the short and long-term. Plus, the return of a healthy Kobe Bryant will give them a much-needed focus on offense and a fiery leader who won't accept less than someone's best effort.
But even with all of that possibly going in their favor, what can we expect from this Lakers' team? Are they a playoff squad? How much would have to go their way, while finding worst-case scenarios for a handful of other teams, to get them into the playoffs in 2015? The Spurs, Thunder, Clippers, Warriors, Blazers, Rockets, Mavericks, Grizzlies, Suns, and Nuggets are all undeniably better than this Lakers team at its best. The Pelicans are likely better than this Lakers team as well. The Wolves could be decently competitive for a good portion of the season and the Kings might actually have more in their favor than this Lakers team if not everything goes well for Los Angeles.
The Lakers' goal was to make Kobe happy for now while they try to bring in the stars of the future to help out his final seasons. Kobe expressed that he was proud of what the Lakers did and tried to do, and that it made him happy. We'll see how he feels in January.