Sunday, February 1, 2015

5 Potential Stars Los Angeles Lakers Can Chase During 2015 Free Agency


Summer can't come soon enough for the Los Angeles Lakers faithful. Big changes are in store for a franchise that's produced just 13 wins in its first 47 games.

Whether the Lakers are able to sign a big-time free agent in the offseason is up for debate. And whether they make a big splash on an older, established veteran or pay top dollar for a younger star looking for a change of scenery is also open for discussion.
Summer can't come soon enough for the Los Angeles Lakers faithful. Big changes are in store for a franchise...

There are so many variables yet to be decided, and all of them would alter how the Lakers view the free-agent landscape. Assuming that Kobe Bryant is rehabilitating nicely from torn rotator cuff surgery in January and on track to return for a farewell campaign, the Lakers will likely have at least $20 million to play with on the free-agency market.

Bryant and the Lakers today find themselves in the midst of a rebuilding process that may take several seasons to solidify. They have a better chance of signing players this offseason who are upper echelon but not not necessarily in the elite class of stars such as LaMarcus Aldridge, LeBron James, Kevin Love or Marc Gasol.

Ideally, the Lakers finish the regular season as one of the league’s five worst teams. That would guarantee them a top-5 pick in the June NBA draft. That selection, in turn, could turn out to be Duke center Jahlil Okafor, the 6’11”, 270-pound freshman phenom with the NBA-ready skill set. They also have a late first-round pick (probably around 25th) acquired in the preseason trade with the Houston Rockets that brought Jeremy Lin to Los Angeles.

Add in Lakers rookie forward Julius Randle, former Missouri Tiger guard Jordan Clarkson and power forward Tarik Black, and one can begin to see a legitimate foundation with a solid future.

While the league cap space will increase modestly from $63.2 million this year to over $66 million in 2015-16, the big money awaits in 2016-17 when revenues from the huge new television contract (TNT and ESPN) kick in. Projections put the individual team cap number at over $80 million for that first year of the contract, a potential bonanza for teams like the Lakers. That is also the year of Kevin Durant's free agency.

While rehabbing, Bryant will do his part to recruit free-agent talent this summer, realizing that his playing days are numbered and this is the only way to get back to the top.

Bryant feels confident in the team's ability to acquire some solid talent this summer, telling Baxter Holmes of ESPNLA.com:

    It’s a pretty simple message: it’s the best organization in the world, [one of] best brands in the world and we win championships. That’s what we do. There will be much more that will be put onto that [message], in terms of X’s and O’s and style of play and things of that nature. There’s no place like winning in Los Angeles, man. This is the greatest brand in the world.

    You’ve got to look at Mitch’s (Kupchak, General Manager) track record. He’s phenomenal at this stuff. Phenomenal. so much so that the league had to protest a trade that he made (the nixed Chris Paul deal in 2011). Think about that s--- ... What other GM could pull that off? So you’ve kind of got to lean on the track record of the front office and the decisions that they make. He makes really solid ones.

In truth, the Lakers haven't been relevant for five years and their star player is close to the end of his road. It remains to be seen just who the team might attract in free agency when you consider they lost out last summer to signing either Carmelo Anthony or James.

Yet even though the Lakers lost out in the Chris Paul deal, had and lost Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol and came up empty last summer, they still are one of the most iconic franchises and best destinations in pro sports.

They seem certain to land one or two solid stars who are lured by the opportunity to play under the bright lights with one of the game's brightest star players.