Three reasons why the Lakers are screwed long term

Let's flashback to October for a moment, shall we? The Lakers had assembled a 'Super Team', bringing in future Hall of Famer Steve Nash, and the best center in basketball in Dwight Howard to go with Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol (plus MWP if you're into that sort of thing). More than likely four Hall of Fame players, and certainly four Hall of Fame talents playing together at once, seemed to assure the Lakers of being at the very least - competitive. Vegas was clearly impressed, listing LA as the 2nd most likely team to take home the NBA championship, behind only the Heat, and the favorites to win the Western Conference. It was a dream off-season for the Lakers. But the season itself has been a nightmare of epic proportions.

A 1-4 start led to the firing of coach Mike Brown, and after flirting with Phil Jackson, the team settled on Mike D'Antoni. That's a lot like flirting with Bar Rafaeli and settling on Rosie O'Donnell. The team has been streaky since, always following up a good stretch with an awful one (a 5-1 run right after D'Antoni was hired, followed by a 3-9 stretch, followed by a 6-1 run, followed by a 2-10 stretch and finally the recent 6-1 run), and currently sit at 23-26, 10th in the West and 3 games out of the 8 spot. With Dwight Howard nursing a torn labrum, and Pau Gasol out for an extended period of time, most would agree that the 2013 Lakers are in awful shape. And I would concur. Their 'best case' scenario appears to be squeaking into the playoffs before getting steamrolled by a far superior Oklahoma City or San Antonio team. But what about the future? How do the purple and gold bounce back after such a tumultuous season? Well it's not going to be easy. In fact, I see three reasons why the Lake Show are in serious trouble long term.

1. The current roster is locked in for 2013-14 - While some may disagree, I think it's beyond safe to say that the current mix of talent is not good enough to challenge Miami, Oklahoma City, and the rest of the NBA elite for a title. Next season LA will pay Kobe (age 35), Nash (40), Gasol (33), MWP (34), Steve Blake (34), Chris Duhon (31) and Jordan Hill (26) $78 million dollars combined. That already sets them ~18 million above the projected cap, and ~6 million above the projected luxury tax. In other words, besides (possibly) re-signing Dwight Howard and a slew of minimum salary guys - the roster is set. So barring something unforeseen, don't expect anything special from this group next year.

2. The Dwight Howard saga will not end well - Dwight Howard is a monster. A physical freak of nature who (once healthy) should have several 'Best big man in the game' years remaining. However, despite all that, he has some serious warts as a player. In the past year he has undergone major back surgery, came to camp 20 pounds lighter than before the injury, and then immediately suffered a torn labrum in his shoulder. Two freak injuries? Or the first signs of him breaking down? He also is an abysmal free throw shooter, and his defense has slipped over the past two seasons (possibly related to the injuries, but still) from it's once elite perch. Oh, and he and Kobe do not jive - at all. So with all that said the Lakers have three potential options with Howard:

A. Trade him before the 21st - The Nets and Rockets both seem interested, and the Nets in particular have the pieces to get it done (Brook Lopez). It would be admitting that the trade did not work out though, so I see this as doubtful.

B. Give him max money this off-season - As good as Howard is, would you feel comfortable locking him in to a 6 year, $120 million dollar deal this Summer? I wouldn't. I just don't think that Howard, an aging Bryant (I'll get to him in a moment) and Free Agent X, will be good enough to compete for a title. Unless that Free Agent is Lebron, and it won't be.

C. Let him walk - Letting DH12 walk this off-season would make LA a lot worse in 2013-14 (and piss away one of the last years of Kobe's prime), but opens up a lot of cap space come 2014. But unless LA signs Lebron (again this isn't happening with MIA and CLE lurking), the team isn't going to find many better alternatives to spend the cash on. There is no great situation here, but I think dealing Howard (possibly to the Rockets for a cluster of young talent) would make the most long term sense. But it's just not a move I see them making.

3. Kobe will hold them hostage during the Summer of 2014 - Kobe Bryant is amazing. I ranked him as the 6th best basketball player of all time last month, and he has a chance to climb higher on that list. Also the fact that he's still dominating the league at age 34, in his 17th NBA season, is one of the crazier stories in the NBA this season. With that said, Kobe's impending free agency will completely screw up a run at Lebron in 2014. Here me out here.

There's been a lot of chatter that LA would re-sign Howard this Summer, and have Kobe take a 'home town discount' next off-season, opening up enough cap space to make a run at a certain max level player who may or may not opt-out of his contract in 2014 (Mr. James). That plan would sense if A. There weren't at least two better options for Lebron (staying relatively tax free in Miami, and returning home to play with Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, Tyler Zeller, and Dion Waiters - horrifying I know) and B. Kobe would ever in a million years put his ego aside long enough to be the third highest paid player on his team. Bryant's extended prime has been an incredible thing to watch, but it's also dramatically raised the price tag on his 2014 contract. Sure he'll be closing in on 36, but he'll also be closing in on the all-time scoring record, and all of hoopla surrounding it. Kobe prints money for LA, and therefore LA will have to reciprocate. So the Lakers will have no option other than overpaying Bryant for his late-30's. A 2-3 year deal at close to $20 million a pop would end any chance that the Lake Show adds another big name until at least 2015, when Steve Nash's contract expires.

A lot can change of course, and the Lakers have pulled some seriously ridiculous deals out of seemingly nowhere in the past, but for now the future does not look bring overly bright in Tinseltown. Unless of course you're talking about the Clippers. Or the Kings. Or the Dodgers. Or the Angels. Or the future Los Angeles Jaguars. Or basically anybody but the Lakers.

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