Dwight Howard has made his free agent decision, and all indications are that he’s leaving Los Angeles in order to get a fresh start in Houston with the Rockets.
There are plenty of topics for discussion surrounding this, obviously, including whether or not Howard made the right choice, what his real reasons for leaving were, and what the Rockets’ roster may ultimately look like when all is said and done from a personnel standpoint.
But let’s look at the most intriguing non-Rockets angle of the story that’s out there: What’s next for the Lakers?
In terms of next season, the answer is not much.
The new collective bargaining agreement has stronger, more prohibitive luxury tax penalties for exceeding the league’s salary cap, which is expected to be just over $58 million next season.
Even with Howard gone, the Lakers have over $70 million in salary committed for 2013-14, and will still have some roster spots that will need to be filled, likely with minimum salary players.
Kobe Bryant is on the books for $30 million, Pau Gasol for over $19 million, Steve Nash for over $9 million, and Metta World Peace for over $7.7 million. The Lakers still have the amnesty option to consider, which would allow them to wipe a player from the roster and his contract from the available money the team would have to spend under the salary cap.
It’s definitely a possibility with either World Peace or Gasol, but the most likely scenario could see the Lakers standing pat for a season, and playing it out with the talent already in place.
The reason that would make sense is due to what the cap picture for the Lakers looks like the following season, when as of right now they only have $9.7 million committed to Nash — and that’s it.
A Lakers franchise that is in the business of putting itself in position to contend for titles season after season would be able to build around several free agents in 2014, and immediately return to relevance. Even if they don’t land the biggest names available, which happen to include LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, they can create a team full of second-tier guys that can provide an immediate influx of youth and talent to accompany Bryant in his final couple of NBA seasons, while putting a solid foundation in place for the future at the same time.
One other thing L.A. may look at is beginning this process sooner rather than later.
We already saw the Celtics make that decision by sending Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to the Nets, and if the Lakers feel like this upcoming season will be a complete lost cause — which may depend heavily on how much time Bryant misses recovering from his Achilles injury, and just how effective he’ll be once he returns — then they may look to move the expiring contracts of Gasol and/or World Peace if they can get young assets in return, or even a high lottery pick in the 2014 draft which is top heavy with elite-level talent.
Whatever the Lakers’ course of action, it won’t involve retooling immediately by chasing one of the relevant free agents still left on the market. There’s no way to do that anywhere remotely responsibly financially, so the team will in all likelihood play out next year with the roster as currently constructed, with an eye on truly rebuilding to contend for a championship when the cap space is available the following season.