The NBA tends to fall off my radar sometime after the two teams I watch have their seasons end. The Lakers are the team I grew up watching and the Pacers are the team I now see every day since I now live amongst the Hoosiers.
Indianapolis and Los Angeles in many ways are worlds apart. Indiana’s capital is a small city with a distinctly midwestern flavor not far removed from its bucolic roots, whereas Los Angeles is a cosmopolitan megalopolis whose roots as remote outpost of orange groves and date farms seems as distant from the present as the surface of Mars. Indiana has the blessings of the four traditional seasons, whereas In Los Angeles the four seasons are sunshine, wildfire, monsoon, and earthquake. Indiana is the kind of place where it is perfectly normal for a complete stranger to walk up to you in the supermarkert and strike up a conversation, in Los Angeles, such an act could get you maced.
Despite the differences in their home cities, the Pacers and the Lakers are opposite sides of the same “enigma” coin. As for being on the same coin, I really can’t figure out what these two teams really are, except for the fact which makes them heads and tails. One one side, the Pacers are a team with depth that lacks a star; on the other, the Lakers have a star and lack depth. Both teams are an easy bet for the second round of the playoffs just as they were this year, but the Pacers are young with a future; the Lakers can see their window closing.
Those differences mean it is time for the crack staff here at Dubsism to do another of our patented breakdowns. In this case, it is all about how both these teams, despite their similarities and differences, can re-tool to avoid being perennial second-round losers.
The Indiana Pacers:
The Vital Statistics:
- Regular Season Record: 42-24, 3rd place in the Eastern Conference
- Playoff Performance: Lost to the Miami Heat 4-2 in the conference semi-finals (lost the last three after taking a 2-1 lead)
The Big Picture:
Larry Bird might have called his team “s-o-f-t” after that disastrous Game 5 defeat at the hands of the Heat, but the Pacers are a good team; they are balanced, they are deep, and they are smart. To make the run they did meant they had to maximize the talent they have. As currently configured, this team could easily be a perennial playoff contender, but they aren’t likely to get to the conference finals unless they make some changes.
Despite what Larry Bird said about this team, the reality is the Pacers fell to a pair of superstars. In the series final three games, LeBron James averaged 32.7 points, 11.3 rebounds, and 8.0 assists, while Dwyane Wade averaged 33.0 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 3.7 assists. When you are the Pacers, and you don’t have a star to counter that, your odds of winning suffer dramatically.
On the Plus Side:
When it comes to roster moves and salary issues, the Pacers have some distinct advantages. The only big contract they are married to is Danny Granger’s. The Pacers owe Granger just north of $27 million over the next two years. Next in line is David West, who has $10 million coming his way next year. Except for Roy Hibbert, all of the “crucial” components to this team (namely George Hill, Darren Collison, and Paul George) are still on their rookie-scale contracts. No offense to the pending free-agents Leandro Barbosa and Lou Amundson , but if the Pacers were to lose them, it wouldn’t that big of a hit. Don’t get me wrong, they both have value and have made significant contributions, but this team needs an upgrade to the starting five in order to take that next step.
On the Minus Side:
All-Star center Roy Hibbert is a restricted free agent. Hibbert is easily one of the top bigs in the league, but he is not a “star.” However, the Pacers must keep him, which means based on the contracts centers like Nene, Marc Gasol, and Tyson Chandler got this past year, Hibbert is likely to draw somewhere $10 and $13 million per year. Naturally, this will eat up some of the Pacers’ aforementioned flexibility.
What They Need To Do:
- Re-sign Roy Hibbert
Not only for the reasons listed above, but for the next bullet point as well.
- Get a Star
The Pacers are without a star player; they have a bunch of pretty damn good players, but they don’t have that one guy who can take them to the next level. The trouble is they have a limited ability to land on via trade or free agency., Their best bet is to draft and develop one, or better yet, Hibbert or Danny Granger could emerge as the big-timer they so sorely need. Hibbert is the best bet as he is already one of the better “bigs” in the league.
- Up or Out on Danny Granger
Granger presents some difficulties because he either needs to step up his game or it is time to get rid of him. The trouble is Granger’s shooting percentage dropped to 41% this season, not to mention moving him might be difficult since it may very well be a buyer’s market for swingmen as Andre Iguodala and Rudy Gay could be on the market as well.
The Pacers can go one of two ways. The most likely route is that Bird stands pat with his roster and lets the core try to improve together for another year. Less likely is he blows the roster up now in an attempt to get the aforementioned star. If they do make a move, it would most likely be for another non-star; I can see the Pacers making a move to get New Orleans restricted free agent Eric Gordon.
The Los Angeles Lakers:
The Vital Statistics:
- Regular Season Record: 41-25 regular season, Pacific Division champions, 3rd place Western Conference
- Playoff Performance: Lost to the Oklahoma City Thunder 4-1 in the conference semi-finals
The Big Picture:
The Los Angeles Lakers have one major problem; the pick and roll is their nemesis, and the whole league knows it. Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol spent the final minutes of the Lakers’ final game in Oklahoma City visibly arguing over the best way to run this bread-and-butter basketball play. Lord knows the Lakers can’t stop the pick-and-roll, which is a major factor as to why they were eliminated in the second round yet again.
On the Plus Side:
The Lakers had a solid season; they survived the condensed schedule which really should have taken a toll on their old legs and the fact they made the massive coaching switch from Phil Jackson to Mike Brown despite getting only a limited training camp.
On the Minus Side:
There’s the aforementioned age. There’s the lack of bench depth. They are team built for the “Triangle” offense which they aren’t running anymore. The “Twin Towers” approach with Gasol and Andrew Bynum doesn’t work anymore. Then there’s the fact the Lakers have a fan base that simply won’t accept their team not being the NBA’s best; one which considers any season which ends before June to be an abject failure.
What They Need To Do:
- Admit the Kobe Bryant era is over and act accordingly
Now, I’m not saying the Lakers need to get rid of Kobe Bryant; he’s won five championships for that franchise and been the face of it for the better part of two decades. Launching him would be a big departure from the way the Laker family does business.
Make no mistake, the Lakers are a family, from the front office to the front court. Look at what Dr. Jerry Buss has done for his other superstars, namely Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson. Phil Jackson was not only the greatest NBA coach ever, he was also the de facto son-in-law. Mitch Kupchak arrived in 1981 suitcase-in-hand as a journeyman free agent, and has yet to leave, now serving as the Lakers’ general manager.
Having said all that, there is no way to have an honest discussion about the future of the Lakers without discussing what the post-Kobe era might hold. This means there are two options: A) Building a team around Kobe in an attempt to get him a 6th ring, or B) the Lakers part ways with their aging superstar.
Let’s explore Option A first, as that’s the most likely. This brings us one approach with two sub-options; the approach to make some trades, while the sub-options revolve around for whom to trade.
Sub-option one has been a Laker fan’s wet dream for close to a year now; that being some form of deal that lands Dwight Howard in Los Angeles.
This has a couple of major problems. First of all, there’s the aforementioned problem inherent in the “Twin Towers” approach. Let’s face it, in this concept, Howard is simply a replacing of Andrew Bynum. Two years ago, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum were physically overwhelming for teams to defend. But that is no longer the case, partially because zone defense is now all the rage, and partially because Pau Gasol has worn down in the playoffs both of the last two season. Couple that with the fact that Bryant eats up a bunch of post touches by himself, and that the loss of Lamar Odom exposed the lack of floor spacing in the “Twin Towers” approach, it all really suggest Howard is not the long term answer for the Lakers.
The second problem present in the Howard sub-option is health. We really don’t know how healthy Howard’s surgically repaired back is. Plus, the only thing worse than a big man with a bad back is a big man with bad knees (Andrew Bynum, I’m looking at you)… Since it is safe to assume any deal for Howard will involve Bynum, this really could turn into a swapping of headaches. Of course, anything involving Bynum comes with the wild-card of his being a head case who could either become the league’s next great big man…or he could be Kwame Brown, part II.
Either way, the bottom line is since the Lakers aren’t running the “Triangle” offense anymore, there’s no reason to keep both Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, since they are both really centers who would be more effective apart than together.
But the Lakers need to realize the need guards more than they need another big man. You stop the “pick-and-roll” with guards, and this playoff season showed you Ramon Sessions is not the long-term answer. Point guards killed the Lakers late in the season, and Ramon Sessions simply wasn’t enough of a threat off the ball when it mattered in the playoffs. You can’t play Kobe at the point, so it is clear they need to upgrade the point guard position.
This brings us to sub-option two, trading for somebody who is not Dwight Howard. This provides some interesting options.
The most obvious is Deron Williiams, although it would have to be a sign-and-trade deal. This sort of deal involving either Gasol or Bynum for Williams makes a ton of sense. I understand Pau Gasol might not interest the Nets very much, but Bynum could, depending on their plans with Brook Lopez and their lottery pick. If Ramon Sessions declines his player option, he can be a throw-in to sweeten a Bynum/Williams trade.
Another option is to find a way to get a solid non-center for Pau Gasol. It’s worth finding out what it would take to get the 76ers to deal Andre Iguodala and/or Lavoy Allen for Gasol. It’s worth finding out what it would take to get the Nuggets to put together a package centered around Danilo Gallinari and/or Timofey Mozgov.
The trouble is even if the Lakers can pull off one of those deals, they would still need to find a way to get a point guard (unless you can work in Ray Felton in that Nuggets deal). A possibility is to use the “Amnesty” clause on Metta World Peace in order to get their mid-level exception back, then use that as part of a package to lure in a top point guard.
For those of you who aren’t familiar, the “Amnesty” clause , it is a provision which allows a team to waive a player and not have his salary count against the salary cap or the luxury tax., yet the player still receives his salary for the season. Teams can use this clause to get out from under contracts, but teams can only use it once.
Steve Nash would be the perfect old guy to go with Kobe, Jeremy Lin would be an interesting “if not him, then you” pick, while Andre Miller would be the “well, he’s better than what we’ve got now” option. If you really want to get wild, there’s always a fishing expedition which involves landing Rajon Rondo.
As long as we’ve brought up the magic word (Amnesty), let’s mention four more that are guaranteed to burst bladders and cause aneurysms throughout Laker land:
You guessed it. This is the dreaded Option B, the one where the Lakers and Kobe Bryant part ways.
While the Lakers have some options, they also have some hard limitations. General manager Mitch Kupchak is handcuffed by the following: Kobe Bryant is due to get paid something like $60 trazillion next year, the aforementioned headcase issue with Andrew Bynum which sadly means he is worth more to Lakers than anybody else, Pau Gasol is coming off his worst year as a Laker, and has broken down late in both of the last two seasons, and I defy you to find anybody who would trade for Metta World Peace.
That all means at some point the Lakers must consider all options, and one of those is amnestying Kobe Bryant.
Once you get past the shock factor, you can see this move isn’t without merit. Kobe made $25 million last season, and coincidentally the Lakers were $27 million over the salary cap. Kobe’s salary cap number increases to $27 million next season, but the Lakers do have the contracts of Jordan Hill and Matt Barnes expiring, which offers a bit of flexibility. However, that isn’t enough to get both Deron Williams and Dwight Howard to Los Angeles without working a sign-and-trade.
Were the Lakers to get Kobe Bryant’s contract off the books, it would give them a lot more flexibility. However, there are other factors that must be considered.
First, there is the reaction of the fans to such a move; it the sort of decision sure to get Kupchak fired if it doesn’t immediately return the Lakers to championship caliber.
If they amnesty Kobe and don’t get a deal done for Howard and/or Williams, Kupchak will be forced to build around Bynum. Granted, he has the potential to be a much better building block than most young post players; only Howard, Marc Gasol, or Roy Hibbert are of the same caliber, Bynum doesn’t turn 25 until October, but as we’ve said, he’s a huge risk because he’s a head case. If I’m Mitch Kupchak, I’m not sure Bynum is the guy on whom I gamble my personal future.
Then, there’s where Kobe ends up; you know somebody will grab him. He could just move his locker across the hallway at the Staples Center; it’s not like the Clippers are desperate for a wing scorer. Speaking of scoring starved teams, there’s always the Bulls, but I’m not sure how a backcourt marriage of Kobe and Derrick Rose would work, of course assuming Derrick Rose returns at even a fraction of what he once was.
Regardless of what Kupchak’s next move is, he’s already made moves which acknowledge Father Time is creeping up on the Lakers. This is what dealing the team’s emotional leader Derek Fisher at the trade deadline for Ramon Sessions and Jordan Hill was all about. They’ve made moves which were all about drama; they traded Lamar Odom for nothing just because his feelings got hurt in the preseason.
Regardless of what Kupchak does, coming to the conclusion the Kobe era is over will cause drama. Not only do the Lakers need a rebuild in the starting five, but Los Angeles had one of the NBA’s least impressive benches. A wholesale top-to-bottom rebuild is in order, and in Los Angeles, that means more drama.
Big deal. Drama is inevitable if you are the Lakers. Just look at this past season.
In the last month alone, the Lakers had to deal with Metta World Peace’s seven-game suspension for shit-hammering James Harden with a vicious elbow, playoff hero Steve Blake getting death threats on Twitter for missing one shot, Jordan Hill’s felony assault charge in Houston, and Magic Johnson’s declaration that head coach Mike Brown would be fired if the Lakers didn’t survive the first round.
Mitch, forget the drama. Forget the repercussions. Do whatever you need to do to keep the Lakers amongst the NBA elite. That’s where your job security is.