After a disappointing 2013-14 season and quiet offseason, the Lakers are embarking on a path rarely traveled in Los Angeles: rebuilding. They agreed to a contract with Byron Scott to become their next head coach. Our panel discussed the future of L.A.
1. What are the Lakers doing?
J.A. Adande, ESPN.com: Doggy paddling. They're keeping their heads above the water, but they're not going to keep up with Michael Phelps. They're just biding time, hoping to make that one big free-agency hit. You just wonder how many more times a fan base that's accustomed to dining on succulent steaks will be content to snack on pretzels until the next meal arrives.
Amin Elhassan, ESPN Insider: Exactly what they shouldn't be doing: ensuring that they won't make the playoffs and yet not be awful enough to keep their top-five protected pick that's due to Phoenix. This is the deal with the devil they signed when they re-upped with Kobe Bryant for two years and $48.5 million: We'll try our best to be competitive, but won't have the wherewithal to field a competitive team.
Dave McMenamin, ESPN Los Angeles: Kicking the can down the road to try to land some big-time free agents in the summer of 2016 and 2017, all the while trying to stay competitive so the last years of Bryant's career aren't wasted in the lottery. It's an uneasy seesaw that Mitch Kupchak is riding.
Marc Stein, ESPN.com: They're trying to sign the best players they can get who are willing to take short-term deals and accumulate assets on favorable contracts (example: Jordan Hill) that can be plugged into potential trades for a bigger name. They naturally won't come out and say it, but that's clearly their plan.
Ethan Sherwood Strauss, ESPN.com: Twiddling their thumbs. They're in this awkward position where a superstar to build around hasn't really emerged yet. Perhaps Julius Randle can be that guy, but the odds are against it. In the meantime, they might as well hire a seasoned coach who claims ties to the organization. In lieu of a direction, there are worse moves to make.
2. What is Kobe Bryant thinking?
Adande: "$48.5 million. $48.5 million." He can't have it all in this new collective bargaining agreement, but at least he got paid. He's also looking wiser for locking in that money. Dirk Nowitzki and Dwyane Wade saw their salaries decrease next season, and they won't get to play with LeBron or Carmelo either.
Elhassan: "Time to prove the world wrong again." If there's one man who believes in the mythology of "Kobe Bryant, superhuman" more than delusional Mamba fans, it's the Mamba himself. This season's roster is an upgrade over last season's, but there's not nearly enough firepower to allow Kobe to taste the team success he demands.
McMenamin: He's thinking he has an ally. It's going to be a transitional period for Bryant, coming back from two major injuries while simultaneously trying to mesh with the eighth different head coach of his career (10 if you count Bill Bertka's one game and Bernie Bickerstaff's five games). Having Scott, a guy he played alongside as a rookie, will be easier to swallow rather than starting from scratch with another stranger.
Stein: I don't think he's seething to the degree that many expect. He has just been handed a coach he knows and likes. The Lakers did well on draft night despite slipping to No. 7 in the lottery and have flanked their new prized rookie (Julius Randle) with intriguing names for their frontcourt rotation at bargain prices (Carlos Boozer and Ed Davis). Knowing Kobe, he probably thinks he can will this team into the playoffs. Even after a lost season.
Strauss: Kobe would want you to think he's monomaniacally fixated on winning next season, that he's driven to a rage by L.A.'s inability to compete right now. That's at least the image Kobe's carved out for himself, one of a man who cares only about basketball. He's much smarter and more well-rounded than his image, though, so he's likely thinking about something that has nothing to do with basketball right now. He's had a magnificent career, he has plenty of money and it's the offseason.
3. Where would you rank Byron Scott among current NBA coaches?
Adande: Upper third. He's shown he can do this. He's one of only six active coaches who have coached a team to the NBA Finals. He is NOT one of the 13 coaches who will be in their first or second season as an NBA head coach next season. At some point we can't be so enthralled with the next thing that we overlook experience.
Elhassan: Bottom third. 2002 ain't walkin' through that door.
McMenamin: In the bottom half. But what would a top-10 coach do with the Lakers' roster over the next couple of years anyway?
Stein: The reviews are bound to be mostly unkind after Scott's rough stint in Cleveland, but this is a no-win job anyway. The Lakers are biding time until they can make a splashy acquisition, which might not be until (gasp) 2016 free agency. They know, deep down, that this is not an attractive job at the minute. Hiring Scott puts a popular former Laker in charge to win sway with the fans and replaces Mike D'Antoni with a coach Kobe will support. Those are the reasons, realistically, that L.A. chose him.
Strauss: I'd say bottom third while acknowledging that I have a dearth of information here. I wasn't a fan of his Cleveland teams, and he's not especially great with younger players (See: Kyrie Irving's lack of defensive progress). It's also possible Scott's just gotten a raw deal talentwise and I'm judging unfairly.
4. What grade would you give the Lakers this offseason?
Adande: B-minus. They didn't land the big fish, but they acquired some decent parts in Jeremy Lin and Boozer. Plus, more Swaggy P! It's still kind of jarring to see this esteemed franchise turned into a salary dumping ground for other teams trying to clear cap space, or an opportunist claiming amnestied players on the cheap. Give them credit for not letting pride block their attempts to field a decent roster.
Elhassan: In a vacuum, I'd give them a B-minus; they managed to upgrade the roster without sacrificing that much future flexibility. In the context of what they should be doing given their circumstance, I give them a D-plus.
McMenamin: Probably a C. And C's might get degrees, but they don't get you championship rings. The Lakers struck out on their master plan of trying to bring in both LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony. Their alternative moves made sense, but were hardly inspiring.
Stein: C-plus. They raised eyebrows with the way they splashed out on Nick Young but otherwise were very opportunistic and prudent in scooping up Jeremy Lin, Boozer, Davis and Randle. Throughout the season, my unsolicited advice to the Lakers was to trade Pau Gasol for Lin and Omer Asik to give Bryant two quality helpers on last-year deals without messing with their long-term financial flexibility and to ensure they didn't lose Gasol for nothing. Lin and Asik would have been a better haul than Lin/Boozer/Davis -- because the Asik-less Lakers are going to have serious issues defensively -- but it's a comparable haul. My biggest quibble: L.A. should have delayed the signing of Randle so it didn't have to waive Kendall Marshall, whom the Lakers wanted to keep.
Strauss: I'd give them a solid C. They're paying a lot of money to Nick Young, possibly because he's the most charismatic player in the game. That move was questionable, but it's hard to really kill it. Jeremy Lin was a good get for one season and the same goes for Boozer. These short-term acquisitions aren't "bad" or "good," so much as they don't matter. The Lakers are in a kind of purgatory until that massive Kobe contract ends.
5. Will the Lakers keep their top-five protected pick this season?
Adande: No. They won't be that awful. Anything close to a normal Kobe would prevent that. So would the fact that Nick Young and Carlos Boozer can also score 20 points on any given night. The problem will be defense ... as in, who's going to bother to play any?
Elhassan: If Kobe goes down to another season-consuming injury, they have an outside shot. Without Kobe, there's no one on the roster to drive it to success, and Scott doesn't have the coaching reputation of getting more out of an outmatched personnel situation.
McMenamin: Nope. Last season's team, with all those injuries, still managed to win 27 games and finish with the sixth-worst record in the league. L.A. will end up winning at least 30 games and end up having to relinquish that pick to Phoenix.
Stein: Not if Kobe stays healthy. These Lakers, if they stay whole, will score just enough -- and thus win just enough -- to land in the lower reaches of the lottery.
Strauss: They'll be awful defensively, but I predict they'll get enough offense to stay out of the bottom five. Perhaps this isn't ideal considering how badly they need another talented draft pick. Maybe Scott is more receptive to losing down the stretch than Mike D'Antoni was.