After Lakers' season from hell comes... offseason from hell

After Lakers' season from hell comes... offseason from hell


After Lakers' season from hell comes... offseason from hell

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Nothing is forever, even if the Lakers’ 30-year run, from their first title with Magic Johnson in 1980 to their last with Kobe Bryant in 2010, seemed like a heavenly eternity.

Which is why Lakerdom, like Cassius in “Julius Caesar,” has a lean and hungry look after the Spurs’ sweep, dreaming of heads rolling at the executive level… like Mike D’Antoni’s silver-haired one and that of owner Jim Buss, complete with his baseball cap.

Lakerdom wishes all the team faces is a crossroad. This feels more like driving off a cliff.

Forget restocking the roster, which will be hard enough with Dwight Howard approaching free agency and Bryant, whose contract runs out next spring, going under the knife.

Laker fans could once assume continuity, but no longer.

D’Antoni is the second of two coaches the Lakers employed – neither of them named Phil Jackson, who was nonetheless effectively dangled over the heads of the fans.

It’s not nice to tantalize your fans in the midst of a debacle, so it’s no surprise they now rage at MDA – as he’s known on Twitter, or “Pringles,” for a perceived resemblance (?) to the potato chip cartoon character.

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Despite everything D’Antoni faced – Steve Nash out until Christmas, Bryant out for the playoffs, Howard clashing with Kobe – Lakers fans have cut him all the slack he’ll get.

With Nash and Steve Blake having just gone down, Game 3 should have been one of those tributes from the fans for achieving as much as they did.

Instead, Laker fans started serenading D’Antonti, chanting, “We want Phil.”

For the record, they’re not getting Jackson, who wouldn’t take the job if Jim Buss offered it, which Jim has no intention of doing… even if it was Jerry Buss who made the decision to bypass Phil.

So D’Antoni will be back!

Lucky him.

Jerry Buss, a consensus choice as one of the best NBA owners, or the best, is gone.

In his place is his son, held in even less esteem locally than Pringles – er, D’Antoni.

Not that David Stern cut them a lot of breaks – even if he once joked his ideal matchup was “the Lakers vs. the Lakers” – he’s going, too.

Stern had a keen appreciation for what Buss did and the Lakers meant, but his crowning achievement, at least to his owners/bosses, was the 2011 CBA which will effectively end the practice of maintaining superpowers by paying $25 million or so of luxury tax.

With vast resources, even before the start of their Time Warner deal paying them $115 million this season – a $65 million bump – the Lakers set a standard of excellence that enabled them to land the creme de la creme, even if their run started with the blind luck that brought No. 1 overall picks Magic Johnson in 1980 and James Worthy in 1982.

The Magic pick arrived as an afterthought in 1976, when the New Orleans Jazz signed 33-year-old Gail Goodrich.

The Worthy pick came from Cleveland for Don Ford, a 6-foot-9 reserve with flowing blonde hair which made him look as if he had just come from the beach.

When the Lakers ran out of luck in 1991 when Magic announced he was HIV-positive and retired, they substituted genius.

Within five years, GM Jerry West broke up what was left and rebuilt it into a 54-win team around Vlade Divac, Cedric Ceballos, Nick Van Exel and Eddie Jones, while retaining enough cap room to pursue Orlando’s Shaquille O’Neal.

In the summer of ‘96, they landed Shaq and a high school kid named Kobe Bryant within one week in July and guess who was coming back to dinner?

With West and Shaq gone and the team on the rocks, with Bryant demanding his own trade in 2007, Mitch Kupchak, Jerry’s long-time assistant, pulled off his own sleight of hand.

It actually started in 2005 when they drafted a roly-poly prep named Andrew Bynum, who broke out in his third season, before Memphis owner Michael Heisley donated Pau Gasol.

If everyone in the West went nuts – the Suns then traded for Shaq, the Mavs for Jason Kidd – Pau wasn’t a gift.

The Bulls could have had him had owner Jerry Reinsdorf been willing to pay the tab – $90 million in payroll and taxes over three seasons. Reinsdorf erred on the saide of thrift, as usual. Buss was the riverboat gambler, as always.

Of course, now, if you’re a luxury tax repeat offender, as the Lakers were with a $97 million payroll, you won’t pay a mere $27 million in tax, as the Lakers will.

After CBA’s two-season phase-in, a repeater $27 million over the tax threshold would pay $65 million, with the rate going up dramatically with every additional season they exceed the threshold.

Accordingly, the Lakers are clear on what their No. 1 priority is for next season… and it’s not rebuilding the roster.

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If Howard must be re-signed – all insiders expect him to stay – there is only other imperative: Getting under the 2014-15 tax threshold, presumably $72-$75 million.
Everything else will have to be subordinated to the numbers…

If Howard signs a max deal, it’ll start at $21.5 million.

With Nash’s $9.3 million, the only other contract on the Lakers’ book for 2014-15, that’s $30.8 million.

Let’s say you want to reserve $22 million for Bryant, in the hope he’ll take a cut… or on the off chance LeBron James wants to come.

That leaves about $21 million for the other nine players, which isn’t much for a hulking, aging team that needs to get younger and more athletic.

Then comes the Gasol decision. The Lakers insisted all season they wouldn’t trade Pau but now that it’s over…

They have a big, old, hulking roster, and have for three seasons, which must finally be addressed.

With one $19 million season on his contract, Pau is their lone dispensable player with trade value.

For the moment, all Lakerdom has questions, with no answers.

If dynasties shouldn’t fade gently into the night, this one certainly didn’t. The 2012-13 was a clinic in raised expectations, after the arrival of Nash and Howard, going before a great fall, presided over by a new coach who has to take the heat for the organization’s snub of its long-time savior.

Whatever could go wrong did. What had been a brave closing run turned into a march to the hospital with Bryant going down, followed by Nash, Blake and Metta World Peace.

The starting backcourt for the Game 3-4 losses – by a total of 50 points – was out-of-rotation Darius Morris and D-League pickup Andrew Goudelock.

Goudelock, it turned out, had just won the D-League MVP. He was presented with the award before Game 3, giving Laker fans a chance to chant an ironic, “MVP!”
The Spurs then routed Goudelock & Co., prompting the fans to shift to, “We want Phil!”

Tweeted TNT’s David Aldridge, “I think Phil’s gonna pass.”

Mercifully, it ended two days later, in what may have been the last game in a Laker uniform for everyone wearing a Laker uniform. Howard only stuck around for 21 minutes of it, before getting himself ejected.

If anyone knows of another savior who’s available, I know a franchise that can use one.

Follow Mark Heisler on Twitter @MarkHeisler

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