When the Lakers gave Kobe Bryant his massive two-year extension last November, it gave us a slight clue as to what their intentions were for this offseason. With nearly half of their salary cap now tied up in just Kobe and Steve Nash, we could conclude that they would only have enough cap room to offer one max contract to a free agent, and that would most likely come at the expense of losing Pau Gasol. We could also assume that they had most likely surveyed the upcoming free agent class and determined that nearly all of the top free agents were either going to re-sign with their current teams or were restricted free agents who would need to be grossly overcompensated to avoid having their offers sheets matched by their current teams.
Unlike the teams that actually had desirable assets with which to trade for someone like Kevin Love, the Lakers only had two things with which to improve their roster this offseason: the 7th pick in the draft and the ability to create as much as $32 million in cap space. With expectations low and hope high, Lakers fans entered free agency with cautious optimism. At least until we let our imaginations get the best of us.
For the purpose of this exercise, imagine you are holding a balloon. Now inflate it with as many breaths as necessary until it eventually pops. Each of those breaths represents another ounce of hope that came with every rumor, the pop represents the reality that none of those things actually came to fruition. First, Carmelo Anthony included the Lakers on his free agency tour. The meeting was reportedly a success. So much so, that Anthony recently told ESPN’s Jeff Goodman, “It was hard. It was Chicago, but then after I met with L.A., it was L.A.”
Not long after the Melo meeting, Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak was on a plane to Cleveland to meet with LeBron’s agent to discuss the possibility of both LeBron and Carmelo joining the Lakers. It was also reported that Pau Gasol had said he would return to the Lakers at a discount if they were to sign Anthony. Even with most cautious of optimism, you couldn’t help but to momentarily fantasize about a starting lineup with Kobe, Melo, LeBron, and Pau in it.
The Lakers would not only miss out on Melo and LeBron, but Pau had also decided it was time to move on, giving up his house on the beach for the cold winters of Chicago. Despite having all of that financial freedom, the roster that finished last season with a 27-55 record, might be worse next season. In addition to losing Gasol, they also lost Jodie Meeks, Jordan Farmar, Kent Bazemore, Kendall Marshall, Chris Kaman, and MarShon Brooks. Those seven were replaced by rookies Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson, as well as Jeremy Lin, Carlos Boozer, and Ed Davis. Those new guys join Kobe, Nash, and Robert Sacre, as well as re-signed free agents Nick Young, Jordan Hill, Ryan Kelly, Xavier Henry, and Wes Johnson.
Although Pau’s exit wasn’t much of a shocker, the fact that he declined a more lucrative offer from the Lakers is a bit of a tell. With Mike D’Antoni out as head coach, the only opportunity that would have made leaving the Lakers a no-brainer was the chance to get similar money to what the Lakers were offering while also getting the chance to compete for a championship — something the Lakers can’t promise anyone while keeping a straight face.
I would have preferred to keep Meeks over any of the free agents they chose to bring back, but who expected anyone to offer him the 3-year/$19 million contract he got from Detroit? As for Farmar, it’s understandable that he didn’t want to wait on the Lakers any longer than he already had. For someone who gave up millions in Turkey to return to Los Angeles, he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to not have to move his family again.
Losing Bazemore stings because the Lakers could have picked up his option for next season at a cost of only $1.1 million. They didn’t do it because they wanted to use the little bit of cap space his contract took up to pad their offers to Carmelo and LeBron. While they didn’t close the door on bringing him back, Bazemore ended up signing with the Atlanta Hawks for 2-years/$4 million; proving that they let a bargain get away for nothing.
Similarly, the Lakers had to waive Kendall Marshall to free up the cap space needed after they had won the auction for Carlos Boozer. They were hoping that Marshall would clear waivers and they could bring him back on a deal similar to the $915,000 he’ll make next season. Instead, he was claimed by the Milwaukee Bucks. While I enjoyed watching him play, losing Marshall is not a huge deal, especially with Lin, Clarkson, and Nash already on the roster. I’m just pointing out that their plan to waive him and re-sign him was just another in a pattern of things not really going the way the Lakers had hoped this offseason.
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