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Setting Realistic Expectations for the Los Angeles Lakers’ Rebuilding Plans

When you’re in the postseason for essentially a half-century straight, the problem is you don’t have to experience what it’s really like to suffer through a rebuild. And now, for the first time in their history, that’s a reality the Los Angeles Lakers are faced with.

They’ve missed the postseason for consecutive years for the first time since 1974-76. I mean, we’re talking Bicentennial here. And that’s the only time it’s ever happened. And then they had Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, in the prime of his career, to build around.

And there’s already a rumbling of discontentment from Lakers Nation. Whether one wants to accept this reality or not, the situation isn’t changing anytime soon. They just don’t have the means for a quick change.

They have Kobe Bryant at the end of his career, an untested veritable rookie in Julius Randle, a No. 2 draft pick and some money to spend.

Bryant is one of the greatest to ever play the game, but have we reached the stage where we can safely say he’s not going to be producing consistent 40-point games without being accused of being a hater yet? Bryant hasn’t finished a season healthy in three years.

He’s scored 865 points in 41 games on 48.0 percent true shooting in the last two years. His player efficiency rating is 16.7 in spite of having a 34.1 percent usage. And he has -.2 win shares. It’s safe to say his days of leading teams to championships are over.

That’s not preventing him from absorbing $25 million in cap space, though. And whether he’s “worth” that in terms of value to the franchise is moot in terms of analyzing the competitive nature of the franchise.

Furthermore, while they have the opportunity to select a potential All-Star this year, the long-term situation for building through the draft isn’t great.

Here’s the reality of the Lakers’ situation: They’re a bad team—like, literally the worst in franchise history.

They’re limited in terms of assets. They have this year’s pick, but not next year’s or the one two years after that.

They have some cap space, but that’s more limited than advertised. They have $48 million in contracts heading into the summer. They have a $4.4 million cap hold on the No. 2 pick. There’s a $1 million player option on Ed Davis (he’s opting out) and a $9 million team option on Jordan Hill.

Per Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, the Lakers aren’t likely to exercise that, which should give the Lakers about $24 million in cap space:

As the Los Angeles Lakers maneuver to free $24 million-plus of salary cap space for summer free agency, the franchise is unlikely to exercise the option on forward Jordan Hill’s contract for the 2015-16 season, league sources told Yahoo Sports. The Lakers are not obligated to make a final determination on the $9 million owed on Hill’s contract before June 30, but momentum is strong that they’ll allow Hill to enter into free agency, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

I know the myth is that every player in the league just waits for the day they can don the Purple and Gold. And yes, there’s a legitimate, brilliant legacy the franchise has built. But player’s today are looking at being a part of next year’s banner, not the one that was six years ago.

And this is where Lakers fans might not like the dose of reality that’s coming their way. I don’t see them getting a max player with that $24 million for a number of reasons.

  1. If a player is worth a max deal, he’s changing teams to win, and two rookies aren’t going to persuade them of that, even if they’re high draft picks.
  2. Players with one or two-year deals to cash in on the massive TV deal aren’t going to leave their teams and their Bird rights behind to do it.
  3. Sign-and-trade deals won’t work because the Lakers’ only assets worth trading are the No. 2 pick and Randle, and then who will the player you’re trading for play with?

I know there are rumors abound that the Lakers are looking to trade for DeMarcus Cousins, but let’s be honest here. Cousins has established that he’s not leading a team full of scrubs to the postseason. He’s failed to lead more talented squads than what the Lakers currently have there, so why do this?

There are rumblings of Dwyane Wade joining the Lakers.  That, frankly, is hilarious. Who looks at the Lakers and thinks, “What they really need is a second Hall of Fame shooting guard who’s well past his prime and constantly injured?!”

If LaMarcus Aldridge leaves Portland, it’s going to be for a better situation, not a worse one.

Kevin Love, like Cousins, has established he can’t lead a horrible team to the postseason. Jimmy Butler is allegedly interested in the Lakers, but the Bulls are matching any offers that the Lakers extend. And Butler would be leaving a lot of money on the table by going to LA, anyway.

Other free agents who could make a difference are all big men like Brook Lopez, Greg Monroe and Paul Millsap, and it looks like the Lakers are locked into Jahlil Okafor as their pick.

Sure, the Lakers can spend $24 million. I don’t think that means they can improve enough to even get back to the postseason, much less become contenders, though.

So, this is what the Lakers need to do. They need to recognize who and what they are, which is an awful team in rebuilding mode. They need to take a double shot of 80-proof reality to numb the pain and use this offseason to plan for the future, not the present.

That means three things.

First, it means they need to draft with the direction the NBA is taking in mind. That means abandoning the old-school mentality and embracing the analytics era, much to the chagrin of Byron Scott. That could mean taking Kristaps Porzingis with the No. 2 pick instead of Okafor.

Second, this is one of those cases where quantity is better than quality. Yes, you want to land a future superstar, but there are no guarantees. Trading down a few spots and taking another guy with star potential could do more.

For example, add some expiring contracts to the deal and the Lakers can probably bring back the rights to Tobias Harris and Emmanuel Mudiay instead of just the No. 2 pick. Orlando is coveting Porzingis and might be willing to deal to move up.

Third, use the money in the offseason to gamble. Don’t sign vets who did something great and are now at the end of their careers. Don’t put all your money in trying to steal a restricted free agent, only to have all the free agents go away and then have your offer matched after three very important days.

Be a rebuilding team. Ink players who underperformed their draft status. Take on salaries from teams that are willing to part with draft picks to get you take them. Compile assets, don’t spend them.

The Lakers are going to be horrible this year. That’s just an unavoidable fact. Whether they suck in three years, though, will largely depend on what they do this summer.

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