The Los Angeles Lakers are proud to boast themselves as one of the most successful franchises in all of professional sports. Aside from their 16 championships, second only to the Boston Celtics, many NBA legends, and Hall-of-Famers have donned a Lakers uniform.
When the current Lakers roster walks into Staples Center or their practice facility, they are regularly greeted by those who have paved the way for them. Seeing the illustrious jerseys, awards and even statues of legends should serve as a constant reminder as to what the outlook is in Lakerland.
It wasn’t long ago when the Lakers were coming off of five championships in 11 seasons, headlined by Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, and Pau Gasol. While Bryant was able to overlap two eras of Lakers basketball, he has now ridden off into retirement, with apparently no desire to play anytime soon.
During the 2015-16 season, Bryant, Metta World Peace and Byron Scott were all that remained on the floor of Staples Center from those inspiring days, with Scott stemming back to the Showtime era. However, World Peace is now in a transitional mentor phase with this young nucleus, while one remaining front office executive still resides.
General manager Mitch Kupchak has been at the helm through the ups and the downs, managing championship rosters and rosters that had lackluster results. Kupchak became the general manager of the Lakers during the 1994-95 season and has stayed in that position for 21 seasons (currently in 22nd).
The Lakers are slowly transitioning as a rebuilding franchise, as head coach Luke Walton has the franchise excited, with a growing team learning the ins and outs of the NBA. The Lakers have failed in recent seasons to draw in any big-name free agents, which fans have optimistically, but foolishly hoped for.
In an ESPN piece by J.A. Adande, Kupchak provided insight into why cap room doesn’t necessarily translate to free agency success:
“You have to have assets; cap room alone is overrated,” Kupchak said. “I think if you talk to teams in the NBA for the last four or five years that have had all kinds of cap room, it’s a stressful situation. Because you’ve got to go out there and pay non-max players, you’ve got to overpay to get somebody, depending on the city. And you might not get somebody. And then you kick the can down the road a year and try to do the same thing next summer.”
In recent seasons, free agents such as LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard and Kevin Durant have passed up on an opportunity to play with the Lakers. Although the Lakers had plenty of room to offer a max contract, the prospect of playing with a rebuilding team doesn’t draw attention in this current league of what many basketball aficionados call “super teams.”
Kupchak is dead on the money when it comes to the grueling task of free agency because each team has a planned outlook on how the summer should go down. Waiting on the response of one prospect, that remains uncommitted, means that another potential player chooses to find a location that is determined to sign them.
When one domino falls in free agency, it usually isn’t a fluid downfall. Many different circumstances have altering butterfly effects on another player in the other conference. For instance, the Lakers attempting to resign center Dwight Howard required a full campaign by the city of Los Angeles, with a banner even implemented outside of Staples Center.
However, after waiting an entire offseason, Howard departed for the Houston Rockets, and the Lakers missed out on tons of players who had an interest in wearing the purple and gold uniform.
The failed results of the past heavily influenced Kupchak heading into the previous offseason, as the Lakers quickly went out and signed center Timofey Mozgov and forward Luol Deng. The contract for Mozgov set the market for the other big-man free agents around the league, which actually resulted in certain players being overpaid for.
So before any big-name free agents ponder decisions regarding joining the Lakers, the team must begin posting results that show the correct direction the franchise is headed in.