After a nightmare 2013-14 season, how can the LA Lakers get back on top?
Two seasons ago they were many pundits favorites to win the NBA Championship after signing Steve Nash and Dwight Howard. Now the LA Lakers are reeling from failing to make the playoffs.
Here's how they can get back among the contenders...
Hire a proven NBA head coach
Central to the Lakers' struggles has been the absence of leadership since Phil Jackson's departure in 2011, and that begins with the head coach. Kobe Bryant is one of the biggest egos in the game, and must be managed properly in his desperate pursuit of his sixth NBA Championship. Both Mike Brown and Mike D'Antoni failed to harness Byrant's talent and determination, resulting in Dwight Howard being driven out of Los Angeles and Bryant rupturing his achilles after too much playing time.
The Lakers' next coach must have the NBA pedigree necessary to gain Bryant's respect, but will need to know when to step back and let the star be the face of the franchise. Byron Scott and Brian Shaw have been linked to the vacancy in the past, and Bryant is thought to have previously lobbied for each to become the new head coach. The Lakers have also been linked to Tom Thibodeau, and if the Chicago Bulls could be persuaded to part with their head coach it would represent a huge step in the right direction for Los Angeles.
Nail the draft
After such a disappointing year for Lakers fans the one silver lining was potentially landing one of the top picks in the draft. However, in a season of heavy tanking throughout the league Los Angeles are left with the seventh pick. This is by no means a disaster – this year's draft is one of the deepest in recent memory and there should be players with all-star potential available when the Lakers are on the clock.
The Lakers will be hoping that Oklahoma State point guard Marcus Smart or Kentucky power forward Julius Randle will fall to the seventh slot. Smart represents the biggest risk, he is a raw, unpolished prospect but has the size, instincts and athleticism to thrive as an NBA point guard. Randle, meanwhile, is one of the most NBA-ready players in the draft, with a range of power moves at his disposal in the post. After coming into the college season rated as one of the top three players, the power forward has fallen on many draft boards and this may play right into the Lakers' hands.
Acquire young assets
The Lakers have already begun the process of building towards the future. With just Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant on the roster for next year, they have the cap flexibility to bring in young talent and prepare for free agency in 2015, with Kevin Love as a potential target. However, with it looking increasingly likely that Love will be traded before then, the Lakers may need to switch their focus.
This offseason, Los Angeles should look to bring in young players either to form the backbone of the roster going forwards or to be used as trade bait for Love. The Jazz's Gordon Hayward and the Pistons' Greg Monroe will be restricted free agents this summer, and sizeable contract offers from the Lakers would at least make their teams consider letting them go. Indiana's Lance Stephenson, who will be an unrestricted free agent, could also be persuaded to join the Lakers.