The Los Angeles Lakers haven’t made any major splashes in free agency, failing to sign All-Stars like LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dirk Nowtizki and Chris Bosh. Still, the team has done enough in the 2014 offseason to improve on this past year’s last-place finish.
The Lakers entered the offseason with a lot of salary-cap space and hopes of using that flexibility to become a contender. L.A. was unsuccessful in their attempt, and instead of signing second-tier free agents like Lance Stephenson and Luol Deng to multiyear deals, the organization opted to sign lower-level players to short contracts.
L.A. lost one key member of last season’s roster. Pau Gasol went to the Chicago Bulls, after spending more than six seasons with the Lakers. The big man won two championships with Los Angeles, and was the team’s top rebounder and shot-blocker in 2013-2014.
While the Lakers tried to keep Gasol and would have been a better team with him, his last two years with L.A. did not compare to his previous four seasons. Under head coach Mike D’Antoni, Gasol lost much of his effectiveness. He had trouble staying on the court, missing 55 games in the last two seasons.
The combination of Julius Randle and Ed Davis will do their best to fill the void left by Gasol. The Lakers can’t be certain what to expect from Randle, considering he’s never played an NBA game. He did, however, lead Kentucky to the national championship game as a freshman, and has a lot of potential after being drafted No.7 overall. Davis averaged 5.7 points and 4.1 rebounds per games with the Memphis Grizzlies, and comes to Los Angeles on a contract reportedly worth $2 million over two years.
Jordan Hill is also back to help the Lakers in the frontcourt. L.A. gave him $18 million over two years, after he posted 9.7 points and 7.4 rebounds per game last season.
The backcourt is where Los Angeles should be most improved in the 2014-2015 season. After re-signing Nick Young and letting Jodie Meeks go to the Detroit Pistons, the team will essentially have two new additions.
While Kobe Bryant was on the team last year, injuries kept him out of all but six games. There’s no guarantee that the shooting guard will return to his old form, but he should give L.A. a scoring threat that they didn’t have last year. Two seasons ago, Bryant had one of his most efficient seasons, scoring 27.3 points per game on 46.3 percent shooting.
Bryant will be joined by Jeremy Lin, whom the Lakers acquired in a trade. Lin came off the bench for much of last season, but he’s proven that he can be a more than adequate starting point guard. Lin averaged 12.5 points and 4.1 assists with the Houston Rockets, and he gives the Lakers a reliable option at the position, if Steve Nash continues to struggle and battle injuries.
The 2014-2015 season could be another struggle for L.A. to make the playoffs, though it should not be as bad as last year. L.A.’s moves will also give them a lot of cap space in 2016 when Bryant’s contract expires.