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Regardless of what happens with Dwight Howard, the Los Angeles Lakers are in prime position for another overnight rebuild in the summer of 2014.
Things are still looking bleak for next season. Kobe is injured, and the team is still an awkwardly constructed assortment of overpaid players.
But 2014-15 is a different story.
Right now, the Lakers only have one player under contract for 2014-15 — Steve Nash for $9.7 million.
That means they'll have around $50 million in open cap space to spend however they'd like. And the free agent class of 2014 is potentially stacked. Here are the top players who could be available:
- LeBron James (if he opts out)
- Dwyane Wade (if he opts out)
- Chris Bosh (if he opts out)
- Carmelo Anthony (if he opts out)
- Kobe Bryant
- Pau Gasol
- Danny Granger
- Luol Deng
- Rudy Gay (if he doesn't pick up his player option)
- Andrew Bogut
- Zach Randolph (if he doesn't pick up his player option)
Re-signing Dwight Howard would cost the Lakers about $23 million. So if they keep him, they'll still be able to afford another star player (or two mid-level players) to put alongside him next summer. If Nash retires or gets traded, they'd have even more money.
Even if Howard doesn't re-sign, the Lakers should still be in good shape. According to multiple reports, the Lakers are so committed to keeping their cap sheet clean for the summer of 2014 that they'd rather let Howard go for nothing than take back contracts in a sign-and-trade.
Allowing Howard to walk for nothing would be tough in the short term, but it'd actually give them even more flexibility to build their roster from scratch next summer.
This upcoming season could be ugly for LA. But they are poised to pull of a hail of blockbuster moves when July 2014 rolls around.
We should be used to this by now.
The Lakers landed Shaq when he became a free agent in 1996, and he turned them into a mini-dynasty. In the mid-00s, they pulled off an out-of-nowhere trade for Pau Gasol and made two NBA Finals as a result. And then last summer they traded for Dwight Howard when absolutely no one thought they'd be able to.
More than any other franchise in the league, the Lakers have the ability to acquire star players when they are available.
That's exactly what they're trying to do now.
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