The Lakers' 2013-14 season was a far cry from anything we've seen from the franchise of bright lights and championship banners. Kobe Bryant played a mere six games in a season that started late thanks to rehabilitation from his ruptured left Achilles tendon, and that ended sadly and quickly after a tibia fracture on the same leg.
Though it might be a slight exaggeration, a season without Kobe is almost unimaginable, or at least unrecognizable. And that's exactly what last season's Lakers were. Stocked with tons of gunners, the Lakers under Mike D'Antoni pushed the pace and tried to be competitive on the back of their uptempo offense. However, they were also overwhelmingly inefficient and massively deficient on defense, leading to the worst season in franchise history.
Their offseason is almost a blank slate. Few players are under contract and they still have their coaching vacancy to think about, so the Lakers' direction is somewhat just a general feeling. They still have Kobe, having given him a two-year, $48.5 million extension last year, a hobbled Steve Nash and Robert Sacre all under guaranteed contracts for the upcoming season, but that's it.
They've been trying to dangle their No. 7 overall pick to try to make a deal out of nearly thin air, but it seems no one is biting. Unless they manage to work something out, it sounds like they'll be looking at trying to draft someone with the talent to contribute immediately. From there, L.A. will use its cap space to make a play for LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, but seem unlikely to succeed.
Picks: No. 7
Free agents: Paul Gasol (UFA), Jordan Hill (UFA), Nick Young (UFA), Chris Kaman (UFA), Jodie Meeks (UFA), MarShon Brooks (UFA), Jordan Farmar (UFA), Xavier Henry (UFA), Wesley Johnson (UFA)
Cap space: $26.9 million
PG: Steve Nash -- Kendall Marshall -- Jordan Farmar (UFA)
SF: Nick Young (UFA) -- Xavier Henry (UFA) -- Wesley Johnson (UFA)
PF: Jordan Hill (UFA) -- Ryan Kelly (RFA)
C: Paul Gasol (UFA) -- Robert Sacre -- Chris Kaman (UFA)
Suffice to say, the Lakers really need to strike gold with their draft pick. The expected team salary of those players above is a hair under $36.3 million, well short of the expected $63.2 million salary cap and even further beneath the expected $77 million luxury tax line. They've got money to play with, but also a ton of spots to fill.
Given that the team just extended Bryant, it seems Los Angeles is angling to put together one last run with him leading the way. After last season's injuries, it's a bit of a gamble, but the Lakers have kind of painted themselves into a corner at this point.
There's also speculation that -- gasp -- LeBron James could look at the blue and gold as an avenue to adding to his ring total after choosing to opt out in Miami. This isn't completely ridiculous when it comes to on-court chemistry. Bryant has played with dynamic hybrid frontcourt players before, and James won a ring with a classic ball dominant shooting guard. Realistically, though, James would prefer a roster with more upside than the Lakers can offer.
Nevertheless, the world is truly the Lakers' oyster. They need so much and in so many places that the best course of action is to just go for the most talented players available, which is a talking point cliché every year, but holds true for Los Angeles here. The Lakers' lack of a coach could be a concern if they had more of a foundation of a roster to think about, but at this point, they just need to acquire some talent.
The Lakers would do just about anything to move up from No. 7 into the top-three spots for a chance at one of the elite players, but they don't have that flexibility, so they're kind of stuck looking at the players on the slightly lower tiers.
Julius Randle's name appears the most often for the Lakers, offering what should be an NBA-ready skill set and body that can contribute offense in the post with strong rebounding. His defense, though, is questionable. His stock has taken a bit of a hit recently due to reports that he'll need surgery on his foot, which could keep him out until the start of training camp.
Noah Vonleh might not fall far enough to give the Lakers the chance to make a decision on him, but his defensive ability and shooting range could give the Lakers a two-way player to help reconstruct their frontcourt.
The Lakers could go in another direction and try to beef up their backcourt with Marcus Smart, a talented, versatile guard who can get to the rim and finish there. He's strong, fast, explosive and has a great defensive motor with quick hands. However, his jump shot limits his potential and he's not a prototypical point guard, though who is these days? Whether scouts, GMs and coaches believe he can add a better shot might determine where he gets selected.
And when you're talking about prospects who are expected to contribute immediately, it's tough to leave out Doug McDermott, probably the best jump shooter in the draft. A talented scorer with a high basketball IQ, McDermott piques the interest from teams toward the middle of the lottery. If the Lakers want to take a sharpshooter, there might be no better one available.
In free agency, the Lakers will shoot for the stars, whether that's James, Anthony or others. They have the cap space and they are the Lakers, which are two good reasons to try.