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BEN BOLCH / ON THE NBA

A 5-point plan for fixing Lakers: They can do it, but give them time

This season's a lost cause, next season may be too. But if Lakers play their cards right, there's a path out of darkness. Here's how.

February 01, 2014|By Ben Bolch
  • With the Lakers having little hope of making the playoffs this season, roster changes could be made, including the departure of Coach Mike D'Antoni and aging point guard Steve Nash (top left) as well as veteran 7-footer Pau Gasol (right). Swingmen Nick Young (bottom left) and Jodie Meeks (bottom right) have proved valuable.
With the Lakers having little hope of making the playoffs this season, roster… (Los Angeles Times )

The season is over.

It only feels like the Lakers franchise is done.

There is the terrible team, the sidelined superstar and the dim prospects for a quick turnaround. What's next? A walkout by super fan Flea?

Fortunately, these are the Lakers, and they always seem to figure it out.

Unfortunately, short of drafting Magic Johnson, these things can take time.

It was six long years between the Lakers' going pfft under Randy Pfund in 1994 and winning their next title. It took them four years to fully recover from Chucky Atkins, Chris Mihm et al. in 2005 and raise championship banners No. 15 and 16.

In the interest of speeding things up, here is a five-point plan that could help the Lakers figure out a way back onto their Figueroa parade route well before the end of the decade:

1. Finish this season with the worst possible record.

This one should be easy. Seen the Lakers lately? They've lost 18 of their last 21 games. Still, it's worth spelling out the draft lottery math so that Kobe Bryant understands he doesn't need to play 48 minutes a game in April.

The Lakers began Saturday with the sixth-worst record in the NBA (16-31), which would give them a 6.3% chance of obtaining the top pick in the draft. If they were able to secure, say, the third-worst record, those odds would increase to 15.6%. So it's important to remember that each defeat could net the Lakers a few more ping-pong balls.

Even if the Lakers don't get the top pick, the difference between selecting third and sixth could mean the difference between drafting a transformational talent and merely a solid rotational player.

Fans can do their part to remind the Lakers of what's at stake by replacing the "We want tacos!" chant with "We want lotto!"

2. Move Pau Gasol before the Feb. 20 trade deadline.

Letting Gasol walk for nothing this summer makes zero sense. So does bringing him back for more than a quarter of the $19.3 million he's making this season, which is an unlikely proposition at best.

So it's time to part with the four-time All-Star and two-time NBA champion while the Lakers can still get something in return. If they can't get an impact player or a few youngsters with upside, they should at least be able to obtain a first-round draft pick and a passel of expiring contracts for someone who has played like an All-Star the last month even with a strained groin.

Brooklyn, Atlanta and Houston are among the playoff-bound teams that could use frontcourt help. Start dialing now.

3. Bring in a new coach this spring.

You can't blame Mike D'Antoni for the mess this season has become. Even before the Lakers began conducting more MRIs than Cedars-Sinai, they were going to be fringe playoff contenders at best with this roster.

But does anyone really think D'Antoni is suited to be their next championship coach? He's slow to adapt to his personnel, largely uncommunicative with players and seemingly incapable of formulating an elite defense.

Lakers owner Jim Buss should make things right with his sister Jeanie and a critical fan base by placing his first call to Phil Jackson. Barring a return of Zen-sanity, go after Jeff Van Gundy or George Karl. The Lakers need a coach with a Finals pedigree who can entice free agents while bringing a certain gravitas to the job that has been missing since Jackson's departure.

4. Don't scrap the entire current roster.

It's only natural to want to completely start over given what's unfolded the last three months.

Big mistake.

Nick Young, Jodie Meeks and Steve Blake have proven to be keepers, provided they don't break a piggy bank that has precious few coins jangling around thanks to Bryant's $48.5-million contract over the next two seasons.

Young is almost certain to opt out of a contract that would pay him only $1.2 million next season, but he's equally likely to be open to taking a hometown discount given his love of the Lakers and Bryant. Something in the $3-million to $4-million range could work for both sides.

Meeks deserves a reasonable raise from the $1.5 million he's making this season. Blake would probably have to take a discount from the $4 million he has made in each of his four seasons as a Laker to come back.

What about Steve Nash? If he doesn't retire by this summer, the Lakers should beg the basketball gods for forgiveness and use the so-called stretch provision to waive him and spread the remaining $9.7 million on his contract over three seasons.

As classy as Nash has been and as much as the two-time most valuable player has meant to the league, the Lakers don't need the constant worry of whether their soon-to-be 40-year-old point guard can hold up through their next practice or game.

5. Be picky in free agency.

If the Lakers don't get what they want this summer a la LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony, the worst thing they could do is tie up a large amount of salary over multiple seasons on the likes of Rodney Stuckey or Danny Granger, because it would compromise their future options.

They would be better served enduring another bad season or two if it meant being in position to nab a superstar such as Kevin Love in 2015 or Kevin Durant in 2016.

These are the Lakers, remember. It's time they started acting like them again.

ben.bolch@latimes.com

Twitter: @latbbolch

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