The 2016/17 season will be an odd one for the Los Angeles Lakers as they will start the year without Kobe Bryant for the first time since 1996.
It has been a tough few years for the Lakers, who have struggled by not appearing in the playoffs since 2013, including their worst regular-season record in franchise history in the 2014-15 campaign.
They have just appointed their third coach in four seasons, with current Golden State Warriors assistant Luke Walton taking over once the NBA Finals concludes as the team looks ahead to a brighter future.
LA has a strong core group of young players to build around with D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr, Julius Randle and whoever they take with the second pick in the upcoming NBA Draft - likely to be Ben Simmons or Brandon Ingram.
There are also a large number of free agents hitting the market this summer which should interest the Lakers. So, as they will need to make major upgrades if they hope to make next season’s playoffs, who should the Lakers target as they go into the summer?
Of course, the player on everyone’s mind is Kevin Durant, who has to make the extremely tough decision about whether to leave the Oklahoma City Thunder or not. But as many people have already spoken on Durant broadly I will keep this brief.
At this current point in time, after a successful playoff run, KD seems likely to opt to remain in OKC, but if a good pitch is made to him by a number of franchises he could certainly be willing to move on.
However, even though he may still meet with them, it is unlikely that Durant would consider the Lakers. Any potential team the 2014 MVP moves to would have to be able to contend for a title immediately, which is something the Lakers can definitely not guarantee right now.
Another small forward, Golden State’s Harrison Barnes, is widely expected to be on the move this summer and the Lakers have been touted as the current favourites to swoop in and claim Barnes.
There appears to be an unwillingness from the Warriors to pay the 24-year-old as, even though he contributed a lot to the 73-win season for Golden State, personally his season did not show the jump up in improvement the franchise had hoped to see in his contract year.
The Purple and Gold will certainly be happy to take Barnes, who would play a much more prominent role at any other franchise in the NBA. He also would surely be more comfortable moving to a team where he already has a strong connection with a coach who has been helping him for the past two years already.
The Lakers are yet to totally work out what Jordan Clarkson’s best position is. During his two years in the NBA he has played a mixture of point guard and shooting guard, the latter more so in the recent campaign as natural point guard Russell joined the team.
Bringing in an experienced free agent at his peak would clearly not be good for Clarkson who would head back to the bench, but it would definitely be a huge upgrade for the Lakers if they could pull off this move.
Adding DeRozan also gives the young side playoff experience, and it would allow Clarkson to continue his development off the bench as a backup shooting guard, possibly ready to take over the position if DeRozan moves on in a few years’ time.
Finally comes the turn of the most worrying position for the Lakers, the center spot, where they will certainly need to acquire someone as they enter free-agency without a starter for the position. There are many solid players at the position available this summer for the Lakers to choose from, but who will they opt for?
Joakim Noah would be a solid addition for any team with his future with the Chicago Bulls up in the air. Even though he is 31, very little of his game relies on athleticism, similar to another free agent, Al Horford, who has many similar qualities to Noah.
So the Lakers could opt to go for the smarter, more experienced centers, or they could decide to splash the cash on either Festus Ezeli or Hassan Whiteside, two younger, more dynamic players at the position.
Ezeli, similarly to Barnes, would also join from Golden State and has a good relationship with Walton, while Miami will try their best to keep Whiteside. However, after a strong 18 months of play, he is certain to command a huge pay packet.
It’s set to be a busy summer of rebuilding for the Lakers in the hope that they can put their worst seasons behind them and the fans in Southern California can look ahead to a much brighter future.