Daily 49er

Lakers, Clippers hoping to thread a needle this offseason

The NBA’s salary cap is rising, but not nearly fast enough for LA’s teams.

Los+Angeles+Laker+draft+pick+D%27Angelo+Russell+answers+a+question+during+a+press+conference+introducing+him+to+the+team+on+Monday%2C+June+29%2C+2015%2C+in+El+Segundo%2C+California.+
Los Angeles Laker draft pick D'Angelo Russell answers a question during a press conference introducing him to the team on Monday, June 29, 2015, in El Segundo, California.

Los Angeles Laker draft pick D'Angelo Russell answers a question during a press conference introducing him to the team on Monday, June 29, 2015, in El Segundo, California.

Wally Skalij | Los Angeles Times | TNS

Wally Skalij | Los Angeles Times | TNS

Los Angeles Laker draft pick D'Angelo Russell answers a question during a press conference introducing him to the team on Monday, June 29, 2015, in El Segundo, California.

Greg Diaz, Editor-in-chief

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The NBA’s free agency period opened on Wednesday with teams lining up to pitch unsigned players on their vision of the future. A flurry of early signings have gotten hoops die-hards salivating for next season, but for basketball fans in Los Angeles, next season looks like more of the same.

LAKERS

The Lakers arguably landed one of the best talents on draft night in former Ohio State point guard D’Angelo Russell. A 6-foot-5-inch scorer with long arms and great passing skills, Russell is the talent that the Lakers had had trouble landing over the last couple seasons.  He should at least make the Lakers entertaining to watch next season.

But that alone is probably not enough to translate into many wins for a team that last season lost the most games in the history of the franchise. The Lakers are in desperate need of at least one more star player to elevate them into even playoff contention.

Their main targets this offseason appear to be the big men: Portland Trailblazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge and Clippers center DeAndre Jordan.  These are all players who would certainly advance the Lakers rebuilding process, yet they are all unlikely to be in a Lakers uniform at the start of next season.

Aldridge and Jordan are players in the fortunate position to pick where they want to play for really the first time in their professional careers, and there are simply better situations out there for them.  Both players have been on teams that are mainstays in the playoffs the last handful of years.

Things might be different if they were simply choosing among bad teams with lots of cap space.  Throwing in teams like the Spurs, Rockets, and Mavericks, which all plan to be in the bidding for the top free agents, complicates matters for the Lakers.

The Lakers sales pitch to join a team that has missed the playoffs the last two seasons, has a star that has been unable to finish the last three seasons and only has enough cap room to sign one top-flight free agent just can’t compete with teams that can immediately vault into title contenders with one signing.

Why be the one guy hoping that things fall into place in the future, when you can be the guy securing the present for a franchise that is closer to the top of the league right now?

It seems like the Lakers’ best chance of becoming relevant again will come after next season, when Kobe Bryant’s massive $25 million contract expires and the salary cap is expected to jump to almost $90 million (from this season’s projection of $67 million).

Next summer will make for an easier sell to free agents, with the Lakers having the salary space available to sign two top free agents, a couple of young emerging players and plenty of players ready to shake up the NBA.

Stay warm Laker fans, because it looks to be another lean winter in Lakerland.

 

CLIPPERS

It would be hard to look at the Clippers the last four seasons and not call the run Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan have been on a success.  It is a run that has produced the three best seasons in the history of the franchise and made them into something resembling title contenders.

Yet it is also a run that has seen the team stall out in the second round of the playoffs three of the last four seasons (losing in the first round in 2012-13). This season might have actually hurt Clippers fans the most, losing to the Houston Rockets in seven games after taking a 3-1 lead in the series (new owner Steve Ballmer certainly looked heartbroken).

The Los Angeles Clippers' DeAndre Jordan, right, is fouled by the Houston Rockets' Pablo Prigioni while driving to the basket in Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals on Sunday, May 17, 2015, at the Toyota Center in Houston.

Wally Skalij | Los Angeles Times | TNS
The Los Angeles Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan, right, is fouled by the Houston Rockets’ Pablo Prigioni while driving to the basket in Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals on Sunday, May 17, 2015, at the Toyota Center in Houston.

The Clippers seem to be stuck on a plateau, with nowhere to climb up to. Because while they built their team around three really good players, NBA rules say that a team has to play five on the court at the same time.  Finding those other two has been a bit of a struggle.

The team has simply been rotating players in and out for the last few years, praying that the team will be something more than the sum of its parts.

The Clippers have run through a litany of players that have been in the starting lineup next to their all-stars: Chauncey Billups, Randy Foye, Caron Butler, Willie Green, Jared Dudley, Matt Barnes, Darren Collison, Jamal Crawford and J.J. Redick.

The team is hoping it will be able to add another name to that list in newly acquired swing player Lance Stephenson. Stephenson was picked up from Charlotte Hornets in a trade for Matt Barnes and Spencer Hawes. Hawes was last season’s answer to what ailed the Clippers, with the team signing him in free agency.  Yet Hawes quickly fell out of favor with coach Doc Rivers and averaged a paltry seven minutes in the playoffs.

Lance Stephenson is a very talented player and is not even 25 years old yet. In looking at what he is capable of on the court, there is every reason to expect that he will add to the Clippers fortunes for next season, until you look off the court.

The Hornets signed Stevenson just last season, which should make it a huge red flag that a team as bad as the Hornets would be willing to give up on a player that young and talented. Rumors of fighting with teammates and coaches and a huge dip in shooting led to Stevenson starting in only 25 games for Charlotte last season.

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