HANG TIME WEST – Just in case the Lakers don’t have enough hot spots to deal with, the 2013-14 schedule opens next week with every starter save Steve Nash, and possibly the entire rotation except for Nash, heading toward free agency. This creates the potential of a locker room full of players going for individual numbers to pad their resumes in preparation for next July 1.
“It’s pretty unique,” Nash said. “I guess it’s a unique situation and a bit of a strange one. But at the same time, I think it’s real important that we find the chemistry. You don’t want it to feel transient. You want this year to feel legitimate and guys feel like they’re really getting an opportunity to audition for the future and that they’ve built a great team this year at the same time.”
The Lakers insist there is no issue — players will be professional, won’t be selling out the team approach as part of a contract drive, etc. Of course, it’s easy to say that now. If the losses start piling up and the mood goes bad, infections spread.
Nash has two seasons left on his deal and Nick Young has this season and 2014-15 at a player option, meaning he can declare himself a free agent (and almost certainly would) if he feels he can beat the $1.2 million due next season. Otherwise, the only Laker under contract beyond July 1 is second-year center Robert Sacre, who averaged 6.3 minutes a game last season. Elias Harris is another possible player under contract with a non-guaranteed deal after going undrafted out of Gonzaga.
“Actually, I think it’s easy, because we’ve got really good guys that know that they’re not going to be successful without the other guys,” coach Mike D’Antoni said. “They’re very attentive to what we’re doing and trying to buy in. It’s good. We’ve got a bunch of great guys. Whether they’re on their last year or not, they’re coming to play because they love to play basketball. You can see it in them. It’s a nice atmosphere.”
The key to avoiding players falling into a contract drive, he said, is “That guy won’t be playing a whole lot. It just kind of takes care of itself. They’re more professional than that. You’re not going to have anybody selfish playing.”
At least the biggest of the free agents is the least of the concerns. Kobe Bryant is not auditioning for the next job because he has said he will only play for the Lakers if he plays anywhere. Plus, he’s not auditioning because he’s Kobe Bryant.
While the timing of so many contracts expiring at once is a possible distraction — and also purposely timed — there is also the benefit of clearing major cap room in summer 2014 for free agents and the ability to take on big money in trades. They are not painted into a corner by deals. The Lakers are about to finally get under the cap and will do so just in time — with their championship hopes over and several big names about to hit the market.