Kobe Bryant underwent surgery to repair his torn Achilles tendon on Saturday, less than 24 hours after suffering the injury. Although the surgery to fix Bryant seemed relatively quick and straightforward, the procedure to fix the Lakers will be much more lengthy and complicated.
They are hopelessly capped out and, as luxury-tax payers, have extremely limited avenues to improve a team that was struggling to secure the No. 8 seed for the Western Conference playoffs even with Bryant.
However, the Lakers are set up to have tremendous cap flexibility in 2014, when only Steve Nash and (assuming he agrees to a new contract) Dwight Howard will be on the books. That's the same offseason when, potentially, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh could all hit the free-agent market. Ideally, the Lakers would like to improve themselves as much as possible in the short term without jeopardizing any of their long-term flexibility.
On Saturday, I wrote about how the Lakers should release Bryant via the amnesty provision, which would bring the team payroll below the tax threshold. This would provide the franchise with immediate short-term tax relief and reinstate its ability to use the midlevel and biannual exceptions, as well as saving the Lakers from future repeater tax penalties.
By exercising their amnesty rights on Bryant, then waiving Nash in 2014 under the "stretch" provision, the Lakers can set themselves up to have almost $30 million in cap space in 2014. That's enough space to perhaps add one max free agent, and possibly still have enough left over to re-sign Bryant at a reasonable number.
Historically, the Lakers organization has been able to continuously attract marquee free agents and stay relevant as a title contender from generation to generation. The Lakers have signed Shaquille O'Neal as a free agent, traded for Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Howard, as well as acquired draft picks that turned into Magic Johnson, James Worthy and Bryant. These moves illustrate the Lakers' ability to repeatedly reinvent themselves. Taking the following steps will set up the Lakers for what could be an epic rebuild in 2014 and allow them to reinvent themselves once again.
Still, there's a 2013-14 season to be played, so here's how they can remain competitive next season without jeopardizing that dream 2014 offseason. For this exercise, we must assume two things: The Lakers have completed the Bryant amnesty and have re-signed Howard to the maximum allowable salary deal.