How the Lakers should rebuild

Franchise faces an unprecedented and critical offseason in 2014

Updated: September 11, 2013, 5:10 PM ET
By Bradford Doolittle | ESPN Insider

 Pau Gasol and Kobe BryantGary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY SportsCould Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak sign Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant to the veteran's minimum?

The Los Angeles Lakers don't rebuild. That's been true since their early days back in Minneapolis, when the franchise nickname made sense, and it's been true through the eras of George Mikan, Jerry West, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson and Kobe Bryant.

The latest projection from my ATH system has the Lakers with 34 wins in the coming season, and the system's most recent round of simulations had Los Angeles making the postseason in three of 1,000 replays of the season. ESPN.com's Summer Forecast also has the Lakers finishing 12th in the West, much to Bryant's chagrin. In other words, Los Angeles could be headed for their first single-digit draft slot since taking James Worthy first overall in 1982. If you think my projection is an aberration, be aware that I've seen other projections. It's not.

That's just scratching the surface of the Lakers' woes. Depending on how the standings fall, Los Angeles could be without its first-round picks in 2015 and 2017, and wont' have a second-round pick in three of the next four seasons. The team's top three players -- Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol -- have a combined 46 years of NBA mileage under their collective belt, and all three have undergone some kind of surgery over the past year.

On the bright side, before he was hurt last season, Bryant was as good as ever, averaging 27.3 points on the third-best true shooting percentage of his career. And the Lakers' long-clogged salary cap is about to finally come unstuck, with only Nash due significant guaranteed money after 2013-14. The coming flexibility will coincide with what could be a major shuffling of power in the NBA, with the loaded 2014 draft class and a sparkling free-agent market in the offing.

With a roster headed by three future Hall of Famers, it's certainly not out of the question that L.A. outperforms its dire statistical forecast. However, if and when the season goes south, how can general manager Mitch Kupchak bring the luster back to Los Angeles?