Next steps for Los Angeles Lakers
Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James. Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Next steps for Los Angeles Lakers: Find a coach, deal with Bronny conundrum

Sometimes, you simply run into a juggernaut that's impossible for your team to beat. The Los Angeles Lakers, for example, couldn't get past the Denver Nuggets in the playoffs the past two seasons.

Last season, that elimination came via a sweep in the Western Conference Finals. This season, it came in the first round. Game by game, both series were competitive, but Denver eked out wins, twice thanks to winning baskets by Jamal Murray. (Lakers fans will see him in their nightmares for the foreseeable future.)

Less than a week after Denver sent Los Angeles home, the Lakers fired head coach Darvin Ham and the coaching staff. Big changes are already occurring in L.A. 

Coaching search

Potential head coaches won't be chomping at the bit to take over Ham's seat. 

In two seasons — his first two as a head coach — Ham coached the Lakers to a Western Conference Finals and an in-season tournament win. Is there a coach in the world who would have beaten Denver with this Lakers team in either playoff series the past two seasons?

Absolutely not.

Ham had this team performing about where they realistically should have. You can even argue that a WCF appearance was an overachievement. But the Lakers still showed him the door, a common theme for this franchise recently. A position that looks glamorous on the surface is, realistically, anything but.

Though it would be hilarious, it doesn't seem likely the Lakers (47-35 in the regular season) will again hire a first-time head coach to lead a veteran roster that includes James in his twilight years as an NBA player. 

Not so flexible

Los Angeles has more than $170 million of cap space already accounted for next season, assuming James opts into his player option for 2024-25. The Lakers aren't in cap hell, but there won't be any max players heading to Tinseltown this offseason. 

Could Los Angeles pick up a player from among pending free agents Buddy Hield (76ers in 2023-24), Tyus Jones (Wizards) or Jonas Valanciunas (Pelicans)? Probably. But the core of this roster is mostly set for at least another season.

The Bronny conundrum

Potential second-round picks or undrafted free agents aren't usually a pressing story for big-market NBA teams, but Bronny James is an exception. James' eldest son is draft-eligible, and LeBron has been pretty overt about his desire to play with him, setting up a fascinating NBA Draft.

Bronny was originally considered a lottery talent, but a rough year at USC sent him tumbling down draft boards and maybe even off them completely. 

But what if a second-round pick — even one who is not likely an NBA talent — comes with LeBron James? That's a worthy investment. Will L.A. spend a pick on Bronny? Will another team reach for him in an attempt to pry LeBron from L.A.? 

This is an unprecedented story in NBA history, one that will throw a wrench into the offseason no matter how it shakes out.

The big picture

This is a good team, one that will likely make the playoffs again next season and perhaps even win a series. But there's a sizable chasm between these Lakers and the Nuggets, Celtics or even the Timberwolves. 

Plus, no clear path exists for these Lakers to reach the level of those teams next season. That isn't to say they should abandon ship and try to usher in a new era of Lakers basketball. A good team is just a few lucky breaks away from making a playoff run. 

However, hoping a new coach or a few mid-level free agents will elevate this team to contention won't end well.

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