NEW YORK, NY – FEBRUARY 06: Jason Smith #14 and Carmelo Anthony #7 of the New York Knicks walk off the court after the game against the Brooklyn Nets at the Barclays Center on February 6, 2015 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.The Brooklyn Nets defeated the New York Knicks 92-88. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

The Knicks and Lakers are looking ahead to a possibly bright future

The New York Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers are undoubtedly two of the NBA’s most popular franchises, which probably has something to do with them being based in the United States’ two biggest cities. However, even as Madison Square Garden and the Staples Center continue to fill up to capacity, the respective product on the floor at both ends of the country is certainly substandard.

Right now, the Knicks hold the league’s worst record at 14-57 and will probably remain the mark of futility up until the regular season is over. J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert are now in Cleveland–with LeBron, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love — and Amare’ Stoudemire is in Dallas while Carmelo Anthony–who signed a five-year, roughly $130 million extension with the Knicks this summer — is on the bench with a knee injury that ended his season but didn’t prevent him from playing 30 minutes in February’s All-Star Game at MSG. Instead, former D-Leaguers Langston Galloway and Travis Wear and offensive/defense black hole Andrea Bargnani are some of the ragtag bunch attempting to “fill” the void.

The situation in Los Angeles isn’t much better, with Steve Nash’s injury and retirement — they gave up their potential lottery pick this season for 67 games of Nash–and Kobe’s season-ending shoulder injury forcing guys like Jeremy Lin and Ryan Kelly to take big roles. They’re 18-50, bad for fourth-worst in the league, and unless they finish outside of the top-5 in the lottery, won’t have a top draft pick in a stacked draft year (as long as the Rockets make the playoffs, their 2015 first-rounder goes to L.A.).

The only saving grace for these teams is that they each have some horrible contracts coming off the books this offseason, and possible stud rookies joining the fray through the draft.

The Knicks will finally be rid of Bargnani and his $11 million plus salary as Melo ($22.875 million), Jose Calderon, Shane Larkin (team option), Tim Hardaway, rookie Cleanthony Early and Galloway are the only players set to remain for the 2015-16 campaign. This means the organization will have loads of money to go after free agents such as Jimmy Butler (RFA), LaMarcus Aldridge (UFA), Goran Dragic (player option) and DeAndre Jordan (UFA), to name a few possibilities. Add this to their presumed top pick — Jahlil Okafor and Karl-Anthony Towns seem to be New York’s most desired options should it win the lottery–and New York has a chance to salvage the failed offseason trade of Tyson Chandler to Dallas and extremely expensive Melo extension.

For the Lakers, though, it’s a little more complicated. Obviously, Nash’s $9 million is gone as is the $8.3 million owed to Lin, who likely won’t re-sign with the Lakers, at least not without a massive pay cut. Also, 33-year-old Carlos Boozer’s contract is expiring and with Robert Sacre being an essential clone–in appearance and basketball ability–it’d be a little surprising if he re-signs.

This leaves Kobe–whose max deal ends after next season–Jordan Hill ($9 million, expiring at end of 2015-16), Nick Young, Julius Randle (who missed basically all of this season due to injury after being drafted 7th overall), Sacre, Ed Davis and some other role players on the Lakers roster. Like the Knicks, there will be more than enough money to pursue a few impact free agents, especially if L.A.’s first rounder is conveyed to the pick-crazed 76ers by the Lakers finishing sixth or worse in the lottery.

Right now, the Knicks and Lakers are both borderline unwatchable, with superstars sidelined due to injury and below-average replacements trying to help carry the load. But, the light at the end of the tunnel is bright and, possibly, not as far away as it may seem. With contracts expiring left and right and ping pong balls in their favor, these teams–along with one or two big free-agent signings–can turn their respective ships around in not too long a time.

The real question for Phil Jackson and Mitch Kupchak is what to do with Melo and Kobe. For the Knicks, Carmelo is signed for the near-future so the only way he’s leaving the Big Apple is through a trade, in which New York would certainly have to assume copious amounts of dead money.

However, for the Lakers, Kobe will, by all current estimations, be a free agent after next season. Will he pursue another ring elsewhere in the country? Will he pull a Dirk Nowitzki, and take a stunning salary reduction to improve L.A.’s flexibility? Or will he take the front office hostage for one final lavish payday? That answer can only be theorized at the moment, even though it may hold the key to how the Lakers’ rebuild progresses.

About Josh Burton

I'm a New York native who has been a Nets season ticket holder, in both New Jersey and now Brooklyn, since birth. Northwestern University (Medill School of Journalism) '18