The Lakers are a storied NBA franchise. They've won 16 titles, been to the Finals 15 more times, played in the playoffs 60 times out of 66 seasons, and hold some of the best records to date. For example, they hold the record for most consecutive wins in a season (33) and the best playoffs record (15-1 in 2001). Considering who they beat in 2001 to win the title, that record is even more impressive. On a way to 93.8% winning percentage in the playoffs, the Lakers swept the Blazers, the Kings and the Spurs, and lost just one game to Philadelphia in the Finals. Last year, they missed the playoffs for just the sixth time in franchise history. This year, things are even worse. However, the franchise has always managed to snag the best players. Their future looks bright, but in 2 or 3 years at least.
The draft options
Lakers rarely get a high draft round pick. The last time they picked in the top 10, they choose Andrew Bynum at 10 with their first round pick. Last year, they picked 7th, and got Julius Randle. Sadly, their promising young power forward hurt his foot, and is out for the season. If they manage to stay bad, and pick 1-5, they will have their own first round pick in the 2015 draft. They also might get the Rockets pick, since it is protected 1-14 in 2015. Considering that the Rockets are playoffs bound, that pick goes to the Lakers. In 2016, they have their own first round and second round pick.
The free agent route
Next summer, the Lakers will be armed with cap space. They have $47 millions reserved for contracts, and with the cap projected to be somewhere between 66-70 million, they might have around $20 million in cap space. Next year's free agent class includes some interesting options like Rajon Rondo, Marc Gasol, Lamarcus Aldridge, Kevin Love (player option), Goran Dragic (player option), Kawhi Leonard (restricted free agent).
However, the more likely scenario for the Lakers is to save their cap space for the summer of 2016. That is the summer when the cap space is projected to sky rocket, since the new deal between NBA and TNT kicks in. At the moment, the Lakers have just $9 million committed in salary for the 2016-2017 season. The two players they signed till then are Nick Young and their rookie Julius Randle. If we add the cap for a first round pick from next year, and some other minimum contract deals, the Lakers are looking at potentially $50-70 million in cap space. With those money, they can offer two or three max contracts. And in 2016, Kevin Durant becomes a free agent. Other notable names include Al Horford, Joakim Noah, Nicolas Bathum, Mike Conley, Demar Derozan, and possibly Chris Paul and Dwight Howard.
When can they contend?
Realistically, the Lakers can contend for a title starting from the 2016-2017 season. If they manage to sign two max players, they will be contender by then. All of that depends on Kobe, and whether he will retire, or decide to play few more seasons. If he stays, his reputation might hurt the Lakers.