But then they started looking a lot like the old Lakers, the ones that went 27-55 last season, after agreeing to deals with Nick Young (four years, $21.5 million) and Jordan Hill (two years, $18 million).
They apparently lost out in their spirited but unsuccessful free-agent bid for Carmelo Anthony and also said goodbye to a strong part of their past, Pau Gasol, who probably will play for a championship contender next season, be it San Antonio, Chicago or Oklahoma City.
First, the additions.
The Lakers acquired Lin and Houston's first-round pick next year, because the Rockets were desperate to unload him to make room for a maximum-contract offer to Chris Bosh, who then actually accepted one to stay with the Miami Heat.
Lin fit the Lakers' bill for a player with a short deal (one more year, $14.9 million), allowing them to maintain financial flexibility heading into next summer, when Kevin Love or LaMarcus Aldridge could become free agents. The year after that, Kevin Durant could become free as well.
But on Friday, the Lakers bought themselves four more years of "Swaggy P," the self-administered nickname supplied by Young, the good-natured, high-volume shooter who averaged a career-high 17.9 points last season and became a fan favorite on a team desperately seeking charisma amid its worst season since moving to Los Angeles.
It's hard to argue with the deal when the average NBA salary is about $5.5 million. The fourth year is a player option.
Then the Lakers gave center-forward Hill two years and $18 million, a surprising number for a player who averaged 9.7 points and 7.4 rebounds last season. It's a little more palatable with the Lakers' holding a team option for the second year of the deal, each year worth $9 million.
The Lakers are almost done with free-agent shopping. They have now committed about $56 million of the $63.1-million salary cap to Kobe Bryant, Robert Sacre, Lin, Young, Hill and Steve Nash, who the Lakers currently plan to keep instead of waiving him and spreading his $9.7-million salary over three years.
They will eventually sign rookie Julius Randle for about $3 million next season, which won’t affect the cap, and can keep Kendall Marshall and Jordan Clarkson on low minimum-salary contracts. They are also in the mix to bring back Ryan Kelly and Xavier Henry for inexpensive deals. Swingman Kent Bazemore has agreed to a deal with the Atlanta Hawks.
The Lakers could gain $2.7 million in additional spending power in an exception from the league if they brush up against the $63.1-million cap.
A little more than a week ago, the Lakers entertained Anthony for 2½ hours at their training facility but never got that one important thing from him — a commitment. Chicago or New York are expected to be his final destination.
There was also hope at the time that Gasol would stay with the Lakers and take more than a 50% pay cut from the $19.3 million he made last season. The Lakers' best offers were two years and $23 million or three years and $29 million, though Gasol wanted to play for a championship contender, and the unsuccessful attempt at Anthony didn't help.
Lin, who turns 26 next month, has one more year and $14.9 million remaining on his contract, though the cap number is actually $8.4 million because of a quirk in the NBA's collective-bargaining agreement.
The Rockets' first-round pick is protected to some degree, but the Lakers believe it will be theirs to use next June because Houston's record will be good enough to fall out of pick protection.
Lin was uncomfortably thrust into the spotlight last week while Houston courted Anthony by posting large electronic images of him wearing a No. 7 Rockets jersey outside its arena — but the number belonged to Lin, who was still under contract.
Lin responded on Twitter by referencing a biblical verse: "Luke 6:29 — If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them."
Young, 29, declined a player option for $1.2 million last month to become a free agent but wanted to stay with the Lakers all along.
"I've done hundreds of deals over the years but I'm not sure I've ever had one that I've been so excited about," Young's agent, Mark Bartelstein, told The Times. "This feels great. He certainly had a chance to make more money coming off the year he had but this is where he wanted to make his home."
Young, who played at Reseda Cleveland High and then USC, added on Twitter that "Swaggy is back" and "Great things to come for the Lakers."
That will be debated between now and the start of the season.
A stat to remember: The Lakers haven't missed the playoffs in back-to-back seasons since 1975 and 1976.
After praising the Lakers earlier this week for "going for it" in their courtship of Anthony and Gasol, Bryant was quiet on Twitter on Thursday. He turns 36 next month, coming off a season in which he played only six games because of injuries, and is a close friend of Gasol.
Bryant often stuck up for him, including last season near the trade deadline.
"I want Pau here. It's not even a question. It's not even a discussion," Bryant said at the time. "I think he gives us the best chance to win titles."
Hill, 26, is penciled in to take Gasol's place at center after playing well in bursts last season but sometimes struggling to maintain his high-energy approach while averaging only 20.8 minutes a game. He is on his third team since being selected eighth overall in the 2009 draft by New York.
"He has bounced around a bit but is looking for some stability in his career. He wants to be part of the [Lakers'] future," agent Bill Duffy said. "His heart and soul was maintained in L.A."
The Lakers' roster is finally taking shape, just not the one they envisioned a week ago.
Times correspondent Eric Pincus contributed to this report.