Over the last two seasons, Josh Powell hasn't played heavy minutes, but has made a positive impression on coaches and teammates, understandably so. Powell is hard-working, competitive in practice, and a positive influence in the locker room. He managed to carve out an important role in the culture of the team, something not easily done by players outside of the regular rotation. But more than anything, people appreciate Powell because he takes nothing about his career for granted, having played in Russia, Italy, the D-League, and four NBA teams in three seasons before catching on with the Lakers.
It's impossible not to respect the work required for Powell to earn and keep a place in the NBA. His is a tough role, where minutes are inconsistent but performance is expected when they come and the natural, competitive desire for more playing time has to be balanced with the need for professionalism and team chemistry.
As you'll see in the video, he'd like to remain a Laker. So would his teammates, but won't be that simple. Money has been a front-burner issue for the Lakers for a while, as they've cut costs around the organization and in the payroll whenever possible (trading Chris Mihm, flipping Vlad Radmanovic (not just about money, but not not about money), replacing Ronny Turiaf with Powell, etc.) while spending huge amounts on their high-end players.
Powell won't cost much. He made about a million this season, and could probably be brought back for something similar next year. From a purely basketball sense, re-signing him is basically a no-brainer. He knows and understands his role, and is willing and capable of playing it. But at the same time, when everyone is healthy Powell doesn't play much, including only 40 minutes in the playoffs. Someone, perhaps 58th pick Derrick Caracter, could fill his role. Probably not as well, but at half the price. (Of course, it's also possible they fill the slot with a superior player, depending on how the market shakes out.) And with the luxury tax, $500K in savings represents a $1 million for Dr. Buss.
The Lakers don't have many options available for trimming salary, particularly at the top of the rotation. Lamar Odom's name- and more importantly his salary- have reportedly popped up on the chopping block. (As I noted in my offseason overview, I don't think L.O. will be traded, for a few reasons.) That leaves the back end.
It's possible to look at J.P. as the canary in the coal mine regarding L.A.'s payroll. Probably too dramatic, but certainly possible. Deciding the insurance Powell provides isn't worth a million-and-change could be instructive, but the Lakers may simply decide that money is better spent shoring up the backcourt, obviously a more pressing need. In the end, I think the team will write enough checks to make sure the team is where it needs to be. They always do... but every payroll has its limits.
On a personal level, I hope Powell is back. First of all, I like him. Don't let the subdued nature of his interviews fool you- when the cameras aren't on, Powell has a very good sense of humor and an engaging personality. More importantly, I have a great deal of respect for him, think he's done a good job in his role, and don't see the cost as prohibitive. I'm also very good at spending other people's money. Either way, Powell's future shapes up to be an interesting subplot in what is sure to be an intriguing offseason balancing the competitive and financial considerations for an elite NBA team.