Saturday, June 19, 2010
Your offseason primer: 10 early questions
By Brian Kamenetzky
What, you think it's a little too soon to look ahead? Still basking in the glow of Thursday's win? C'mon, it's been three days already. Quit living in the past!
I kid. Starting with Monday's parade and a week of exit interviews, we'll have plenty of opportunities to reflect and celebrate another title run. But the offseason is indeed upon us, and with it a whole host of issues ready to play themselves out over the coming weeks and months.
Here's a look at 10 of the biggest questions facing the Lakers this summer.
1. So... seriously, Phil Jackson is coming back, right?
Is there any other outcome at this point? Any lingering inclination from some inside the organization Jackson may not be worth the money he commands or that the team had tuned him out were squashed with a second straight Larry O. Jackson isn't going to coach in another city, and so all standing between P.J. and a run for a staggering fourth three-peat is an incident free trip to the doctor's office and a negotiation with Dr. Buss that, like Lamar Odom's last summer, has no suitable outcome for either party but a signed contract.
2. What about Derek Fisher?
Here's another situation where both parties are better off with each other. Fisher has more value to the Lakers than any other team in the league. His role in the locker room, as a balance to Kobe Bryant, an on-floor professor emeritus of the offense, and so on serve needs very specific to the Lakers. Meanwhile, Fisher isn't going to find a place where he'll a) win, and b) have a reasonably sized role in the rotation if he leaves L.A. Other teams around the league would value him more for his leadership than skills, and the best squads already have their leaders. Fish won't leave just to mentor younger players on a middling team, even for a little more money.
If Jackson is back, Fisher is back. If Jackson isn't back, which he will be, Fisher is still probably back.
3. Well, even if Fish returns, they'll need some help at the guard spot, right? Who can they get?
Assuming Fisher is re-signed, he'll likely start, but the Lakers will absolutely want to build up their depth in the backcourt. Big ticket free agents are out -- Kobe, Pau Gasol, and Andrew Bynum alone nearly put the team over the salary cap -- so all that's left are the mid-level exception, low money deals like the veteran's minimum, and possible trades. Among FA's, names likely to be connected to L.A. include Steve Blake, Earl Watson, Raymond Felton, and Luke Ridnour. Of those, Blake makes the most sense. He's a smart passer and ball handler, a willing defender, and is easily the best shooter in the bunch.
A lot depends on how much the Lakers are willing to spend. If they are unwilling to use their mid-level, as reported by Broderick Turner of the L.A. Times, the Lakers may have to aim lower than Blake. Truthfully, the pickings are fairly slim at the bottom end of the pool.
4. Among the rest of the team's free agents, who comes back?
Shannon Brown has a player option for next season, and could either exercise it, opt out and sign with another team, or opt out and try to create a longer term deal with the Lakers. He'd like to stay and the coaching staff likes him, but if another team makes him an offer with which the Lakers can't compete (whether in years or dollars) he could go. Josh Powell seems a likely candidate to return, given his familiarity with the system, work ethic, and popularity in the locker room, but again, finances and potential opportunities offering Powell either more playing time or long-term security than he might get in L.A. will be important factors.
A return for Jordan Farmar would be pretty surprising. He wants to play in a different system where he'll earn more PT and freedom, and the Lakers are happy to let him go. Adam Morrison is gone, and D.J. Mbenga is almost certain to leave as well.
5. What about trades? Who are the most likely candidates to be packaged in a deal?
It's safe to say Bryant and Gasol won't be dealt. Despite his Game 7 heroics, Ron Artest's contract/eccentricities/advancing age aren't likely appealing to other teams even if the Lakers wanted to trade him, which they don't. Luke Walton has three more seasons left on his deal, making him almost impossible to trade. Sasha Vujacic will enter the '10-'11 season on the final year of his deal, and since every expiring contract (he'll make almost $5.5 million) constitutes a trade chip, his name will blow in the trade winds. But if the Lakers move Vujacic they'd have to get some sort of back court help in return, or risk leaving themselves frightfully thin at the guard spot. He'll likely be back, with a chance to earn more playing time and the Lakers reserving the right to flip him at next year's deadline if need be. Given his up and down season, it's not totally inconceivable the Lakers would move Odom in the right deal... but it's hard to figure out why or under what circumstances, and the odds of it actually happening seem too small to talk about.
6. You forgot one guy. What about Andrew Bynum? Is the Bynum-for-Chris Bosh thing a possibility?
It's best to observe a strict "believe it when you see it" policy when it comes to blockbuster trades in the NBA. That said, there's been enough chatter about this one to make it a possibility. We'll weigh the pros and cons down the road, but fair to say there will be no Lakers-related rumor watched more closely among fans than this one. (One quick note: Bynum may not be the easiest guy in the league to trade, or at least shouldn't be. His injury history makes him a risk, and even if he stays healthy represents a nightmare for a GM two years from now when his contract is up. Assuming he's as productive as most believe he'd be in a system where he's more a focal point, Bynum would demand an expensive, long-term deal, but the injuries will still be pretty tight in the rear-view mirror. A team would either have a cornerstone or a millstone. Sounds like a fun decision to make.)
7. Sounds like you're not banking on many changes this summer.
Wouldn't shock to see Bynum move, but no, not within the core group.
8. What about the draft?
The Lakers don't have a first-round pick this season -- it went to Memphis in the Gasol deal -- but do have two second-rounders, picks 43 and 58. Unlike last season, where their draft slots came with a "for sale" sign attached, this season the Lakers seem likely to keep at least one pick on the roster, given all the holes they have to fill in the back end of the roster. If you're curious who might be available, check out this mock from the fine folks at www.nbadraft.net.
9. What Western Conference team has the best chance to improve this offseason?
Oklahoma City, already on the rise, has two first round picks (21, 26) and two more second rounders (32, 51) to play with in the draft. Add about $16 million in cap space, and GM Sam Presti has more than enough to fill in some of the gaps -- most notably frontcourt strength -- exposed by the Lakers in the first round. With Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook as headliners and solid-with-upside types like James Harden, Jeff Green, Serge Ibaka, and Thabo Sefolosha behind them, OKC doesn't need to spend for a star if inclined to spend at all. Role players and veterans will do the trick. Add the natural improvement you'd expect from a roster this young, and it's not unreasonable to expect the Thunder to jump to the top half of next year's playoff bracket.
10. If the status quo rules the day, will the Lakers still be good enough to three-peat?
Everyone gets a year older, and health will definitely be a concern (Bynum is guaranteed knee surgery, Kobe seems a likely candidate for a procedure or two, and others could follow), but assuming rival GM's don't pull some serious rabbits from their collective hats, the Lakers will enter next season as favorites to again win the Western Conference. Pending the results of this summer's free agent jamboree, they'll likely be favored to win the whole clambake.
In short, this is as good a year as any to plan a vacation. The proverbial house should still be standing when you return.