Monday, May 21, 2012 Updated: May 22, 2:05 PM ET
Lakers need big changes
By Dave McMenamin ESPNLosAngeles.com
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol played what very well could be the last minutes of their Los Angeles Lakers career together yelling at one another. Both players let their exasperation get the best of them, as they couldn't even execute a simple pick-and-roll together, while the Oklahoma City Thunder were rubbing it in their faces by getting whatever they wanted on offense on the other end.
The shouts between Bryant and Gasol weren't as loud as the delirious din coming down from the Oklahoma City rafters as fans saw their Thunder team full of 20-somethings grow up before their very eyes, but they were just as significant an indicator about the state of the Lakers' franchise.
From almost being traded in the failed Chris Paul deal, to having to adjust to Mike Brown's system, Pau Gasol might be in flux once again.
Things are broken. That's blatantly evident after the Lakers' 106-90 Game 5 loss to the Thunder in the Western Conference semifinals Monday, knocking L.A. out of the postseason in the second round for the second straight season.
It's time to fix them.
Lakers management had the right idea before this lockout-shortened sardine tin of a season began by piecing together a blockbuster deal to ship Gasol and Lamar Odom out of town and acquire Chris Paul.
We all know how that turned out.
Time to go back to the drawing board. That means major changes.
Leave it to Metta World Peace of all people, who went from amnesty-clause fodder in the offseason to a reclamation project who seems to have a real future in Mike Brown's defense, to admit just what went wrong.
"We got to be committed to each other," World Peace said. "This year, we wasn't as committed collectively, and that hurt us a lot."
He wasn't referring specifically to the bickering couple of Bryant and Gasol, but it was clear this season that their commitment waned once their honeymoon phase from winning two titles and making three straight trips to the Finals was squarely in the rearview. Bryant publicly demoted Gasol to the third scoring option during the regular season and then called him out in the playoffs for not being the aggressive scorer he once was.
"It's been tough for me," Gasol said after finishing with 14 points and 16 rebounds in Game 5 but still catching flack from Brown after the game for not grabbing enough offensive boards. "I've been in a facilitating role most of the year. I've been pretty much the third option most of the year."
Bryant is still that No. 1 option, of course, and is as unmovable an object as exists in all of professional sports. It's not just because of his tremendous value to the Lakers with his skill set even as a 33-year-old, 16-year veteran, but because of what his star power and gravitas mean to the image that Lakers owner Jerry Buss wants his franchise to be all about. Bryant stated several times this season that he intends to retire a Laker and won't jump ship to chase ring No. 6 elsewhere.
Plus, he's owed $58.3 million over the next two seasons. He's not going anywhere.
That makes Gasol the first to go. Call up Houston. Call up Chicago. Call up Minnesota. Call up Orlando. See whether interest is still out there. Better yet, call up all 29 other teams and maybe even go the draft pick route. This year's draft is widely considered to be the deepest in nearly a decade.
Gasol turns 32 in July. He's played 11 years in the league plus put in a ton of time overseas playing for the Spanish national team. He averaged 12.5 points per game during the playoffs. History will show he was a vital piece of the Lakers' championship lore, but now is not the time for nostalgia.
He's the first domino. But then what?
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Do you extend Andrew Bynum or merely pick up his option and see what's out there?
Bynum had by far the best season of his seven-year career, but he also showed enough signs of immaturity and indifference that he's hardly a lock to be the figure piece the team wants to build around. He had just 10 points and four rebounds in Game 5, and his latest head-scratching incident, in which he left the court without congratulating the other team after the game.
"Change never bothered me," Bynum said after the game. "I'll play anywhere."
Maybe he'll get his wish.
And then what about Ramon Sessions? The Lakers' 26-year-old supposed point guard of the future, whom they plucked out of relative anonymity in Cleveland and inserted into the L.A. spotlight, just might not be the guy they hoped he'd be.
If Sessions decides against picking up his player option for next season, has he showed enough to prove he's the right fit at point to lead the Lakers back to the championship when they'll have to get through a league filled with Russell Westbrook, Paul, Derrick Rose and Rajon Rondo (and on and on) to get there?
"I probably didn't play to the best of my ability but it's one of those things that you live and you learn and just move on," Sessions said.
The Lakers might have learned to move on from the idea that he's their answer alongside Bryant in the backcourt.
And don't forget the bench that scored a whopping two total points in Game 5 with Matt Barnes, the Lakers' supposed best player off the pine, not even getting in the game. The Lakers have six bench players who will become free agents -- Barnes, Jordan Hill, Devin Ebanks, Troy Murphy, Andrew Goudelock and Darius Morris. Have any of those players shown enough to bring them back?
"I'm not the most patient of people, and the organization is not extremely patient, either," Bryant said after doing all he could, pouring in 42 points but still losing, reminding us all of the days post-Shaq and pre-Pau when that was his same fate. "We want to win and win now. I'm sure we'll figure it out. We always have, and I'm sure we will again."
The noise from the shouting has subsided, but a cacophony of questions has arisen.