Where the Lakers Go From Here

Title: Where the Lakers Go From Here
Date: June 21, 2008
Original Source: Hoops Addict
Synopsis: This Hoops Addict article took a look at what the Los Angeles Lakers would do from here to follow up on their 2008 NBA Championship loss to the Celtics..

So it’s over. The Lakers lost. So close, but so far, as they fall four games to two via an embarrassing loss in Game 6 to the Boston Celtics. What now for the Lakers? The offseason has begun, and you can rest assured the Lakers are not content with a 2nd-place finish.

The questions about this offseason start with Kobe Bryant. Luckily, they’re not the same questions everyone focused on last year. That is, Kobe has absolutely no right to request or demand a trade from a team that made it to the Finals without one of their best players. The question surrounding Kobe is more about him, and whether he lost some of his usual fire towards the end of this run. The normally stern and cold Bryant laughed too much and took over too little in the finals, and it’s entirely possible that being a team-player for 103 games took some of his individual edge off. Then again, upon reading something like this Kobe could instantly return to Black Mamba. I have no doubt that these questions will be answered early on in 2008-09, because rest assured, Kobe Bryant is still the same Kobe Bryant.

So the questions, then, about the Lakers surround the rest of the roster. The major move the Lakers will make is getting Andrew Bynum back from knee injury. The re-addition of one of the team’s key pieces acts almost like a big signing, anyways, and the team will finally get a chance to pair Bynum with Gasol to form a nasty duo in the paint. Byrant, Gasol and Bynum are here for the time being and could be a great threesome heading into next year.

And then there is a fourth. It seems that Lamar Odom is rumoured to be moving every offseason and at every trade deadline, especially since joining the Lakers. The situation with Odom is a tough one, because his trade value and actual value are both unclear. While Odom’s numbers are always strong, he seems to have a bit of a bad reputation when it comes to effort and commitment. Additionally, Odom trade rumors usually surround package deals, and the open-market value for just Lamar Odom is speculative at best. With just one year, at $14M, remaining on his contract, he is a valuable piece for the Lakers no matter what, and he should probably be retained unless a jaw-dropping deal comes along. He might be the best fourth option in the NBA, and even if he proves to not be a fit with Gasol and Bynum, his huge expiring contract could be extremely valuable near the trade deadline.

Outside of their primary stars, the Lakers are a team abound with options. Chris Mihm and Trevor Ariza will probably cash in their player options at $2.8M and $3.0M, respectively. Coby Karl’s contract probably won’t be picked up, just for roster considerations. Finally, Sasha Vujacic is a restricted free agent. Vujacic might be the toughest decision the Lakers make this offseason. While he has earned a reputation as a scorer and a pest, Vujacic is still fairly raw and prone to mistakes. He may fit better on a team with time to wait for him to develop, and the Lakers could probably replace his contributions, except maybe the 43.2% three-point shooting.  With a $2.6M qualifying offer, teams may throw the entire mid-level exception at Vujacic in this guard-deprived offseason. With $70.7M already committed to 10 players, it would be difficult for the Lakers to match an offer that high.

That would leave the team with Jordan Farmar manning the point alone, unless the team re-sgisn Derek Fisher, which is a distinct possibility. At this point, Fisher seems the type to accept the veteran’s minimum or bi-annual minimum exception, and he and Farmar have shown that they can be a serviceable point guard duo. The team would probably want to add at this position, still, and any addition would probably come via the trade market given their financial inflexibility. The Lakers would have plenty of pieces to move, including the affordable Luke Walton and Odom’s aforementioned contract.

The Lakers are without a draft pick and without cap space, a dire situation for most any other team. Still, like the Celtics and Spurs, a chance to play for a championship contender with the incredible core the Lakers already have in place should be enticing to any veteran free agents.

So the Lakers are faced with a more comfortable offseason position than most. They know this team can win at a playoff level, they essentially re-acquire blossoming big man Andrew Bynum, and they have the pieces in place to make a trade or attract veteran free agents. With the West as good as it is and improving as fast as it is, it will be imperative for the Lakers to decide on a course quickly and but that game plan into action around Mamba and Co.

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