The Lakers are at a crossroads. One troublesome fork with three main paths. On the left is the path of trading Kobe Bryant, keeping Andrew Bynum and the rest of the Laker party intact. On the right is the path of dumping Bynum and his potential future for a chance to win and win now. The middle path is the path of continuing forward, maintaining the current high tension conditions, hoping individual growth or minor additions will significantly improve the team. Which of these roads will lead to Laker treasure? How can we gain the necessary vision to reattain Laker glory? The crossroads we have come to is not a simple one, but here are ten essential questions to break things down and give the Laker situation sight.
1. How good would the Lakers be with a core of Kobe, Odom, and Jermaine O’Neal?
Within the Laker organization there is a push to keep Kobe here and fast forward to the future by obtaining Jermaine O’Neal. Indiana is hot for Bynum. Rumor has them asking for Odom as well, but insiders believe that they may back off that request. Given that Indiana becomes willing to accept Bynum plus Kwame and another player, where does that leave us? How good would a Kobe/O’Neal/Odom trio be? The West is tough. Would those Lakers reach the finals? If not, would Kobe still leave? Where would we be then?
If we’d reach the finals, turn right!
2. Could Jermaine O’Neal become available for a package not including Bynum?
The Lakers are loathe to part with Bynum, who’s potential is yet untapped. Is it possible they manage to get O’Neal without including Bynum? This solution would satisfy Laker factions and solve a lot of problems. But how likely is it?
3. How good is Andrew Bynum going to be?
Herein lies one of the major cruxes of the situation. Will Bynum become a dominant player, or merely a good one? If dominance is not his future, the Lakers are making a terrible miscalculation trying to hold him, but for a 19 year old he sure looks good.
If dominant, do not turn right!
4. Is there some minor acquisition that could push the Lakers over the top while they hold on to both Kobe and Bynum?
What lesser trade could make a major impact on the Lakers’ situation? Ron Artest has been mentioned. Trading Lamar Odom or Kwame Brown remain a possibilities. Is there a scenario where the Lakers could keep most of what they have while they significantly improve?
If so, stay straight!
5. How much free agent help will be available after the season?
Elton Brand, Baron Davis, Corey Maggette, Gilbert Arenas, Shawn Marion and Ron Artest all become potentially available after this season, to name a few. Can the Lakers make an acquisition which alters their fate and keeps Bryant in the fold? The Lakers will have five free agents of their own at that time, a reduction in salary in the neighborhood of $15 million. So there will be some interesting choices.
If the cap allows it, stay straight!
6. Is Kobe’s trade value diminishing?
Will we really get less from trading Kobe next summer than we would from trading him now? How much less?
If much less, increasing danger says turn left!
7. If we keep Kobe hostage for two years, waiting for our pieces to develop, can he really leave for nothing?
Will any major contender have $25 million available under the cap to snatch Kobe up without a sign and trade? How much are the Lakers really hurting their ability to get return by just waiting Kobe out? What might the Lakers be able to do two years from now with that much cap space if Kobe does, indeed, jump ship?
If the options look good, stay straight!
8. How fast is Kobe’s body breaking down?
Will Kobe still be one of the best players in the NBA in four or five years? Jordan was great for many years after age 29. He won an NBA title at 30, took almost two years off, and still led his team in scoring and won three more titles. However, besides playing more seasons than Jordan, Kobe has tendinitis in his knees. How quickly will Kobe’s skills decline?
If those knees are worse than we think, left!
9.If the Lakers trade Kobe and build around a Bynum/Odom/Farmar core, how good will they be?
Let’s suppose that the Lakers acquire Josh Howard and Jason Terry from the Mavericks or manage to pry Luol Deng and Ben Gordon away from the Bulls, where will that leave them? Will they be good? How long would it be before they once again tasted glory?
If it’s a long, boring haul, don’t turn left!
10. What’s the chance Kobe changes his mind and stays with us for more than two years?
What if Bynum improves quickly and the Lakers surprise? Maybe they do make some helpful, minor moves or a major free agent acquisition? Will Kobe still want to leave?
If Kobe is fickle, stay straight!
These questions are merely a beginning. Real answers don’t come quickly, but without the right questions, they don’t come at all. So let’s pose one last little query. If the Lakers fail to take action at the current time, do their options improve or degrade? Remember, there are three paths we can go by, but in the long run, is there still time to change the road we’re on?