HOOPSWORLD.COM: Though time has passed since the Los Angeles Lakers were bounced from the playoffs by the Phoenix Suns, the wounds are still store. With both Kobe Bryant and Coach Phil Jackson urging management to improve the roster; the Lakers are at a crossroads.
Bryant is in his prime and holds a 2009 opt out allowing him to walk away if he’s dissatisfied with the franchise’s progress. Along with his First Team All Defense award, Bryant was just named First Team All NBA. It’s difficult to anticipate how many dominant seasons he has left in him but if LA doesn’t improve . . . those years may not be with the Lakers.
Coach Phil Jackson is already going into the last year of his contract. Though an extension has been discussed, he appears hesitant to sign long term if the front office can’t give him a roster of players that he can win with.
The question for General Manager Mitch Kupchak and Vice President of Player Personnel Jim Buss . . . how do you turn a team that won 42 games that is well over the salary cap into an elite, championship caliber team?
Though it may not seem like it, especially after the loss to the Suns, the Lakers do have some strong building blocks in Bryant, Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum.
Odds are they will bring back Luke Walton, though he will explore free agency.
The main question marks are at point guard and center. Smush Parker will not return. Jordan Farmar and Bynum are both too young to be counted on in the short term to bring the Lakers to the title. Presently there is no one on the roster (and probably none to be had with the 19th pick in the draft) who can man the point full time next season.
LA will have to look to acquire a guard either through free agency or through trade. With just their mid-level exception to spend, the team may not be able to dramatically improve at the one without an out of the box solution.
Bynum is the heart of the Laker dilemma this summer. Can they afford to wait for their youth to develop while carrying a player of Kobe Bryant’s caliber?
While there are very few young, impact centers in the league . . . the NBA is moving away from the traditional inside out game. Will Bynum end up a 20+ ppg, 10+ rpg with 2 bpg in a year? Two or three? Ever? Can he learn to be a significant force defensively in that time?
Or is there a big man that LA can acquire who is already averaging those numbers . . . who is a little bit older, likely more expensive and in a situation that might make him available?
That’s the rub . . . older and their bodies starting to break down? Expensive enough to cripple the Lakers’ financial flexibility and destroy their already questionable depth?