First off, I know losing in the NBA Finals was painful for all of us. But, who really expected us to be here in October? For now lets just say the journey has begun, not ended. With that said, we do have some roster moves that we need to figure out for the off-season.
Sasha Vujacic and Ronny Turiaf will be restricted free agents this Summer. Trevor Ariza and Chris Mihm have player options. D.J. Mbenga, Ira Newble, and Coby Karl will all be unrestricted free agents. Plus, there is the looming extension that Andrew Bynum will need. There is also the draft, but Joe Crawford will most likely come to training camp with us and be cut or see very little playing time.
Let’s start with our own free agents. For all I care, Mbenga, Newble (don’t even know why we signed him in the first place), and Coby Karl can all walk; they just take up roster spots. Chris Mihm exercised his player option since no one else is going to pay him $2.5 million. That’s okay since I think once he gets consistent playing time, he can be a nice big man off the bench. Ariza also exercised his player option, which is awesome. Once healthy and in playing shape and rhythm, I expect to see the Ariza who once flew over Grant Hill on Christmas.
Sasha Vujacic and Ronny Turiaf might be tricky…
Lets start with Sasha. Except for Game 3 of the Finals, he played terrible and Ray Allen just destroyed him. He did play well against Manu in the Western Conference Finals, but Manu was injured and shot the ball terribly. Sasha has put his work in and played his best season as a pro. He went from being an 11 o’clock player to The Machine in one season. That being said, we should resign him because we do need him to stretch out defenses and his a good player to have off the bench. If he is offered something ridiculous on the open market, it will be tough to match that deal since we are already over the salary cap. We should not pay more than $5 million per season. I do expect him to be back though, he does love L.A.
Next, Ronny Turiaf. Turiaf also did not look good in the Finals. But, he is the energy guy off the bench and he was playing out of position at the 5 for most of the year. He is really a 4 man and has a very good relationship with everyone on the team. He helps bring the team together and is really a player we cannot lose. I am afraid that someone will offer him a good amount of money that will be hard for us to match. I do remember the GM of the 76ers saying he really liked Turiaf after the Lakers played them in January. That was the game Turiaf started cause Lamar Odom was suspended. Turiaf loves being a Laker and the organization did stand by him during his surgery a few years ago. I am sure he will be back.
Here is the big problem that I see for next season. We are going to have 4 small forwards. With Bynum coming back, we are going to move Odom over to the 3 spot and we will also have Ariza, Luke Walton, and Vlad Rad on the bench who can play the 3. To move Walton or Vlad will be tough since both of their contracts are terrible and no one would want to trade for them based on that alone.
I feel we should try to trade one of them and I believe Vlad Rad is the more likely to go because Phil really likes Luke and his high basketball IQ (I know we have been saying this for years, but lets hope he puts in a lot of work over the summer). We really need to get rid of one of them because I see Ariza getting a lot of playing time off the bench next year because of his defense and slashing ability that is great for the triangle. If not, then we are going to have a player on the bench who makes about $5 million for doing nothing. Obviously we can slide Odom over to the 4 at times, but he will be our starting small forward at the start of next season.
In terms of free agency, we only have the Mid-Level Exception and we really should not be giving out the full MLE since we have to pay Bynum real soon. We need to start to think about how we are going to move forward with this team. I know Odom is going to be a $14 million expiring contract next year, but if everything works out with Bynum, Gasol, and Odom, we are going to want to resign him. Also, we have Jordan Farmar who is going to need an extension in two seasons and I really believe he will be our starting point guard in the future. There are not many free agents on the market who will be looking for the MLE.
We do need a defensive minded player such as a Ron Artest or James Posey, but they both play small forward and we already have way too many of those. We could always use our Bi-Annual Exception on Kwame Brown (I am completely kidding, he should not be anywhere near the Lakers). Baron Davis should NOT be discussed. He is not what we need. We are set at the point guard position. I feel that if we lose Sasha (by the way, who knew that his real name is Alexsandar), we should go after Mickael Pietrus. He can be the replacement for Sasha if need be. People are already starting to say he can be a Bruce Bowen type of player, which is what this team needs. Other than those moves, nothing major should occur this off-season.
Mitch Kupchak has some work ahead of him this summer because of our good play, but it is a good problem to have. We will be better with Baby Bynum back in the middle, but we have some short-term and long-term contracts to think about. I think after what Mitch did this season with the trades for Ariza and Gasol, along with his draft picks playing better, we can all be reassured that he will make the right moves to keep this team in Championship contention and bring home a title for all of us.