It's hard to believe that we are a year removed from last summer and the debacle that was the Lakers Soap Opera of '07. Kobe seems content (for the time being) and at least on paper, the Lakers look poised to make another long playoff run in pursuit of championship number 15. It has also been a little less than a month since the Finals ended, and, to avoid getting off on a rant, I'll stick to the off-season story lines (though I will say that I love how analysts and reporters can so easily call something "physical defense" instead of calling it what it is). As far as this season goes, I'll break down each story one at a time.
Andrew Bynum and his desire for a max contract:
Andrew Bynum played a great first half of the season last year. He rebounded and defended the rim very well and was a big part of the success that the Lakers enjoyed, even though his minutes were limited. He also appeared to be IMPROVING as the season wore on, and was averaging 18.8 ppg, 12.8 rpg and 2.8 bpg while shooting 69% from the floor in 2008 before the game in which he was injured. A freak injury ended his season, but much in the same way that his play added to early success, his injury forced the Lakers to make the move for Pau Gasol and fueled thier second half success. Andrew Bynum is young and full of talent and potential, but let's be honest. He hasn't done enough to warrant the 5 year, $80 million contract that he desires. Remember, he started fast two seasons ago only to fizzle out as well. He needs to prove that he can do for the long haul before he gets that kind of money, in my opinion. He's also coming off of an injury, so there is no way to know how his body will react. There is no guarantee that he will come back and play to the level that he played before the injury. One thing that the Lakers could do is offer him a qualifying offer after next season and simply be prepared to match whatever long-term offer he gets. I don't see LA letting him walk, and they would have the ability to save some money if that were to happen. If nobody signs him, simply let him play out the qualifying offer and spend that season trying to get the long-term deal done.
Ronny Turiaf (probably) becoming a Golden State Warrior.
Obviously, if a team is going to lose a young talent, they would prefer that he would go to the Eastern Conference, or at least out of the division (as of now, the Lakers still have a few days to match the offer). No such luck in the case of Turiaf. I am never going to fault a guy for doing what is best for him, and this is no different. Turiaf is young energy guy who plays with a lot of heart and plays hard. I hate to see him go, but you can't blame him for taking the security of an extra 16 million and 4 years and the opportunity to play more minutes. His minutes would have been limited with Bynum returning, and this gives him the opportunity to grow and be a starter in the NBA. Unfortunately for the Lakers, they already have money wrapped up in the oft-injured Chris Mihm and they can't afford to keep Turiaf. DJ Mbenga returning is another possibility, but let's face it, he is little more tan 6 personal fouls. This really hurts the depth of the bench and takes away from the energy and enthusiasm that the Lakers have. The good news is that he was a role player, so they don't miss as much as losing a starter. But role players are what makes a team great, and losing him will hurt, even if he was invisible in the Finals. But, this is a business, and the Lakers can't afford to pay Turiaf that much money to play him 12 minutes a game.
Sasha Vujacic and the possibility of him leaving.
Sasha was offered a little bit more money, but was also only tendered a 1 year deal. LA has the opportunity to match any deal that he signs, but it will be interesting to see what they do. Sasha has said that he is going to work his tail off in the offseason and get ready to help LA get back to the NBA Finals. He is a great shooter when he is on, but he can be inconsistant and needs to work on his defense. He has to realize that he is not to get away with the touch fouls that some guys and teams get away with, but still needs to play inspired defense. He has good size and mobility and is an asset to any bench. I think LA will be more likely to match any deal that he gets, and that may be why he hasn't gotten much attention, but there is still a chance that they let him walk. If they do so, and I might sound crazy saying this, I honestly believe that Coby Karl can step in and fill the void that he leaves. Karl is a good shooter and is improving and has the will to work and earn his chance. He plays hard and can contribute if given the opportunity, in my opinion.
Lamar Odom is really an enigma. I am a big fan of his but I can't figure him out. He has top 5 talent, but he can't seem to put it all together. His inconsistancy has cost him and his team for years now, and it's time for him to start earning the money that he has been, and will continue to get paid. Game 4 of the NBA Finals is a perfect example of what Odom has been throughout his time in LA. He dominated the first quarter of the game, but was a non-factor for the rest of the game. That seems to happen a lot. He can look like the best player on the floor for stretches, or even for entire games, but he can't do it for an extended period of time. He can handle the ball as well as anybody his size in the league (and maybe ever), but he doesn't use it enough. He can rebound and defend, and he used to be able to shoot. I don't know what it is, but he seems very reluctant to take open shots on the perimeter. He usually pauses, and anybody who knows anything about shooting knows that one of the most important factors in shooting is rhythm. I don't if it's his confidence or what, but the guy could be an all star. He has that type of game but has never been able to put it together. It was first said that he would not be shopped and that the Lakers are determined to stand behind him and let him come back next season to show that he dedicated himself to playing tougher after being called soft in the Finals. If they do that, Lamar is hug expiring contract and could be used as trade bait during the season. I know it must be frustrating hearing your name in the papers all of the time, but that comes with playing as poorly as he has during stretches. His name has recently been linked to Ron Artest in trade rumors. I understand that Artest is a hard-nosed defender and a worker, but I've never been sold on his game. It may work out for the Lakers (if the proposed trade goes through), I'm not sure if it's going to help. Lamar, even when he's not playing his best games, is key to running the break and one of the things that makes the Lakers so dynamic is the fact that he can do so much. He can rebound very well and keys their fast break extremely well. Odom needs to work on his confidence and his ability to finish around the rim, though. I know I'm in the minority, but I would rather have Odom over Artest any day of the week. One thing that I would like to see, though(and although this is a HUGE longshot, I'm kind of suprised that it hasn't been explored), is Odom traded to Atlanta in a sign and trade for Josh Smith. Smith wants out Atlana and away from coach Woodsen, and LA can offer the Hawks a great player in return. The contracts are similar, and it would give both guys a fresh start on playoff teams. I know it won't happen, but it should be explored.
James Posey and the Lakers' interest.
Posey is another guy that I would love to see play for LA. I've always been a fan of his and, in my opinion, his play more than anybody elses won the Celtics the championship this season. He did all of the dirty work, hit big shots and just played hard throughout the Finals. I told friends of mine that he would be the difference in the series and, as I said before, I think he was. Jeff Van Gundy had the best comment that I heard about him. Van Gundy said (and I'm just paraphrasing here), that if he was still coaching, he'd love to have him on his team, but went on to say that he understands why other teams don't like him because he commits a foul after every whistle. Posey would be a great addition, but after the Lakers showed early interest, they have seemingly backed off. I know that Trevor Ariza can fill that type of role if healthy and given the opportunity, but that may be wishfull thinking. Luke Walton also takes up cap space and fills a role, but as I've stated before, I can't stand him and don't think that he is suited to play big minutes. Lamar Odom also factors into this equation. He is going to move to the 3 and play more minutes with the 2nd unit if he remains a Laker, and if he is traded it will almost certainly be for another small forward. That would limit what the Lakers could do with Posey, especially considering they have money wrapped up in Luke Walton.
Well, that's my take on things thus far. It's amazing that I made it all of the way through without talking much about Kobe Bryant. What I will say is that the Lakers need to get a more consistant scoring threat if they want to get over the hump win the championship next season. Teams know that the Lakers work through Kobe and taht, even though he may not always score, he is vital to what they do on offense. If he is taken out of the equation, the Lakers don't play well. As a Laker fan, I sincerely hope that they correct this problem. In any event, they are built to contend for years to come and hopefully they find a way to do so.