24 May 2012

What is next for the Lakers? Could we see a major shakeup of Showtime?

It may be an end of an era for the Lakers. After a second consecutive playoff departure in the second round, with Kobe Bryant not getting any younger plus with the club having a tough cap situation in the near future, the future is not quite so bright for the Lakers. Not to mention the fact that the club had the lowest winning percentage since Kwame Brown was still getting major minutes for Showtime. So for the club, what is the next step?

It is clear that a move is coming, or at least from my perspective. When you have a stud troika like Bryant, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, which despite all their flaws is still a top trio, and when they are on the court they only outscore their opponents by a smidgen less than 3 points a game, that's not very good. Of course, you could point to the mediocre supporting cast but still, it shows that the core is not as great as it was when the club was winning titles. And once the team picks up Bynum's $15 million option for next season, they will have more than $80 million of salary on the roster, way north of the $58 million salary cap, which severely limits what the club can do, even if they use the amnesty clause on either Metta World Peace (due $15 million over next two seasons), which would leave a bad hole at small forward, or on either Steve Blake (due $8 million over the next two seasons). They still have the $8.9 million trade exemption acquired in the Lamar Odom trade to play around with and that could bring in a good player or maybe some picks but that alone won't fix the problem. This is an aging, slow team that cannot move forward with the current roster is made up. And the free agent class is very thin as is so it won't be easy to get a quick fix.

So all in all, that makes a trade likely. And the two main culprits for being shipped out of the City of Angels are Gasol, who despite being a consistent double-double threat and one of the best fours in the league but his play is on the downside and seems to have had some troubles of late with Bryant, and Bynum, who is supremely talented and has a really good 2011-12 but has clear questions of his maturity and his drive. Now the team could try to trade one to get an elite player in return, like the aborted Chris Paul deal or the much rumored Bynum for Dwight Howard deal, which would give Howard a somewhat depleted roster to come to, similar to what Shaquille O'Neal was coming to when he signed with LA before the club hit the home run in getting Bryant, or they could package one for multiple good players or even some high picks in what is being considered a very good NBA draft. It seems that unless it's a Howard deal that Gasol is the one to be heading out.

But the question must be asked how much the team could improve itself while it has the ridiculous expensive Bryant contract, as Beckley Mason of ESPN TrueHoop ponders. Bryant is still an elite player but his skills are going to decline in the coming years as it is to be expected for someone getting into his mid-30's. Bryant's contract gives him over $25 million this season, over $27 million in 2012-13 and when he is 35, he will rake in over $30 million in the 2013-14 season. Now you might say for such an elite player that kind of money is fair value, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Dwight Howard and Chris Paul all earn way less. Can the team with such a massive contract really build a strong contender next to him. Is there anyway that GM Mitch Kupchak would consider asking Bryant to waive his no-trade clause and shop him around the league or even drop the bomb and use the amnesty clause?

Now to be honest, I would stunned if the team parted ways with Kobe, after all he has done for this team and don't forget how everyone thought he was good as gone before he signed that massive deal. His value to the team makes him worth the money just from a leadership and a cultural standpoint, and getting rid of him would cause a fan revolt without question, and with the Clippers surging in popularity now, that's not something the Lakers want to risk. But it is something that could be considering as the team's run of glory is over and it could be a while before the next one begins.

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