After back-to-back second-round playoff exits, the Los Angeles Lakers have a bunch of questions heading into the offseason, the most prevalent of which revolves around their core group of guys: Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum.
When the Lakers got swept in last year's Western Conference semifinals, a change was expected, but not the one we saw after the NBA lockout.
After their attempts to pair All-Star PG Chris Paul with Bryant and Bynum came to a screeching halt at the hands commissioner David Stern, the Lakers were forced to deal their bench power hitter, Lamar Odom, and strained relations with the nearly-traded Gasol.
The Lakers find themselves in a similar predicament this season, having questioned Gasol's toughness, Bynum's attitude and mentality, as well as the Black Mamba's shot selection and decision-making, begging the question: Is it time for Los Angeles to blow up their core?
If there's one player who's not going anywhere, it's Bryant. A Laker for life, the Mamba bleeds purple and gold and is likely the last player on the Lakers' trade list. Other teams likely won't make any deals for Elbow, I mean Metta World Peace, and unless they find a better option, Los Angeles will likely bring back Ramon Sessions for a second year.
That leaves us with their two bigs, Gasol and Bynum.
With Bynum, there's absolutely no doubt that the talent is there. He's got the size, length and a skill set that puts him up there with Dwight Howard as one of the best, if not the best, centers in the NBA. But on the flip side, he lacks the mental toughness, basketball IQ and overall maturity that we thought he would've developed following his seventh year in the league.
The options are out there, as every NBA general manager is probably salivating at the opportunity to land an All-Star big man, but if the Lakers can't land Howard, it's not worth the risk.
As far as Gasol goes, the need to trade him is great, but the potential suitors are few. Not many teams want a soon-to-be 32-year-old big man who exhibited the lack of energy, toughness and efficiency that he did this year.
The Rockets have shown significant interest in the Spanish big man—they would've landed him had the Lakers' offseason trade not been vetoed—so that may be an avenue Los Angeles could pursue. And given Gasol's rocky relationship with Bryant and public desire to possibly play for the Chicago Bulls, a move is likely imminent.
No matter which direction Los Angeles chooses, moving one or both of their 7-footers is a must if they want to return to championship contention. The Lakers desperately need to get younger and more athletic, and while acquiring Sessions from the Cavaliers was a good move, they've still got a long way before keeping up with the OKCs of the NBA.
If moving Gasol gets them enough young pieces—possibly a Kyle Lowry and maybe a Chase Budinger out of the Rockets—that's the move they need to make.
If not, the Lakers will have to explore all possible routes they can take to add productive backcourt depth, as well as frontcourt athleticism to the rotation. Whether it takes trading Gasol or Bynum, or Gasol and Bynum, moving one or both of them is the only way the Los Angeles Lakers will return to postseason immortality, once again.
Kristian Winfield is a Featured Columnist on the Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @BriscoXCI.
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