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Lakers Rumors: Can L.A. Become Title Contenders Again Before Next Season?

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Lakers Rumors: Can L.A. Become Title Contenders Again Before Next Season?
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GM Mitch Kupchak has an interesting view of the Los Angeles Lakers' championship window.

Kupchak told the Los Angeles Times that he believes the Lakers can win a title next year with the core of Andrew Bynum, Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. Maybe Kupchak believes that Bryant and Gasol are four years younger than they are because their time has passed.

Kupchak said, "I think if this group is intact—we got some work to do with existing free agents and the free-agent market in general—I don't see why we couldn't be in the hunt this year."

Certainly, Kupchak has a lot of work to do. Free agency is one thing. The Lakers have a few players they need to try to retain. Now that Ramon Sessions has decided not to exercise his player option, the Lakers will have to get on his case to come back. Kupchak acknowledged the importance of retaining Sessions.

Next week, when the window to negotiate before free agency begins, he'll have to make clear to Sessions how important he is to the Lakers' chances of making a run at a title. The Lakers don't have much flexibility when it comes to salary. Since L.A. can't afford to go after a high-end point guard, Kupchak needs to hope Sessions will return.

The above L.A. Times mentions that the Lakers are expected to re-sign restricted free agents Darius Morris, Jordan Hill and Devin Ebanks. The Lakers can match any offer on each of these players, although they shouldn't have to go into any sort of bidding war for any of them. 

None of them will change the game for the Lakers if they do return. Morris doesn't have real NBA potential. Hill has off-court problems.

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Ebanks had a chance to shine last season, but didn't make much of it. He didn't play with the energy that he should have. In the 12 games he started, Ebanks averaged 6.4 points and 3.2 rebounds per game.

That's significantly less than anyone thought he was capable of doing.

Since the Lakers lack money to do much in free agency, they can't get many helpful players other than Lavoy Allen. Allen would be a nice backup center. He can get a good amount of rebounds and score a bit.

However, the Temple product is more like a single to the opposite field than the "home run" that Kupchak said he plans to hit in the offseason.

The specter of the Gasol trade rumors loom. Many exist, but hardly any would bring the immediate value the Lakers would hope to get. Zach Randolph, who Peter Vecsey of the New York Post rumored via Twitter to be involved in talks for Gasol, could help the Lakers, but there's no way the Memphis Grizzlies would deal him.

For those unaware of the direction of the Memphis Grizzlies, owner Michael Heisley told The Commercial Appeal he's shooting to win a title with his core of Randolph, Rudy Gay, Mike Conley and Marc Gasol.

Other purported players who could go to the Lakers for Gasol are no guarantee to be helpful. Derrick Williams, who SI.com mentioned as a possibility to go to L.A. for Gasol, may turn into something, but not next year.

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Kyle Lowry, who told the Houston Chronicle he'd like to be a Laker, would be nice, but then the Lakers would have a gaping hole up front.

Optimistic Lakers fans can look at the players who Kupchak scooped up at the end of the draft. Darius Johnson-Odom could be another Marquette player who surprises people and turns into a nice NBA player. Robert Sacre was a solid shot-blocker at Gonzaga.

However, unless both go especially hard this summer, they won't have a huge impact on whether the Lakers can win a title. Johnson-Odom could take a couple years to develop. Sacre's talent might not translate into the NBA game.

Since L.A. isn't likely to make big changes, the Lakers can hope for a couple of things happening with their current set. One is Kobe Bryant scoring 30 points per game. Another is that the Lakers see remarkable development in young players like Ebanks.

However, as seen in the conference semifinals series in which the Lakers bowed out, the rest of the Western Conference is passing the Lakers up.

Since the likelihood of the Lakers acquiring a player that will make them a title team again seems small, the Lakers are at long odds to hoist the trophy next June.

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