Today marks a completion to a seemingly endless journey.
Can they repeat it?
And if so, what’s required of them to complete such a task? Should they bring back the entire group for another 82 game season or will it benefit the Lakers to slightly restructure?
For any given team, there’s no certainty in winning multiple titles, let alone winning them one after another.
It takes a great core of players, a headstrong coach, and a devoted management team to collectively move forward in an effort to become part of that elite group that were privileged to be labeled as a dynasty.
In order for Kobe and the Lakers to achieve this momentous level, they must not only create a strong core, but they have to adapt and react to the changes in the league.
Just like making a bowl of mama’s spaghetti, or baking a moist chocolate cake, or mixing up a refreshing glass of your favorite cocktail, there’s a recipe that each must follow.
In order for the Lakers to repeat in 2010, they must complete the following tasks during this upcoming off-season.
No.1: Build the Foundation
What did the Lakers, the Bulls, the Pistons, and Rockets have that no other team had when they won their respective titles?
They had a foundation.
The Lakers had Magic, the Bulls had Michael, the Pistons had Isaiah, and the Rockets had Hakeem. In order for the Lakers to win again in 2010, they must have a solid foundation.
That foundation is Kobe.
Kobe currently has a player option during this off-season and is expected to pick up the option to position for a lucrative contract extension.
I can’t speculate on what the asking price is for Kobe, but there’s no doubt in my mind that he’ll stay in a purple and gold uniform and ultimately retire as a Laker.
And thus, with Kobe and Pau holding down the front, we have our base to the recipe.
No. 2: The Layers of the Cake
As we all saw the past few years, having just the foundation without the infrastructure will also wreak havoc on the development of a franchise.
Most of the players on the team will be on roster for next year. The only exceptions are Trevor Ariza, Lamar Odom, and Shannon Brown. Ariza and Odom are both unrestricted free agents come this summer, while Shannon Brown will become a restricted free agent.
With salary caps, luxury taxes, and an unstable economy, teams are always looking for the sweet deal. And for the Lakers, Ariza is appearing a bit more palatable than Odom.
Last year, Odom was making $11.5 million while Ariza made $2.9 million. After this year’s performance in the regular and post-season, there’s no way Ariza is going to continue to receive $3 million per year.
Although not as versatile as Odom, Ariza is definitely a better defender and consistent perimeter shooter. With Pau manhandling the block against his opponents and Kobe running most of the plays off the dribble, Odom’s commodity level seemed to have dropped this past year.
There’s a slim chance that the Lakers will re-sign both players, especially knowing that Odom’s productivity has declined, but his market value still hovers around $8-10 million per year. On the other hand, Ariza has become very significant to the team as his value is skyrocketing.
In an ideal world, both players will re-sign for $8-10 million per year. But in reality, look for Ariza to remain in a Lakers uniform and Odom possibly moving to a different team, either signed as a free agent or traded in a sign and trade deal.
No. 3: The Filling In the Middle
Looking back in history, dynasties were either created or destroyed by their big men in the paint. With the exception of possibly the Bulls teams, the Lakers, the Rockets, and the Piston all had dominating centers—Kareem, Hakeem, and Bill Laimbeer, respectively.
The Lakers currently have a young 21-year-old center in Andrew Bynum. Prior to the start of the 2008-2009 season, Bynum had signed a four-year contract extension worth $58 million. His new contract is set to begin next year at $12.5 million.
There’s no doubt that Bynum has the build to become a force in the paint, but he’s missing mental focus, maturity, and health. During his four years in the league, Bynum has only played in 65 percent of the regular season games.
In this year’s playoff run to the NBA title, he averaged 6.3 ppg and 3.7 rpg. While playing an average of 17 minutes a game, Bynum committed an average of 3.3 fouls. Certainly, the Lakers will need to work with Bynum to improve in all these statistical categories.
With Pau being the finesse player, the Lakers will need Bynum to step up and become that iron curtain that will protect the basket. Bynum is set to make big men money next year, and in order for the Lakers to repeat, they will need big men moments from him during every game.
No. 4: The Icing On the Cake
If you look at a cake, and marvel at its sweet, delicious goodness, you know that it’s all about the icing.
It’s the glue that keeps it all together.
With this most recent NBA title, Phil Jackson has surpassed the Celtics legend, Red Auerbach, for most NBA titles as a coach—Phil’s won 10. Although impressive, there’s still speculation that he’ll return for yet another crack at winning his 11th.
But will the idea of winning his 11th NBA title be enough for him to return? I know Jeanie Buss wants him to stay. Kobe definitely wants Phil to stay, as well. But amidst all the hoopla, someone needs to ask Phil the question that every fan wants to hear.
Phil, do you want to stay?
No. 5: The Sprinkles
What can the Lakers expect for the 2009-2010 season?
The Celtics will once again have a healthy Kevin Garnett. The Magics will have an experienced big man in Dwight Howard. Cleveland will look to add more pieces to their star power, LeBron James.
With all great dynasties, one must become adaptable. The NBA is a dynamic league, and at any given time, things will change—injuries, trades, and new competition.
And to compensate for these unexpected changes, the recipe must include these little specks of unexpected goodness. I’m referring to the role players who can step up and make the big shots when called upon.
This year, it was Shannon Brown’s athletic play off the bench.
In order to win again in 2010, the Lakers will need to have more of their bench players contribute in a productive manner. The Lakers have Sasha Vujacic, Jordan Farmar, Luke Walton, Josh Powell, and Adam Morrison on contract for the upcoming season.
For next year, the Lakers will need to move a couple of players from their bench. Vujacic is a liability on the perimeter, Farmar is a bit lackluster at times, Walton is inconsistent, and Morrison just needs to play.
I’m not saying that all must be replaced to win back-to-back. My point is that at least one must be traded to even have a chance to repeat in 2010.
The most likely victims are Vujacic and Walton. Walton is making roughly $5 million per year for the next four years while Vujacic is making the same for the next two. Both players can be seen as overpaid, and thus, more reason to use as trade bait.
Although I see it difficult to move Walton because of the length of his contract, I do see Vujacic being traded in the off-season. The question I have is whether any team will even take him given his struggles from the three-point line during the playoffs.
It can be quite possible that Vujacic is packaged with Odom in a trade, but again, this is mere speculation. But if so, the package of $13-15 million can entice a few trade offers—Josh Smith from the Hawks, Tyrus Thomas and Luol Deng from the Bulls, or Rasheed Wallace from the Pistons.
Again, nothing’s set in stone. I'm no expert, just a sports enthusiast and mere spectator.
All I know is every Championship team needs a little sprinkle of good, old fashioned luck.