Even champions have issues to address sometimes. If the Los Angeles Lakers intend to become a dynasty, they'll have a busy offseason trying to avoid some problems that affected the Celtics from last year to this season. Everyone knows the Lakers will have their hands full in the offseason trying to keep their championship team intact. Universally, this seems to translate into "bringing back both Lamar Odom and Trevor Ariza for next year."
Yes, this is because everybody knows Kobe Bryant is not going to go anywhere, but I am yet to see anyone offer anything else for the Lakers to ponder about. As a fan though, there are a few other issues I'm concerned with other than the usual ones thrown about:
1. Point Guard
Everyone acknowledges Derek Fisher's role in this Laker team as being a very crucial one, both as a leader and mentor to all the young guys on the team as well as a sort of counter (in a positive way) to Kobe's voice in the dressing room.
At the same time, it was painfully clear to everyone during the playoffs that Fisher has lost a good step-and-a-half on defense and is quite out of his depth when it comes to the smaller, speedier PGs in the league. Until he hit those two clutch threes in Game Four, there were several people calling for Jackson to reducing playing time for him. After that it didn't matter and people seemed to forget his previous less than stellar play.
Do the Lakers continue to give him the bulk of the minutes while keeping backups Jordan Farmar and Shannon Brown for particular moments in the game? Or is it time to decide on a successor already?
Farmar is a livewire on the court but is too small to guard the Deron Williams and Chauncey Billups kind of player. Also you don't get the sense Kobe really trusts him.
Brown has also showed tremendous energy during these playoffs while being used a lot on defense with Odom running the point because Brown still isn't quite comfortable with the triangle offense. Will he overtake Farmar as a potential starter for the future because of his bulk?
The questions at point are plenty and they are not easy to answer. Derek Fisher is 34 and won't be at this level too much longer. The Lakers might need to take a call very soon.
2. Sasha Vujacic
The disappearance of Sasha Vujacic for the duration of the 2008-09 playoffs is something that is completely lost in the aftermath of a well-deserved, euphoric victory for the Lakers. Self-proclaimed as "The Machine" (he shot 60 percent of his threes in last year's playoffs), he went back to his team given nickname of "Mr. 12 o'clock" (because he would only make his shots in practice and not replicate the effort during the game) for the 2009 Finals, finishing without a single bucket.
Lakers fans will remember that Vujacic was one of the most disappointed after last year's Finals loss. After his effort this year, it would seem, in retrospect, that it was all a ploy to get his three-year, $15 million deal.
Vujacic's role was quite unclear for the most part, with Trevor Ariza and Shannon Brown taking a lot of the Lakers' three-point attempts this year, something Vujacic did successfully last year. He's the supposed backup to Kobe at the two-guard, and as long as you have Bryant, you won't notice these problems, but Vujacic was practically invisible for the Lakers during their championship run.
Nobody knows what his year-ending interview with Phil Jackson and Mitch Kupchak was like. One can only wish that his role will be more clearly defined and he'll start making some buckets soon. The Lakers are spending five million bucks a year on him.
3. Luke Walton
His going up to Phil Jackson on a late-night flight to offer coming off the bench might not become the stuff of legend, but it's one of the intriguing underlying plots to the Lakers' championship run. It allowed Ariza's perimeter defense to become available in a starting role and Walton was able to better run the second unit with some precision passing and general versatility on court.
It is assumed that Walton will remain in the same role for next season, and he doesn't seem to appear to resent being on the second unit. Nobody with the exception of Kobe has been on the Lakers longer and Walton's words after Game Five of the Finals (where he recounted the road the franchise took to the championship and the sacrifices made) seemed to indicate he was in for the long haul. He's signed to a six-year deal at $5 million per year until 2011.
If he's content with his current role the Lakers shouldn't have a problem, but if he begins to want more playing time and a greater role with the team, it could lead to problems with the rotation, especially given Ariza's clear importance to the team.
4. Andrew Bynum
Last year the Lakers' loss in the Finals was placed by many squarely on the unavailability of Andrew Bynum for the playoffs due to injury. In their victory this year though, Bynum had little to do with it. He's long been viewed as having tremendous potential, but injuries have kept him from performing to his true level.
The Lakers have tended to use Gasol a lot at center and Phil Jackson has come out as saying that Bynum will only get playing time if he's energetic on defense. Bynum clearly has potential on offense and is a very decent free-throw shooter for a center. If he's used prominently beginning next year, the Lakers could look at slowly starting to have a more complete inside offense, with Kobe gradually becoming a facilitator and taking a back seat on scoring.
With a fully-developed Bynum at center and Gasol at power forward, this would be a scary front court to deal with. At the moment though, we're yet to see this consistently for large amounts of time in a game. Bynum has gotten into foul trouble early, and he's not showed the required commitment on defense.
Also if this were to be the path the Lakers end up taking on a consistent basis, it will reduce Lamar Odom's playing time and would alter his role in the offense, as he's been coming in as a power forward more often than not. If everyone in this bargain (Phil Jackson, Kobe, Gasol, Odom, Bynum) sees eye to eye on the matter, it could be the start of something very successful and indeed, dominant.
And to the most serious question of them all:
5. Is Josh Powell Kobe's best friend on the team? (If yes, then what do the Lakers do about it?)
Is it just me or does Kobe hug Josh Powell the longest during pre-game intros? Why? and How come? And unlike with the others, when Powell hugs Kobe, it's usually he who's whispering something into Kobe's ears, not the other way around!
I have nothing against the man, he looks like a perfectly great guy to me, but he's clearly got some kind of bond going with Bryant here. If he's Kobe's best friend and he played like five seconds for the duration of the playoffs, what does that say about the team? I'm one who's constantly defending Bryant's record as a teammate, but I still find this a bit weird.
Maybe anyone who has doubts on Bryant as a nice guy and good teammate should have Josh Powell as their spokesman. He knows something nobody else knows. I suggest the Lakers immediately sign him to a multi-year, several million-dollar deal. He could very well end up being the Lakers' biggest asset! He's far more "Kobe's man" than Melo is.
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