Despite winning the NBA Championship, the Lakers face a few questions heading into the off season. What will the Lakers do with their first round draft pick? How long can Derek Fisher be counted on to contribute?
Will Phil Jackson return as coach? What about the Lakers key free agents, DJ Mbenga and Josh Powell? Alright, what about their actual key free agents Trevor Ariza and Lamar Odom? These are the main questions facing the Lakers heading into the 2009 off season.
The Lakers have the 29th pick in the draft this year. The Lakers have eight players under contract for next year, and a team option for last years second round pick Sun Yue.
This doesn’t include free agents Lamar Odom, Trevor Ariza, Josh Powell, DJ Mbenga and Shannon Brown. The Lakers have to keep the pick, so they can select a young American or they could look to take a foreign player who they can stash overseas to save cash.
If the Lakers pick a player who will be with the team next year, they should take a point guard. Point guards such as Darren Collison from UCLA, Toney Douglas from Florida State could be available.
Also, in such a point guard heavy draft, mid-rounders such as UNC’s Ty Lawson or Wake Forest’s Jeff Teague could fall into the Lakers lap.
Derek Fisher came up huge in Game four of the NBA Finals. Despite his two huge shots, the question remains. How long can he be counted on to start for the Lakers?
Fisher turns 35 in August and showed his age in the playoffs. Aaron Brooks, who averaged 11.2pgg on the season and 13 as a starter, ran around Fisher for 18ppg in the second round.
Fisher, who’s value came as a knockdown shooter, shot only 28 percent in the playoffs on threes, down from 40 percent in the regular season. If Fisher becomes a liability on offense and defense, this team cannot expect to repeat.
The team needs to figure out if Jordan Farmar or Shannon Brown is a long term solution at the point, or they need to find someone who can be.
Phil finally got his 10th title. Now that he has passed Red Auerbach as the coach with the most titles, will he return? The front office wants him back. The players want him back.
His girlfriend, Lakers VP Jeanie Buss wants him back. The question becomes, does Phil want to be back? The major factor is his health. Jackson will not commit to next season before a few health-related appointments.
He faced some health issues this past season and even skipped a late season road trip to Portland due to pain in his lower right leg. If he doesn’t feel he can deal with the rigors of an 82-game season and decides to retire, will the team be able to cope.
Not much would change on the bench, in terms of the system, as Kurt Rambis is in line to become head coach when Phil does decide to call it quits, but there is no doubt Jackson plays a major role in managing multimillion dollar egos over the course of a season.
Trevor Ariza found new life as an NBA player when he was traded to the Lakers. He also found three point range over the off-season. As an athletic wing defender, Ariza had a place in the league.
As an athletic wing defender with three point range, he had a place playing a key role on a championship team. He made $2.9 million this past season. He will not doubt get a raise, but what remains to be seen is by how much.
Ariza is worth the mid-level exception, which should fall in the $5.5-$6 million dollar range. However, he is not worth more. The free agent market is not looking good for players, and while Ariza will see more than a few MLE offers, no team will use their cap space to sign him.
Given Ariza’s age, it isn’t a stretch to imagine a five year, $35 million dollar deal.
Lamar Odom is the Lakers third most important player. He is the teams X-factor. For the most part, the team knows what to expect from Kobe and Pau Gasol.
When Odom was on, the Lakers were unbeatable. When he was not, they looked mortal. The Lakers blog Forum Blue and Gold (http://www.forumblueandgold.com/2009/06/19/cant-lose-situation/) has an excellent piece on what Odom brings to the team.
The overriding theme of the story is that the Lakers need Odom, which is true. Luckily for the Lakers, Odom should not be offered an enormous contract from another team. He is easily worth the full mid-level exception, which the Lakers clearly would beat.
Odom has stated his preference is to remain with the Lakers, so this eliminates any teams over the cap from swooping Odom. The only team that could potentially soil the Lakers plans is the Detroit Pistons.
They are the only contending team with cap space available. However, they are rumored to have offered Ben Gordon $11 million a year, and are also rumored to be hot on Hedo Turkoglu.
The only other teams who could offer Odom anything more than the mid-level exception are not serious contenders. Odom should eventually re-sign, for around $10 million dollars a season. He is easily worth it to the Lakers.