As the current NBA season started, the Los Angeles Lakers were coming off back-to-back championships and three straight NBA Finals appearances. In supposedly upgrading its roster with the signings of Steve Blake and Matt Barnes, many NBA pundits had the Lakers as early favorites to win the title this year.
Yet, some issues began to show this season for LA. First, speedy point guards became even more of a nuisance, as many tended to have career games against the Lakers. Although the Lakers started off on a roll in winning eight straight to open the season, LA soon found itself losing more than two games in a row for the first time in the Kobe Bryant-Pau Gasol era.
In fact, the team had losing streaks of four and five games throughout the season.
The players tended to use their experience to make themselves confident that despite the struggles shown during the season (outside shooting, bench play, being outworked by younger and more athletic players), the team could flip the switch in the playoffs.
When most NBA analysts predicted an LA sweep of the New Orleans Hornets in the first round of the playoffs, LA struggled to beat a severely outmatched Hornets squad in six games. When most pundits predicted LA to win against Dallas, the Mavericks were the ones who played like champions in sweeping the Lakers, including an embarrassing closeout game in Dallas on Sunday.
It is clear that LA will struggle just to make the NBA Finals over the few remaining years of the Kobe Bryant era. In short, the team needs to get younger, acquire better outside shooters and work toward having a core group of players that have strong work ethics like Kobe.
The proposals I put forth describe 10 ideas that GM Mitch Kupchak and owner Jerry Buss should strongly consider during the offseason. If all of the following ideas come to fruition, the Lakers will have a great chance to win a few more championships over the next five years.
Few people outside of Lakers fans may know who Trey Johnson is. Those who are familiar with his game may realize that Johnson is a diamond waiting to be discovered in the NBA.
Over the past few years, he has worked on his game by practicing the fundamentals and working on his shooting touch. He has played briefly in the NBA, as well as stints in the summer league and on overseas teams.
Johnson's hard work led to him averaging 25.5 ppg in the D-League this past season, leading the league and earning first-team honors. While it is true that the D-League's talent is much easier to score against compared to NBA defenders, it seems evident that Johnson can be a force in the top league.
Shannon Brown has a player option, and if he wants to leave, the Lakers should let him. After a spectacular start to the season, Brown struggled to shoot greater than 30 percent from downtown after New Year's. With his questionable defense and tendency to not follow offensive schemes, it appears that it's time for Brown to leave.
Johnson could be a perfect player to fill Brown's void, and Lakers management should give him a chance.
Ron Artest forever etched himself into Lakers lore when he had some big plays and games in last year's playoffs. If not for Artest, it is unlikely that LA would have won the title last year.
While Artest still can be an elite defender, his offense at times can almost be a liability. Every time he puts up a long-range jump shot, Lakers fans cringe in their seats.
At 31 years old, Artest is not getting any younger and holding onto him would not be helping in that department.
Trading Artest can yield many possibilities—teams that are looking for a tough-nosed defender that can stop top wing scorers like LeBron James and Kevin Durant.
One possible trade scenario could involve the Denver Nuggets, trading Artest for Danilo Gallinari and Chris Andersen.
Gallinari could be a potent scorer off the bench for LA and is a more consistent outside shooter. Andersen could give LA the decent backup center it desperately needs, not to mention providing a defensive force in the middle.
Like Ron Artest, Matt Barnes has a tendency to be hotheaded at times. However, Barnes is a more efficient scorer, better rebounder and provides more energy than most players on the roster.
Barnes is also known for his defense, and while he may not be quite as good of a defender as Artest can be, he also comes at a bargain salary in comparison.
Barnes' play seemed to suffer after the injury he sustained in January. But before that time, he was generally regarded as the better player compared to Artest.
While he was on the court, things tended to work in the Lakers' favor more often, as he seemed to bring many intangibles with his game. The team could use more of that going forward. Clearly, Matt Barnes should be playing more minutes with the team next year.
As has been mentioned before, the Lakers need to improve on outside shooting. In the playoff series against the Dallas Mavericks, the team shot a pathetic 19.7 percent (15-for-76) from three-point territory.
There will be several good shooters on the free-agent market this summer, and LA should make it a point to sign one of them.
One such possibility is Shawne Williams, who shot 40 percent from downtown while playing for the New York Knicks this season. He may not be the best option, but there are plenty of choices for the team, even if Kupchak needs to look at European players.
By adding good shooters to the team, Kobe Bryant and the Lakers' bigs would have more room to operate on the post. In addition, this would make dribble penetration drives more successful for the team. This is just one reason why players like Dirk Nowitzki and Jose Juan Barrea had so much success against LA.
Kobe Bryant has never been surrounded by great outside shooters throughout his NBA career. It's time for that to change.
After the Lakers selected Devin Ebanks in the draft last summer, many fans were comparing him to former Lakers player Trevor Ariza. Like Ariza, he was known for his defensive skills and would wear the No. 3 on his jersey. Some even claimed that Ebanks looked like Ariza.
However, Ebanks seems to have a more accurate jump shot compared to Ariza.
Phil Jackson was known to not play his rookies many minutes. However, Ebanks appears to be the real deal. He was impressive in the few minutes he did see court action this past year.
It is highly possible that Ebanks can play up to Ariza's abilities, possibly even better. And at age 21, playing Ebanks more would move the Lakers in the youth direction the team so desperately needs.
One additional note: LA should keep Luke Walton on the injured reserve list for the entire season. He's not athletic, can't shoot and is frequently injured anyway.
At the beginning of the season, most thought that the Steve Blake signing by LA was a smart move, bringing in a veteran who would execute the triangle offense while providing steady outside shooting.
Being that he does not dribble penetrate, it is essential that Blake hit the outside jumper, especially when he is open. However, Blake found this task nearly impossible for his team during the playoffs.
During the series against Dallas, he shot just 2-12 (16.7 percent) from three-point territory. Throughout the entire 2011 postseason, Blake only averaged 2.1 ppg. This is simply not good enough.
In the past, Blake has proven to be one of the best backup point guards in the league, and there are several teams that could use a steady veteran presence at the backup point guard position that could get easy shots for other players.
One such team that could be interested in a player like Blake is the New York Knicks. The Knicks offense runs around Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire, and Blake could be a great fit with the team in helping those two stars flourish when Chauncey Billups is resting on the bench.
In exchange, LA could acquire former fan favorite Ronny Turiaf. Known for his hustle and energy, Turiaf is a decent defender who possesses a reliable mid-range jumper.
Clearly, this is a trade that could work for both teams. While losing Turiaf would take away the team's starting center, the Knicks could put Stoudemire at the 5 position or sign a true center to man that spot.
With the likely retirement of Phil Jackson, the Lakers will be looking at hiring a new coach. In the past, Brian Shaw has been mentioned as a leading candidate to replace Jackson, and there is little reason to doubt that he could keep LA among the elite teams in the league.
However, Rick Adelman's departure from the Houston Rockets presents an interesting scenario. While coaching for 20 seasons, Adelman has tallied an impressive 945-616 record (.605 winning percentage) and has coached in 157 playoff games.
Adelman has experience coaching in the NBA Finals, twice taking the Portland Trail Blazers to the championship round in the early 1990s.
Most importantly, Adelman's teams are known for their hustle, defense and offensive execution. It seems that he has a knack for getting the most out of his players. After a season full of underachievers, the Lakers could use a guy like Adelman to right the ship.
With improved athleticism and shooting on the team, Adelman would make the most out of the situation.
Brian Shaw would be the best candidate if the team wants to keep using the triangle offense. But it appears that now would be a prime opportunity to move the team in a different direction.
Dwight Howard and Andrew Bynum
It has been well-documented that Dwight Howard has an interest in playing for the Lakers. It was reported that Howard even talked with Kobe Bryant during the 2011 All-Star Game to discuss real estate in the Los Angeles area.
Clearly, it appeals to Howard to follow in the footsteps of the franchise's legendary centers, including George Mikan, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O'Neal.
It should be obvious why LA would want Dwight Howard. He is the three-time reigning Defensive Player of the Year, altering numerous shots on defense each game while usually being among the league leaders in blocks and rebounds.
Howard is also becoming one of the best scorers in the league, having displayed several new offensive moves this past season while once again shooting close to 60 percent from the field.
While Andrew Bynum has stepped up in recent months to be the team's second-best player, there are some uncertainties regarding the health of his knees.
Orlando should be interested in considering this trade proposal. First, Howard has a player option during the 2012-2013 season. If Howard leaves Orlando, the team could get nothing in return for him.
Second, when Bynum gets touches (as was proven in this year's playoffs), he can be quite a force in the middle. Bynum is taller and stronger than Howard, possesses a better array of post moves (having trained with Abdul-Jabbar), and he is a better free-throw shooter.
This scenario may be a stretch this year, and to make it happen, Howard would probably have to push Orlando's management. However, we have seen crazier events occur in the NBA in the past.
Lamar Odom was one of the most impressive players for the Lakers this season. He proved to be perhaps the most consistent player on the team, possessing a much-improved outside jumper.
While he garnered attention for winning the Sixth Man of the Year Award, Odom actually played better as a starter than when he came off of the bench.
As a starter, Odom averaged 16.3 ppg, 10.2 rpg and shot 57 percent. As a reserve, these numbers dropped to 13.0 ppg, 7.5 rpg and 49 percent.
If LA can acquire Dwight Howard, Odom could make a successful combination with him up front by helping to space the floor and making passes that would set up Howard for easy scores.
Furthermore, LA should hold onto Odom this summer if it can. With his range of skills, Odom still proves to be one of the more difficult matchups in the league.
Better to have him on your team than play against him.
Chris Paul and Pau Gasol
For some people, proposing to trade Pau Gasol for Chris Paul may seem like a shocking scenario. Just last summer, Pau Gasol was considered untouchable by Lakers management.
He may be the most skilled and smartest big man in the game today. His passing ability rivals past NBA legends like Bill Walton.
However, Gasol's play (or lack thereof) in these playoffs should put to rest any notion of him being the team's best player. While Gasol averaged 18.8 ppg and 10.2 rpg while shooting 53 percent during the regular season, these numbers dropped to 13.4 ppg, 7.8 rpg and 42 percent shooting in the playoffs.
No wonder why LA struggled during this postseason run.
Those that followed LA closer might have noticed a more disturbing trend. After averaging about 21 ppg and 12 rpg through November, Gasol's numbers for the rest of the year were about 18 ppg and 9 rpg. Those latter numbers are still impressive, but it's clear that his play dropped off—and this was after an offseason of rest.
If LA moves in a new direction with coach Rick Adelman, the team could use an elite point guard.
Chris Paul is an attractive option as he is a good outside shooter, decent dribble penetrator, and one of the best playmakers in the game. In addition, he is one of the better on-ball defenders in the league.
Rumors have surfaced recently that Chris Paul may want out of New Orleans. He has a player option on his contract during the 2012-2013 season, and the Hornets surely wouldn't want to lose Paul and get nothing in return.
Meanwhile, Gasol is signed through the 2013-2014 season. He still is one of the most talented players in the game and is a difficult matchup. He could fill the much-needed void at power forward that the Hornets need.
Regarding Derek Fisher, he may be getting older but he is such an important part of Lakers history that it would be heartbreaking to trade him.
If Paul came to Los Angeles, Fisher would become a backup averaging about 10-15 minutes per game. This could help preserve him for the playoffs, where his veteran presence is always a positive.
Chris Paul and Kobe Bryant
If the previous proposals were to happen, the Los Angeles Lakers would have the following roster per position:
Center – Dwight Howard, Chris Andersen
Power Forward – Lamar Odom, Ronny Turiaf, Derrick Caracter
Small Forward – Matt Barnes, Devin Ebanks, Shawne Williams, Luke Walton (IR)
Shooting Guard – Kobe Bryant, Danilo Gallinari, Trey Johnson
Point Guard – Chris Paul, Derek Fisher
This roster would be a welcome change from what fans saw this past season.
The team would be much younger, with stars like Dwight Howard and Chris Paul forming a core that the team could build around for many years.
As Kobe Bryant continues to age, a player like Chris Paul could make it easier for Kobe to find easy scoring opportunities.
The team would also have better outside shooting while having tough defenders at every position.
One thing is for certain: The team must not stay the way it is. There are simply too many issues to overcome, and the future seems bleak with the age issues.