Los Angeles Lakers: Who Will and Won't Be Back Next Year
An earlier-than-expected exit from the 2011 NBA Playoffs gives the Los Angeles Lakers an extra month to figure out what went wrong, which means this summer should be a rather busy one for general manager Mitch Kupchak, even with more time amidst an impending league-wide lockout.
And with exit interviews already through at the Lakers' practice facility in El Segundo, the season of speculation can officially begin.
It certainly hasn't taken much time at all for rumors to start swirling around the Staples Center, with whispers about town suggesting the Lakers will target a slew of stars in the offseason—Chris Paul, Dwight Howard and Deron Williams, to name a few—all of whom will be free agents in 2012.
Of course, bringing in another franchise player or two would require the Lake Show to let go of several of their own stalwarts as part of the reloading process.
With that in mind, let's have a look at which regulars from this season will or won't be wearing colors other than Purple and Gold once the 2011-12 season gets underway.
Any evaluation of the Lakers' roster must naturally begin with Kobe Bryant.
Okay, so Kobe wearing anything other than Purple and Gold is about as likely an occurrence as is Michael Jordan coming out of retirement again, but his status is definitely worth evaluating.
After all, Kobe will be 33 when the next season starts, with 15 seasons-worth of mileage on his aching knees, back, hands and just about every other body part you can think of.
Not that anyone else is about to take on the burden of an aging superstar with a salary approaching $25 million per season.
Hence, the Black Mamba is a safe bet to be slithering around Staples Center next season.
Take away the whole "franchise superstar" thing and about $21 million or so in salary from Kobe's situation, and you end up with that of Derek Fisher on the Lakers.
D-Fish will be 37 years old when the next season tips off, with nearly as many NBA minutes logged on his wheels as Kobe has on his.
Fisher's abilities have clearly diminished with age, though he should still be serviceable enough to keep around for next season.
Not that LA will have much of a choice, as Fish doesn't exactly make for enticing trade bait these days.
No Laker had a more disappointing run in the playoffs than Pau Gasol.
The lanky Spaniard's stats plummeted from 18.8 points and 10.2 rebounds per game during the regular season to 13.1 points and 7.8 rebounds per game in the postseason.
However, while a vast swath of Laker Nation was calling for Pau's head on a platter—or, better yet, a trade block—after the second-round sweep against the Dallas Mavericks, Kobe Bryant was busy defending the man who has become the Robin to his Batman ever since Gasol landed in LA back in 2008.
As such, don't expect to see this Second-Team All-NBA selection hopping and flopping for any other team next season, seeing as how Kobe's word is pretty much law around the franchise these days.
Andrew Bynum, on the other hand, may not be so lucky.
Bynum left his exit interview with the Lakers talking about how he expects his role on offense to increase next season, a comment that Kobe quickly rebuked by saying that Drew would have to "fall in line" with the rest of the Lakers offense, which already features five guys who took more shots per game than did Bynum during the 2010-11 season.
That being the case, it would seem that Bynum's days in LA may be numbered. The oft-injured center is still only 23 years old and has shown that he's probably the second best pivot in the NBA when healthy, and, at times, can be a dominant force on both ends of the floor.
All in all, Bynum is easily the most attractive piece that Mitch Kupchak has to bargain with in any trade for a superstar, and if he has the opportunity to swap the league's second-best center for the best in the business—Dwight Howard—he shouldn't and likely won't hesitate for even a moment to get that deal done.
Like Kobe and D-Fish, Ron Artest falls into the category of Lakers players who will be back next year simply because no one else really wants them.
Ron-Ron's salary is set to shoot up by nearly half a million dollars from this season's cume, even though his production declined significantly during his second year in LA—from 11.0 points and 4.3 rebounds in 2009-10 to 8.5 points and 3.2 rebounds in 2010-11.
Throw on top of all that the fact that the 31-year-old is a nearly uncoachable wild card who gave the entire organization headache after headache this past season, and it becomes pretty clear that it'll take something just short of a miracle to convince any other team to swap Ron-Ron onto their roster.
Despite growing up with Ron Artest in New York, Lamar Odom had the good fortune of avoiding psychosis on his way to NBA stardom.
Odom is also nearly the same age as Artest but makes for much better trade bait than his Queensbridge buddy, especially after being the most consistent and most versatile Laker around this past season.
His versatility is a big part of the argument for L.O. sticking around another year. Aside from putting up the best season of his career and earning the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year Award in the process, Odom is the glue that binds this oh-so-fragile Lakers squad together.
That makes L.O. that much more important to the future success of the team—even with a salary of just under $9 million on the books for next season.
Shannon Brown is nowhere near as consistent or, well, important to the Lakers' efficacy as Lamar Odom, but he is perhaps just as valuable on the trade market as L.O., if not more so.
At 25 years old with electrifying hops and a fast-improving jumper, Brown is quite a bargain, with a salary just under $2.4 million next season, for any team seeking a young swingman with some serious upside.
There's also a good chance the Lakers won't even have the opportunity to trade Brown, as he might very well let his player option for 2011-12 go by the wayside and move to a team with which he and his game would be a much better fit.
Like Brown, Matt Barnes will have to choose whether or not to exercise his player option to remain in LA next season.
At this point, all signs point to Barnes staying, as reports out of his exit interview had the fiery small forward foaming at the mouth help lead Kobe Bryant and the Lakers back to the promised land in 2012.
Barnes played tremendously well before being sidelined with a knee injury during his first season in Purple and Gold, after which point Barnes didn't look quite like the player he had come to Los Angeles to be.
Certainly, Mitch Kupchak wouldn't mind too much if Barnes decided to stick around and play for less than $2 million next season—a mere pittance in NBA terms, especially for a player of Barnes' caliber.
Along with Barnes, Steve Blake joined the Lakers last offseason to much fanfare, with folks in LA praising the addition of a noted sharpshooter after years of watching the team struggle from beyond the arc.
Unfortunately, that didn't really change at all this season, as Blake struggled with his shot—37.8 percent from downtown—while trying to figure out his role in the Triangle offense.
The 31-year-old point guard is due $4 million per year over the next three seasons, which, based on his production this past season, makes him something of a trade anathema to most teams unless the Lakers can toss him into a trade package along with, say, Andrew Bynum and Shannon Brown.
There is no bigger albatross on the Lakers' payroll these days than the contract of Luke Walton.
Mitch Kupchak still likely rues the day he ever even thought of offering the oft-injured Walton a six-year, $30 million deal back in 2007.
To be fair, Walton, when healthy, is a solid role player who can and does make solid contributions in just about every phase of the game.
That being said, shelling out more than five-and-a-half million per season for a 10th man who's never played a full 82-game schedule is a bit much.
Theo Ratliff is old (38, to be exact), played in 11 games total this season and was signed to a one-year deal in the first place.
Think he'll be back?
Same deal as Theo: Joe Smith is old, rarely utilized and is destined for free agency.
It was nice while it lasted, I guess.
Now, Derrick Caracter just might have a role to play in LA going forward.
The troubled big man has come a long way, having shed about 40 pounds between his body and his ego since reaching the NBA.
Then again, there's no telling how privy the Lakers are to keeping Caracter around after his arrest in New Orleans during the Lakers' first round series against the Hornets.
Caracter has plenty of room to grow, both as a person and as a player. Whether he is given the opportunity to do so in Los Angeles is still very much up in the air.
Devin Ebanks' rookie season was cut woefully short by a leg fracture part way through, though it seems the Lakers are inclined to keep him around for his sophomore campaign.
During his exit interview, the 6'9" swingman explained that the Lakers want him to spend his offseason getting back in shape and honing his skills to become more of a big off-guard than a small forward.
Whether that has any bearing on Shannon Brown's status with the team remains to be seen. However, the Lakers are clearly well aware of Ebanks' capabilities and will likely look to mold him into an important part of the franchise for years to come.
Trey Johnson was the last guy cut in Lakers' training camp in 2010 and was the last player added to the roster before this year's playoffs, so it's only fitting that he close out this particular list.
The best Johnson can hope for, at this point, is another shot to make the end of the roster in training camp this fall.