LA Lakers: What Kobe Bryant and Every Laker Needs to Work on This Offseason
The Los Angeles Lakers have been on summer break since early May, when they suffered a sweeping embarrassment with four consecutive losses to Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks in the Western Conference semifinals.
And with the possibility of a lockout pushing back the start of the NBA season, it could drag on even longer.
Regardless, everyone on the team—chiefly Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum—has plenty of work to do this offseason to ensure that the transition out of the Phil Jackson era and into Mike Brown's tenure is a smooth and prosperous one.
Or, at least more successful than the short-lived stint of Rudy Tomjanovich.
This group of Lakers has more than enough talent and experience to climb back into championship contention next season. The question remains, what do the players have to do to prepare for another title run after the disappointing early exit from this postseason?
Kobe Bryant: Get on Board with Mike Brown
There was plenty of trepidation in Lakerland following the introduction of Mike Brown as the franchise's next head coach, and word that Kobe Bryant, the unquestioned leader of the franchise, was not consulted beforehand did not make the move any easier to swallow.
That being the case, Kobe is allegedly on board with the hire, seeing Brown as the type of coach who can help the Lakers to restore their play on the defensive end to a championship level.
At the end of the day though, if Kobe is intent on matching Michael Jordan with a sixth ring, he'll have to get behind Brown 110 percent and make sure that everyone else on the roster buys in to what the new coach is offering.
Pau Gasol: Grow a Backbone
Of course, if the Lakers are going to toughen up on defense—and on offense, for that matter—they're going to need more than just the expertise of Mike Brown.
Any effort by Pau Gasol to improve his physical and mental fortitude would go a long way toward establishing LA as a more rugged and versatile group.
Gasol came under quite a bit of fire this season, as it appeared as though he had taken a step back to his days as a "softy" after seemingly proving during the Lakers' finals victory over the Boston Celtics that he overcome those long-held notions of his ability as a player.
Simply put, the Lakers need Gasol to play well if they're going to have any shot at winning a championship any time soon.
Andrew Bynum: Take Advantage of a Healthy Offseason to Develop His Game
If, for some reason, Pau Gasol doesn't find a way to man up this offseason, the Lakers will at least still have Andrew Bynum to lean on for toughness and defense in the post.
Bynum should be better than ever next season now that he's actually healthy and won't be rehabbing from any significant surgeries this summer. That, combined with the extra time off, should create the perfect situation for the young center to finally put some serious time into working out and improving his all-around game.
Of course, there's no guarantee that Bynum will even be playing in LA next season should general manager Mitch Kupchak find a way to package him in a trade for someone like Chris Paul or Dwight Howard.
Ron Artest: Shape Up or Ship out
No player gave Lakers fans more headaches this season than Ron Artest.
The volatile forward saw a serious drop-off in his production this season, jacking up shot after ill-advised shot on the court while allegedly stirring up trade demands off of it.
It's tough to expect Artest's play to improve at all at the age of 31, but perhaps, with some extra work during the offseason, Artest will find Mike Brown's defense-first system better for his talents than the Triangle.
Derek Fisher: Be Prepared
Speaking of old guys who aren't getting better any time soon, Derek Fisher is going to have a hard time picking up his game with a new coach in a new system at the age of 37.
However, as someone who, like Kobe, has spent most of his career playing in Phil Jackson's Triangle, Mike Brown's style could give Fisher a new lease on his basketball life.
All he needs to do then is be ready and willing to do whatever Brown asks of him.
Lamar Odom: Keeping Up with the Kardashians
It's tough to lodge any complaints against Odom, who was arguably the most consistent Laker this past season and earned the NBA's Sixth Man Award for his steady play.
His goal for the offseason, then, should simply be to stay confident and in shape and try not to get thwapped by any of Kim's camera crew.
Shannon Brown: Expand His Game
During the early portions of the 2010-11 regular season, it seemed as though Shannon Brown was finally ready to become a multidimensional threat with the way he was knocking down shots from all over the court.
Then, inexplicably, Brown's perimeter jumpers stopped falling, which led to a similar drop in his playing time.
Now that Shannon is reunited with Mike Brown, his old coach during his early pro days in Cleveland, he will have the perfect opportunity to rededicate himself to becoming more than just a high-flier and develop into the diversely talented player he is more than capable of being.
However, there is still some question as to whether that will happen in Los Angeles, or if Brown will opt out of the last year of his deal to test an uncertain free-agent market amidst a volatile labor situation.
Steve Blake: Find His Mojo...and His Shot
Did any member of the Lakers have a more disappointing season than Steve Blake?
The answer: an emphatic, "No!"
Blake was supposed to be a savior of sorts for LA—a guy who could stretch opposing defenses with his outside shot and provide the Lakers coaching staff with a solid backup to spell Derek Fisher.
Instead, the Lakers got a guy who shot 36 percent from the field and averaged a paltry 4.0 points, 2.2 assists and 2.0 rebounds per game.
The veteran point guard looked out of place and seemed to lack confidence in the Triangle. As such, a new system under a new coach could be a boon to Blake's game and help him return to his former, more productive self.
Matt Barnes: Get Back to Being the Enforcer
Like Blake, Matt Barnes came to the Lakers last summer as a free agent who would presumably make LA's bench the best in the league.
Well, that didn't exactly come to fruition, though one might excuse Barnes on this count, as he missed a significant chunk of the time after undergoing knee surgery during the season.
Once Barnes is healthy again, he'll give Mike Brown a hard-nosed perimeter defender with whom he can work to reshape the team's typically soft image.
Luke Walton: Get Well Soon
Barnes' absence this season was particularly difficult given the continued struggles with injuries of Luke Walton.
Walton has struggled with injuries throughout his career, though the last couple years have been particularly brutal for him, with missed games leading to less playing time during the games in which he does play.
Lakers fans can only hope that Walton will finally overcome his physical woes and at least begin to justify the six-year, $30 million contract the team gave him back in the summer of 2007.
Devin Ebanks: Become Trevor Ariza
The future of the Lakers is very much in doubt, but the picture will be a bit clearer if Devin Ebanks can step up his game and become the type of player that everyone in LA believes he can be.
Ebanks did not play much during his rookie season, due in part to a stress fracture in his left leg that he suffered in March, but the Lakers organization is still convinced that, with a summer of serious work in the gym, the 6'9" wing can become more of a shooting guard in the mold of Trevor Ariza.
And not just because Ebanks looks exactly like the former Lakers role player, though that certainly makes the comparison a bit more obvious.
Derrick Caracter: Maturity Is Key
Fellow rookie Derrick Caracter showed some flashes that he might be the next Glen "Big Baby" Davis—an undersized forward who's an absolute load in the post—though the return of Caracter's issues from his college days worried some that he might never outgrow the maturity problems that have long plagued him.
As such, Caracter would do well to spend the offseason doing some serious soul searching to figure out whether or not he's ready to be a real pro.