Do Kobe and company have a run left? Not with the current roster, but with some small additions at some key spots, they could be back in the chase for another NBA Championship. Of course, don't count out a blockbuster trade to completely shake things up.
Los Angeles Lakers fans hate to hear it, but they know it: Derek Fisher is not a starting point guard anymore. Not if you want to win, anyway.
Offensively, he still has the soft three-point shot, but that is about it. The closer he got to the defense, the worse he shot, as his three-point percentage was better than his field-goal shooting. Defensively, he can't cover his own shadow.
The Lakers have to bring someone in to replace Kobe's longtime running mate.
Projected Stats: 3 points, 1.5 assists per game.
Could the extended rest have bought the Lakers another season in Kobe Bryant's prime? With all the nagging injuries finally getting a rest, do not put it past No. 24. How the team adjusts to Mike Brown's system and what changes are still coming to the roster are different questions entirely.
Kobe averaged under 26 points per game for the first time since 2003-04. I say he turns the clock back a notch in 2012.
Projected Stats: 27 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, NBA MVP.
Before the NBA Lockout, I did not see any possible way the Los Angeles Lakers would get rid of Metta World Peace before his contract ran out. What has changed? Two words: Amnesty clause.
Acquiring the forward formerly known as Ron Artest was like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole with this team. Peace's Lakers career peaked peaked when Artest hit the clinching three in Game 7 against the Boston Celtics. For the record, that might be the most improbable big-game shot to go in of all time; Artest has spent the rest of his Lakers career laying bricks.
Peace set career lows across the board last season and shot under 40 percent from the field. His defensive skills, which have long been his calling card, have been in decline for years. I just don't see Metta World Peace sticking around in LA.
Pau Gasol has been something of an enigma for the Los Angeles Lakers. On any given night, he is capable of dominating as the best player on the court.
On other nights, Gasol simply disappears. In the playoffs (and especially against the Mavericks) Gasol disappeared at the worst time possible, as he shot just 42 percent from the field. It is going to be another solid season for Gasol, but he will be judged by his performance in the playoffs.
Projected Stats: 19 points, 10.5 rebounds, 1.5 blocks per game.
Two things have stopped Andrew Bynum from being the next star of the Los Angeles Lakers: injuries, and playing for the Lakers, where he is often the fourth option.
I expect one of those two things to change. Bynum could very well be the centerpiece of a blockbuster trade for Dwight Howard. If that does not happen, I expect Pau Gasol to be moved for a star (Kevin Love???), making Bynum the unquestioned go-to post presence.
Who knows where Bynum will go with the injuries. None of his injuries has been devastating, but he has not played in more than 65 games since 2006-07.
Projected Stats: 16 points, 11 rebounds, 2 blocks per game.
Lamar Odom was one of the lone constants for the Los Angeles Lakers last season, and he had one of the better years of his career.
Odom's overall talent is second-to-none. The only thing you wish you could change about this guy is to give him some intensity or a mean streak. As it is, he is a do-it-all guy every team would love to have. Expect another solid year from Odom.
Projected Stats: 15 points, 10 rebounds, 3.5 assists.
If the Los Angles Lakers do not make a move for a point guard, Steve Blake will be the team's starter. Derek Fisher just cannot hold it down anymore.
Blake has limited ability, but a ton of intangibles. He is scrappy, won't back down from anyone and could become the Lakers' newest role-playing, clutch-shooting assassin.
Projected Stats: 8 points and 5 assists per game.
Either Matt Barnes or Lamar Odom will be the new starting small forward for the Los Angeles Lakers. The "loser" in the competition will be the team's sixth man.
I have been a fan of Barnes since he played a big role with the scrappy Golden State Warriors' team that took out Dirk's top-seeded Dallas Mavericks in the first round in 2007. After being buried behind Ron Artest and Odom on the depth chart, expect Barnes to assume a similar role with the Lakers in 2012.
Projected Stats: 9 points, 5 rebounds per game.
Luke Walton might be the most skilled 10th man in the history of the NBA. The Los Angeles Lakers just have a bevy of small forwards that keep Walton off the court.
There was a time when Walton averaged 11 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists for these very Lakers. If the team gets rid of Metta World Peace, minutes could open up for Walton. As the roster stands currently, there is no room for him to produce.
Projected Stats: 2 points, 1 assist, 1 rebound per game.
Yet another forward on this roster, there are just not enough minutes to go around for Devin Ebanks. He will be nothing but a benchwarmer as long as he is a Los Angeles Laker.
Projected Stats: 2 points, 1 rebound per game.
I expect Howard to be a Los Angeles Laker, whether it is via free agency or trade. It is completely unfair for the Lakers to steal the best big man of two generations from the Orlando Magic. Maybe they will learn their lesson this time and get something back for him.
If the Lakers somehow lose out on Howard, Love will be the consolation prize. The Lakers are prepared to commit to either Andrew Bynum or Howard as the next great Lakers' center. Pau Gasol commands touches, while Love can create his own points through his rebounds. Gasol will be the centerpiece of this trade that will likely be a three-teamer.
Lakers fans would love to see Chris Paul in LA, but they do not need him to compete for a championship. They just need a point guard that can distribute and defend his position. Enter Ford, who can be had for the midlevel exception.