NBA Playoffs 2012: 5 Steps the L.A. Lakers Must Take to Get Back into Contention
It's hard to say a team needs to be drastically changed when they made the second round of the playoffs, but the Lakers looked slow and downright old in their series with Oklahoma City. This group of Lakers has had their time to shine and must now be dismantled.
Fortunately for them, there's a lot of talent in place. While it won't take a complete overhaul to get back to the NBA Finals, there are a few big moves that must be made.
Here are five things that the Lakers must do to get back into true title contention.
Step 1: Fire Mike Brown
I usually don't endorse firing someone after one year, but Mike Brown just isn't a very good coach.
Under his leadership, the Lakers blew big leads in Games 2 and 4, which may have cost them the series.
His Cleveland teams were upset in his last two years with the team. His failure to go small and try to outrun an old Boston team in 2010 was an incredibly egregious coaching error, it's the sort of move any knowledgeable fan would have made.
The Lakers simply didn't have an identity this year, and that has to fall on the coach.
Luckily, there is a pretty deep pool of coaches available this year. The biggest name out there is Phil Jackson, but he doesn't seem too interested in coming back, and if he does, expect the Knicks to give him a blank check.
They could target Jerry Sloan and focus on creating an offense based around the pick and roll. With the skilled big men the Lakers have, it could be very effective.
Stan Van Gundy is available, and while he failed in maintaining a relationship with his star center Dwight Howard, he's one of the best coaches out there.
They could also rectify the mistake they made last year and bring back Brian Shaw—one of the few coaches out there who has earned Kobe Bryant's respect.
The point is, there are several coaches out there for the Lakers to choose from. All we know for sure is that they're all better than Mike Brown.
Step 2: Use the Amnesty Clause on Metta World Peace
The Lakers have made it clear that they want to save money, so using the amnesty clause to shed some luxury tax dollars has to be a priority.
They won't have to think too hard about who to use it on. Metta World Peace (who will henceforth be referred to as Ron Artest) is declining on a good day, decomposing on a bad one. He's bordering on downright useless, especially on the offensive end.
Artest can still play defense, but not at the level he used to. He's no longer fast enough to contain Kevin Durant, who will be an obstacle in the Lakers' path. Same goes for LeBron James if the Lakers manage to make the Finals.
Devin Ebanks isn't a star, but he's a useful player. He can take on some of Artest's minutes. Matt Barnes is also a capable player. Filling in for Artest the player really won't be too difficult.
But the player isn't the biggest reason the Lakers need to get rid of Artest. They need to get rid of Artest the man.
It seems like every year he finds a new way to embarrass himself and the organization. Whether it was his hit on J.J. Barea last spring or on James Harden last month, he has proven that he never matured from the man who once instigated a fight with a fan.
Why should the Lakers keep a man like that? There simply aren't any benefits anymore considering how much he has fallen off as a player. It's time to cut ties with the league's most classless player.
Step 3: Use the Mid-Level Exception on a Point Guard
Ramon Sessions is a valuable piece to have as a rotation player, but not as a starter. Steve Blake shouldn't be allowed on an NBA court anymore. These are not the type of players that should be playing next to Kobe Bryant.
Bryant is getting older, he can't carry the offense for 40 minutes every night anymore. The Lakers need someone to control the tempo and run the offense so that Bryant can focus on scoring.
Luckily for them, there are a ton of viable options on the free-agent market. Deron Williams is likely out of their price range, but he's not all that's out there.
The big fish is Steve Nash. It seems pretty likely that he'll leave Phoenix in search of a contender, but the Lakers probably won't be first on his list. Miami and New York are both going to make overtures, and if a concrete offer materializes, he's likely headed to one of those teams.
The Lakers should give Nash a call, but there are more realistic options available. If Raymond Felton is in shape, he'd be a solid addition. Andre Miller can play off the ball, making him a nice fit with Kobe. If Jameer Nelson chooses not to exercise his player option he'll be available as well.
The point is there are some legitimate starting point guards available, and the Lakers should be able to get one of them—especially if they clear up some money by getting rid of Ron Artest.
Step 4: Trade Pau Gasol to Houston
I don't blame Pau Gasol for what happened against the Thunder. Honestly, any of the other 29 teams in the league would be lucky to have him. I just don't think it's going to work in LA. The dynamic between him and Andrew Bynum isn't fixing itself and his relationship with Kobe Bryant seems to be deteriorating.
There will be plenty of suitors if the Lakers really do make Gasol available. Boston and Minnesota were both interested around the trade deadline, but Houston is the best fit.
GM Daryl Morey has long been infatuated with Gasol, and he'd be a great fit. The Rockets need a star, and they have enough supporting pieces to both facilitate a trade and stay competitive after one.
If the Lakers can get the same package that was supposed to be headed to New Orleans before the season they'd be wise to jump on it. Let's say the trade would be Kevin Martin, Luis Scola and another supporting player (let's say Patrick Patterson) for Gasol.
The Lakers could immediately insert Scola into the the starting lineup for Gasol. Kevin Martin could give them something they haven't had in what seems like decades—a legitimate bench scorer. He could be their Jason Terry or James Harden, not starting but playing around 30 minutes per game and being a part of the crunch-time five.
Meanwhile, Houston could build around Gasol and Kyle Lowry. That duo won't win any championships but could at least win them a playoff series. That's better than where they are now.
It seems to be a win-win deal for both sides. The Lakers should jump on it if they get the chance.
Step 5: Don't Make a Panic Trade for Dwight Howard
It's going to be tempting. Players like Howard don't come around too often, but the Lakers shouldn't panic and give up their whole roster for him.
The Magic have been adamant in their stance of not trading Howard to the Lakers unless they get both Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, but even if that changes, the price will likely be too high.
If the Magic gave up on Gasol, they'd likely ask for several younger pieces, such as Devin Ebanks, Ramon Sessions and Jordan Hill. They'd also probably make the Lakers take on Hedo Turkoglu's awful contract.
Giving up that much isn't worth it. The Lakers are already short on depth, and they're already in a bad cap situation. Unless they could get a player like LeBron James, they should focus on building the team around Kobe and Bynum.
Howard doesn't come without his own set of concerns. He should be at a dangerously low maturity level this year. He's not the type of person a team should build around.
He's been the league's best center for at least five years, yet he has failed to develop a consistent set of low-post moves. In fact, I don't think he has even one. He scores using only his incredible athleticism; he's not going to age well.
Finally there are injury concerns. They aren't major and certainly aren't as big as Andrew Bynum's, but back injuries are recurring. If we've learned anything from Tracy McGrady, it's that you don't mess around with serious back injuries.
Andrew Bynum is a keeper. He may not be perfect, but he's an All-Star center. The Lakers are fine with him at center. They shouldn't get desperate and trade everything for Howard.