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Breaking Down the Los Angeles Lakers Likely Offseason Moves

Stephen Babb@@StephenBabbFeatured ColumnistMay 22, 2012

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 21:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers watches during Game Five of the Western Conference Semifinals of the 2012 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena on May 21, 2012 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

It wouldn't be an early postseason exit for the Los Angeles Lakers without immediate and incessant speculation about this team's future.

Whereas other franchises expect to cycle through various stages of success, the Lakers are expected to be good every year without exception. They'll go down in flames before they even utter the word "rebuilding."

For his part, Kobe Bryant was in no mood to ride off into the sunset and concede that the best of his career (or the Lakers' dynasty) was behind him. After the Oklahoma City Thunder authoritatively dismissed the Lakers in five games, Bryant told us something we already knew all too well (via the Washington Post's Michael Lee):

“It’s kind of unfamiliar territory,” Bryant said. “I’m really not used to it. It’s pretty odd for me. I’m not the most patient of people and the organization’s not extremely patient either. We want to win and win now. I’m sure we’ll figure it out. We always have and I’m sure we will again.”

The Lakers impatient? Impossible.

While GM Mitch Kupchak's best play might be keeping the core of this team together, it's hard to imagine fans and ownership alike accepting such an outcome–and you can imagine what Bryant would think.

The irony, of course, is that Los Angeles would have a much better chance of surrounding Bryant with a deep roster were it not for the fact that it's Bryant who makes an astronomical amount of money, even by superstar standards.

It should go without saying that Bryant won't be taking any pay cuts.

That leaves the Lakers to improve the team with smaller moves (like the mid-season addition of Ramon Sessions) and perhaps a big move or two that we all saw coming.

Odds are that either Andrew Bynum or Pau Gasol won't remain with Los Angeles for the duration of next season. One of them may even be gone before that season commences.

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 19:  Andrew Bynum #17 and Pau Gasol #16 of the Los Angeles Lakers celebrate a play in the second quarter while taking on the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game Four of the Western Conference Semifinals in the 2012 NBA Playoffs on May 19 a
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Bryant's criticism of Gasol after Game 4 may have been shameless finger-pointing (and somewhat baseless at that), but it may have also foreshadowed things to come. We know teams like the Houston Rockets and Minnesota Timberwolves had eyes for Gasol in the past, and we know those teams could package together the kind of depth the Lakers sorely need.

As painful as it may be to see an All-Star caliber seven-footer go, a team with Bynum in the fold may be as prepared to weather that storm as any.

Los Angeles could also return to the bargaining table with the Orlando Magic, attempting to pry Dwight Howard away one last time.

In that event, Gasol and Bynum might both be on the move.

The problem with that scenario is that there's virtually no one else on Orlando's roster who would make a positive contribution to the Lakers' depth. Maybe Jameer Nelson would form a nice platoon at the point with Sessions, but would Los Angeles really want any part of guys like Hedo Turkoglu or Jason Richardson?

It would make more sense for the Lakers to pursue a smaller deal, something that would add depth rather than sap it even further for the sake of another superstar.

Howard won't amount to another Shaquille O'Neal, and Kobe really isn't the same old Kobe.

For what it's worth, the popular sentiment among most pundits is Gasol will be the first casualty of the Lakers' war on mediocrity.

If Gasol could net this organization a starting power forward like Luis Scola (or even Michael Beasley) along with some role-players with their best years ahead of them (think Courtney Lee, Chase Budinger or Wesley Johnson), the move would have to be considered a success.

Kupchak has to accept the fact that he's not trading a Gasol entering his prime years–this is about salvage value. Bryant may expect the Lakers to return to championship form, but any changes still have to account for the future.

After all, even when Bryant's no longer around to raise the bar, fans will still expect this team to be what it's always been: The quintessential contender.

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