UNFINISHED BUSINESS IN LA-LA LAND
After winning the NBA title, the Lakers faced the possible loss of four players. Two of these issues have been resolved: Kobe Bryant decided not to exercise his early termination option and Trevor Ariza went to Houston. Two more are outstanding: Lamar Odom is eyeing a contract in the neighborhood of $9m per season and Shannon Brown's status is at present unknown. He is either a restricted free agent (in which case the Lakers have the opportunity to match any offer sheet he receives) or an unrestricted free agent (in which case the Lakers lack that option). One of the biggest splashes in the Free Agency Period came when once Defensive Player of the Year Ron Artest decided to join the Lakers. This move compensates for Ariza's exodus. If the goal is another championship, however, the Lakers cannot be finished making moves.
Priority: Re-sign Lamar Odom. Yes, he is inconsistent. Yes, he has had some injury concerns (although they seem to be a thing of the past). The fact is that Odom is able to play the 2, 3, or 4, and can guard the 1 (depending on the 1) through 4. That is a skill set that is difficult to find in itself. On top of that, he is a dominant rebounder, a respectable scorer, a very good passer, and developed an intermittent stroke from distance late last season. He is in his prime and must be re-signed. Quite simply, without Odom, the Lakers would lack the depth necessary to win another title.
Potential Solution: Short of Lamar Odom, there are not many reasonable options for the Lakers. In-house "options" include Luke Walton and Adam Morrison. While Walton brings a lesser degree of most the skills Odom possesses, the dropoff from Odom to Walton in terms of athleticism and consistency is troubling. Adam Morrison, when he grows up, wants to be Luke Walton with better shooting ability. Barring borderline supernatural progress in the Summer League, Morrison figures to wear a suit and tie for most of next season. Free Agent options include Grant Hill, a fantastic fit for the triangle, but a poor shooter from beyond the arc. Pay attention to the difference between Odom's career (31%) and last season (32%) three-point accuracy and Grant Hill's (28% and 32%, respectively). The difference is not huge, but it is part of a larger puzzle. Remember: the Lakers sacrificed Vladimir Radmanovic (38% career, 41% for the Lakers last season) and Trevor Ariza (30% career, 32% last season, and 48% in the playoffs).
Second: More bigs. The Lakers must find a way to develop a reliable backup Center. Of course, the team's flexibility allows Gasol to shift to the 5, Odom to enter the starting lineup at the 4, Artest at the 3, and Kobe at the 2; but lest we get ahead of ourselves, there really is no backup for Pau if Bynum is out for whatever reason (fouls or injuries; take your pick). DJ Mbenga may be a stopgap, but unless he develops an offensive game, he is nothing more.
Potential Solution: No idea, to be honest. There are some veteran bigs available who are intriguing (Rasheed Wallace, for instance). Yet there is no obvious fit as there was in the case of bringing aboard Artest. Inviting Sheed to join forces with Artest might be a foolhardy move, given the volatile situation that would create. Perhaps the Lakers will tempt fate and run with minimal Center depth. Perhaps someone will step up during the Summer.
Third: Groom a point guard for the future. Derek Fisher is perhaps the point guard of the present. He is aging, and looked awkward for a good part of the late regular season, but he straightened things out just in time. Jordan Farmar is inconsistent and has not shown the progress one would like to see from him. In short, there is no compelling reason to think that he is the point guard of the future. Interestingly, Shannon Brown is probably most what Phil Jackson is looking for in an initiator. Unfortunately, he is a free agent about whose status we have heard very little.
Potential Solutions: The Lakers appear to be enamored of Nate Robinson. It is unclear what sort of deal could land Robinson, but although not a pure Point, he is a solid shooter (44-33-84 last season) whose only bad number is 5 feet, 9 inches.