2. Los Angeles Lakers
Only a paycut would allow Gary Payton to play with Shaq and Kobe.
No one's going to feel sorry for the three-time former champs, either, but they've got their own issues. Kobe Bryant has just made it publicly clear that he has big-time expectations this offseason, which go beyond Shaquille O'Neal slimming down and Phil Jackson committing to keep coaching. Kobe wants more help and the Lakers clearly need at least two new impact players this summer to keep up with the rest of the West elite. Problem is, everyone on their list has other options, and going to the Lakers hardly guarantees a ring anymore because the talent around Shaq and Kobe is so thin. Gary Payton confidantes insist that GP is seriously considering a jump to L.A. to play for the $4.9 million exception, but the Lakers have nothing to offer if Payton insists on forcing a sign-and-trade with Milwaukee to get a salary closer to last season's $12.6 million. Utah's Malone is in a similar position, intrigued by the Laker Idea but bound to be resistant to what would be a pay cut of $14 million in Malone's case. The Lakers are also expected to recruit Denver's Howard and New Orleans' P.J. Brown for their frontcourt opening, along with Miami's Mourning, and Jackson doesn't hide his desire to chase Portland's Scottie Pippen as a stabilizer and defensive hound on the perimeter. Of course, all of the above can get more money elsewhere. The good news for Kobe and Co.? Losing to the Spurs in the second round actually helped their chances of landing one of the future Hall of Famers, because the new guy will have the opportunity to win universal praise as the piece that helped restore the Lakers to glory. The bad news? Even if the Lakers get Payton or Malone, they'll still badly need a shooter -- Eric Piatkowski of the Clips is the best marksman available -- but probably don't have the money to get one.