5 questions surrounding the Lakers' off-season
1. How will a possible lockout affect their off-season movement? Anyone expecting the team to either make swift moves or slight tweaks to the roster need to understand the sobering reality: Teams can't do anything so long as there's not a collective bargaining agreement. Since that's set to expire June 30, 2011 and there's no sign the league's owners and players union are near an agreement, it's safe to presume this will be a long off-season.
2. Who do the Lakers hire as their next head coach? Phil Jackson hasn't wavered from retirement, and his news conference following the Lakers' Game 4 loss to Dallas made it very obvious he's more than content with the legacy he has with 11 championships rings.
Assistant coach Brian Shaw has widely been expected to be favored to replace Jackson, including public endorsements from Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher. But The Times' Mark Heisler reported that the Lakers are also considering Boston Coach Doc Rivers, ESPN.com's J.A. Adande reported the coaching search as "wide open" and Magic Johnson tweeted Monday evening, "Dr. Buss & Mitch Kupchak will 1st decide who will be the coach then address the roster. Dr. Buss has always made good personnel decisions."
3. How will Matt Barnes and Shannon Brown address their player options? This is by no means the most pressing concern, but it's the most immediate. Barnes has an option next season worth $1.91 million and Brown has an option worth $2.37 million. This certainly doesn't mean their sentiments haven't changed, but Barnes and Brown gave some signals to The Times' Mike Bresnahan in March what they plan to do. Barnes, who's been on eight teams in his eight-year career, has often mentioned his want for stability and told Bresnahan he is "comfortable" exercising his option to stay with the Lakers next season. Brown, who received what Bresnahan characterized as a 'lukewarm response" during free agency last season, acknowledged to Bresnahan that testing free agency again would be the "best scenario" but made it clear he hadn't made a definitive decision. Those are answers we'll surely find out soon.
4. How will the coaching candidate affect the way the Lakers adjust their roster? It'd be far too speculative to wonder which coaching candidates the Lakers will consider and how that would play out in molding their roster. But this is clear: Shaw has made it clear he'd continue running the triangle should he be the Lakers' head coach.
But should the Lakers go in another direction, it's safe to presume that coach won't be coaching the triangle offense. As a result, there will either be an adjustment period for certain players on the Lakers roster. Players such as Fisher and Luke Walton come to mind as ones who'd be affected by a system change. That's not to say their future with the team would be severely influenced since that also requires a willing trading partner. But it'll certainly alter their roles.
5. How will Kobe Bryant treat his injuries? The Lakers had hoped to squeeze as many championships as they could out of this veteran-heavy roster, so there's no real "benefit" to ending the season early. But since the Lakers were eliminated early with a sweep in the Western Conference semifinals partly because of the heavy mileage from three successive NBA Finals, the offseason will provide much-needed rest. No one needs that more perhaps than Bryant, who played through the 2010-2011 season with injuries to his surgically repaired right knee, arthritis on his right index finger and a sprained left ankle.
Bryant already had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee last summer, but with his revelation in early January that there's very little cartilage in his right knee, extra treatment and rest will help that situation. It's been indicated that surgery may not even absolve the arthritis in his right index finger, but perhaps other options are available that normally wouldn't be because of his concern that the rehab would eat too much into the season. And he just may decide to get MRI and X-rays on his sprained left ankle after refusing to do so in the playoffs. It's safe to presume he'll spend the off-season resting, but how he treats his ankle will prove critical considering his health prompted Jackson to sit him out for most practices and his fatigue caught up to him at times, particularly in the semifinals series against Dallas, when he struggled in closing out games.
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Top photo: A dejected Lamar Odom towels off on the bench during a timeout in Game 4 on Sunday afternoon in Dallas. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times / May 8, 2011
Bottom photo: Lakers point guard Derek Fisher and assistant coach Brian Shaw, who took over head coaching duties with Phil Jackson ill, discuss strategy during an exhibition game last season against the Warriors. Credit: Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press / October 23, 2010