“Very good,” Jim Buss, the Lakers’ primary decision maker, said when asked what are the chances the Lakers have Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Andrew Bynum to start the upcoming NBA season.
Come again? Has Jim Buss been living under a rock for the past year and a half?
In the their last two playoff appearances, the Lakers have only won one second round playoff game en route to back-to-back early exits.
Buss isn’t exactly crazy though. He’s sees the talent on floor we all see. The Lakers Big Three is talented enough to play with any NBA team’s Big Three, including the Thunder’s young tandem and the Heat’s superstar trio.
Yet that’s only when Gasol asserts himself, Bynum focuses in, and Bryant shows a deeper trust in his teammates.
It’s been two years and the Lakers’ haven’t put this all together.
For a franchise whose goal is to win the NBA Championship every year, anything less is a failure.
Coming off consecutive disappearing acts in the second round, Gasol appears to be the ‘fall guy’ for these shortcomings. Once starring in the role of Robin to Kobe’s Batman, the Spainard appears to have relinquished that role to an ascending Bynum.
Though Bynum has maturity issues and an history of injuries, his upside is sky high. Trading Gasol is the best option for the Lakers, preferably for an elite point guard like Deron Williams or Rajon Rondo.
Houston would be the most likely destination for Gasol because Rockets’ general manager Daryl Morey has long chased after the 31 year old and his unique skill set.
Boston, with the possible retirement of Kevin Garnett, and Philadelphia, with Elton Brand’s lack of production, could be other potential suitors for Gasol.
Instead Buss and the Lakers will strive for continuity this offseason and a few minor splashes.
“We will try to sign (Ramon) Sessions when the rules allow beginning in July…and improve the bench,” Buss said on the Lakers’ offseason plans.
Assuming the Lakers don’t land an elite point guard in a blockbuster trade, Sessions may be the best option at point guard.
Under the current CBA and the Lakers’ huge salary commitment to Bryant, Bynum and Gasol, their financial flexibility is limited. The team will only have a mini-mid-level exception for $3 million a year over two years to offer. Point guards in this salary range could be Raymond Felton and Kirk Hinrich.
If Session’s asking price goes too high, the Lakers could turn to Hinrich. He plays solid defense and can shoot three pointers, hitting 37.8% for his career. Health could be factor though as Hinrich has played 48, 48 and 24 games in the last three seasons, respectively.
Yet the biggest upgrade needs to be in the bench. Last season, the Lakers’ bench ranked dead last in the NBA in scoring. This lies in stark contrast to the Lakers’ two championship years, 2009 and 2010, where their bench was consistently one of the best in the NBA.
The Lakers need bench players who can play solid defense and hit a few three point shots a game to keep defenses from crowding Gasol and Bynum and relieve some of the scoring load off of Bryant.
Though it will have to be a Mike Miller – Miami Heat sort of deal, where a player will choose to come to a contender for the veteran’s minimum because of the Lakers’ cap space issues.
For the Lakers, this offseason will be a telling one and with Bryant’s prime playing days receding faster than LeBron James’ hairline, Buss needs to take a more aggressive approach to building a title team.