It’s not good to discover you’re not tough enough, especially up front since no one is likely to be inclined to send you one of their tough big men. Nor would the draft be of much use, even if they were in it, which the Lakers almost aren’t, with only one pick at No. 58. However, this is an extraordinary case with the Lakers expecting seven-foot, 275-pound, 20-year-old Andrew Bynum expected back next fall.
Bynum, who missed the second half of the season, had been breaking out in his third season, looking so impressive that Kobe Bryant, who had excoriated Laker management, demanding to be traded, changed his mind about the whole thing.
If this was embarrassing – Bryant also railed at the Lakers for not trading Bynum for Jason Kidd – Kobe is now on board in a big way (“He’s a legitimate, 7-1, long-wing-span, natural shot blocker so add Andrew, it takes us to another level defensively.”)
Hurt on Jan. 13, Bynum was expected back in March but wound up undergoing arthroscopic surgery and missing the rest of the season. With Pau Gasol arriving to take his place – another piece of good luck for the Lakers who wouldn’t have been pursuing the deal with Memphis if Bynum hadn’t been hurt – the Lakers were never sure how good they were.
They certainly weren’t physical and or imposing defensively. On the other hand, their offense was so good – – they were 34-8 with Gasol in the lineup going into the Finals – there didn’t seem to be anyone better, or close.
It was almost as if they were on a lark. They would be better next season but in the meantime, why not try to take advantage of the opportunity at hand?
They wound up running into the Celtics, who looked out on their feet after going seven, seven and six games deeps in the three first rounds, but seemed quite refreshed in the Finals.
Bryant, who had smoke coming out of his ears in the interview room after their Game 6 loss in Boston, was over it by the time he talked to Laker beat writers three days later after his exit interview with head coach Phil Jackson.
"I'm comfortable with what we have," Bryant said. “Whatever Mitch [Kupchak, Laker GM] decides to do, he decides to do. It's more of a relaxing summer for me because I know we have an opportunity to win. It's exciting.”
With Bynum’s rehab now progressing, the Lakers do have one decision to make with Andrew up for an extension at or near the maximum-salary.
Nevertheless, the Lakers can let it play out according to their own comfort level.
They could extend him this summer (unlikely), wait to see how he holds up in training camp and sign him before the opener (possible) or wait until after the season, when he’ll be a restricted free agent and they can match any offers (also possible).
Aside from that, the Lakers just have to make the pieces fit with Bynum at center and Gasol moving to power forward.
That would move Lamar Odom to small forward... if he ever gets there.
At the moment, there’s speculation the 6-10 Odom will be shopped for a more small forward who’s a better outside shooter.
(That means, forget those Shawn Marion rumors. Like Odom, shooting from the outside is the worst thing Marion does.)
(As for those Richard Jefferson rumors, shooting isn’t what RJ does best, either.)
In what could be viewed as a preview of next season, Boston’s Kevin Garnett roamed off Odom in the Finals, just as the Lakers did with Rajon Rondo, giving Lamar any outside shot he wanted.
Odom faded, Garnett helped jam up the high-powered Laker offense inside and that was that.
Jackson wanted a small forward who could shoot and space the floor badly enough to start the inconsistent Vlade Radmanovic while labeling him “my favorite Martian.”
Beyond the question of how Odom will fit in the new configuration, he has one year left on his contract at $14.1 million and wants an extension. Meanwhile, the Lakers have financial issues. These don’t threaten the franchise, which probably grossed $175 million last season, but they’re issues, anyway.
As a result of the Gasol trade, Jerry Buss is looking at an additional $90 million in additional salary and luxury tax over the last three years of Pau’s contract – which was the reason Memphis got so few offers – unless the Lakers get some money off their cap.
With trade-Lamar stories all over the local papers, an irate Kupchak said the team hasn’t even had those discussions yet. However, Odom was originally in the package going to Memphis for Gasol, until Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley took him out, opting to lesser players and more savings.
And the Lakers will be holding those talks soon, with only one problem position, small forward.
Jackson, who wants to get tougher – and has never minded getting loonier – loves Sacramento’s Ron Artest, who just happened to be hanging this postseason, even going to Boston for Game 6.
Artest has tried to get himself traded to either Los Angeles team for years and can opt out of the last year at $7.4 million on his Sacramento contract. However, with the Kings unlikely to do a sign-and-trade unless they get Bryant, Bynum or Gasol, Artest could only get the Lakers’ $5.4 million veteran’s exception.
Of course, with Artest and Jackson, anything’s possible from Ron-Ron in purple and gold to a peaceful summer in Lakerdom.
Follow Mark Heisler on Twitter at @MarkHeisler