After title time comes decision time for Lakers
The smell of champagne emanated from Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak, his clothes stained, his smile bright and spirits high, the journey now complete with L.A.'s championship in place over the hated Boston Celtics.
During a quiet moment after Kupchak ducked down a Staples Center hallway with his family, he said Thursday night was his time to celebrate before it was back to work Friday morning.
Kupchak now has to put a team together and coax his coach, Phil Jackson, back for next season for an attempt to three-peat.
Jackson said after the Lakers won the title that he’ll decide before Thursday’s NBA draft whether he’ll return.
Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, Andrew Bynum, Ron Artest, Sasha Vujacic and Luke Walton are locked up with multi-year deals. But the Lakers could have six free agents — Derek Fisher, Jordan Farmar, Shannon Brown (he has an opt-out clause), Adam Morrison, DJ Mbenga and Josh Powell.
If Brown opts out of his contract, the Lakers would still have seven players under contract for next season for a payroll of $83.7 million, well over the projected NBA luxury-tax threshold of $69.9 from last season, meaning owner Jerry Buss will pay a dollar-for-dollar tax over that amount.
The Lakers had a payroll of $91.3 million this season.
Jackson, 64, who has had both hips replaced, will undergo his annual battery of postseason medical exams to make sure he is physically capable of coaching another season. He plans on having a kidney stone removed.
Jackson just completed a two-year, $23-million deal that paid him $12 million this season and $2 million more in bonuses that he said he would donate to charity.
If he takes a pay cut on a one-year deal, there is a scenario in which he receives an undisclosed amount of deferred money over the next couple of years.
Kobe Bryant said after Game 7 that Jackson “knows how bad I want him back.”
“Personally, I don’t know how you walk away from this,” Kupchak said. “But he’s always had a methodology as to when he makes a decision. And we’ll respect his position and go through the process. Then, like I said, hopefully he returns.”
Once Jackson’s status is sorted out, the Lakers will turn to dealing with their free agents.
Teams can begin negotiating with free agents July 1, but the moratorium before a player can sign lasts until July 7. “We’ll convene with ownership, [assistant general manager] Ronnie Lester and myself in the next couple of weeks and plot a course,” Kupchak said.
Fisher, who’ll be 36 in August, had another good showing in the playoffs, capped by a late-game three-pointer in Game 7. He probably will have to take a pay cut from the $5.04 million he earned this season and may be offered only a one-year deal.
“If it’s up to me, I’ll be back,” Fisher said while still clinging to the championship trophy. “I want to be back here.”
Farmar, 23, who earned $1.9 million last season, will be a restricted free agent, meaning the Lakers can match any offer he receives.
But the Lakers probably will let him walk, according to an NBA executive who was not authorized to speak publicly.
And it sounds as if Famar is ready to depart after winning two titles. “I want to take a step forward in my career,” said Farmar, who wants to be a starting point guard. “We’ll see how it works out.”
Brown just finished the first season of a two-year, “bi-annual exception” worth $4.1 million. If he opts out, the Lakers could sign him for up to five years and as high as the mid-level exception; the current mid-level exception pays $5.8 million in the first year.
“It all depends on what my options are,” Brown said. “But it won’t be a tough decision at all. I want to be back here.”
The Lakers probably won’t bring back Mbenga, Morrison and Powell, the NBA executive said.
The Lakers will look at free-agent point guards Steve Blake, Earl Watson and Luke Ridnour, the executive added.
But whoever signs with the Lakers will have to take a pay cut because they don’t plan on using the mid-level exception to sign a player. They will be looking to sign an experienced big man for the veteran’s minimum, which will be as much as $1.325 million for a player with 10 years or more of experience.
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