When dust settles ...


While their coach debates whether to return or retire, the Lakers press onward.

They have no choice. The NBA calendar calls for the free-agency period to begin Wednesday at 9:01 p.m.

The Lakers might not only lose Phil Jackson and assistant coach Brian Shaw, who is edging closer to becoming Cleveland’s head coach, but they also have six free agents on their roster, almost half the team.

There are many, many questions.

Will they re-sign Derek Fisher and Shannon Brown? What other options are there at point guard? Any frontcourt players in the picture? And will they maybe keep Jordan Farmar after all?


Fisher, 35, is their main free-agent concern after his sturdy playoff presence probably extended his pro career by at least one more season. The Lakers could sign him for the veteran’s minimum of $1.35 million for a player with his experience (14 seasons), but Fisher wants something closer to the $5 million he made this past season.

It does not look like an easy negotiation, with Fisher saying last week he has a “strong feeling about what my value is to a team,” but the Lakers hope talks do not stagnate after going through a laborious monthlong process last July before re-signing Lamar Odom.

After Brown opts out of a contract that would have paid him $2.15 million next season, the Lakers can give him a five-year deal worth up to an estimated $34 million, but he wasn’t much of a factor in the playoffs and will not get that big of a deal from his employers of the last 11/2 seasons.

The Lakers are contemplating offering Farmar a one-year, $3-million contract in order to avoid losing him as an unrestricted free agent. If they tender him the deal, known as a qualifying offer, he remains a restricted free agent and they have the right to match any offer sheet he signs with another team.

End-of-bench reserves Adam Morrison, DJ Mbenga and Josh Powell are not expected back. The Lakers will not heavily pursue any frontcourt players in free agency because they are cautiously optimistic about their second-round draft picks, small forward Devin Ebanks and power forward Derrick Caracter, and could employ them next season for $473,000 each.

One player who isn’t expected to leave is Andrew Bynum, whose name has been dropped in numerous trade rumors, all of which are “ridiculous” insinuations, according to a source familiar with the thinking of the Lakers’ front office.


At any rate, what can the Lakers spend this off-season?

Without including Brown, they have committed $81.6 million to only seven players on next season’s payroll and are already way over the salary cap for 2010-11, meaning their largest free-agent tool is the mid-level exception, worth an annual average of about $6.5 million for up to five years.

The Lakers, however, do not want to spend their entire mid-level exception, which limits their purchasing power. They can sign a free agent for less than that, say two years and a total of $9 million, but are reluctant to dig too deep into the mid-level reservoir after having the league’s highest payroll last season ($91.3 million).

If the Lakers lose Brown and Farmar, they are interested in signing a point guard such as Steve Blake, Luke Ridnour or Earl Watson.

Blake is a pass-first point guard with a decent three-point touch, a 30-year-old veteran who made $4.25 million last season with the Clippers and Portland. He averaged 6.8 points and 6.1 assists in 29 games with the Clippers while shooting a commendable 43.7% from three-point range.

Ridnour, 29, made $6.5 million last season with Milwaukee and would have to take a steep pay cut to join the Lakers. He averaged 10.4 points and four assists last season.

Watson, 31 and formerly of UCLA, averaged 7.8 points and 5.1 assists last season for Indiana, but he has never been a great three-point shooter, averaging 33.1% in his career. Like Ridnour, he made $6.5 million last season and would have to take a sharp cut to join the Lakers.


Shooting guard Raja Bell, 33, is also a possibility despite playing only six games last season with Charlotte and Golden State. A steady outside shooter, decent defender and former nemesis of Kobe Bryant, Bell had his season cut short in November after undergoing surgery to repair a partially torn ligament in his left wrist. He made $5.25 million in 2009-10.

The Lakers are near the top of the list of smooth-shooting forward Mike Miller, but he is coming off a contract in which he made $9.8 million last season and would want more than they can offer.

Shaw gone?

For the second time in as many seasons, the Lakers might lose an assistant coach.

Shaw had not received an offer from Cleveland as of Tuesday, but he appeared to be the front-runner to replace fired coach Mike Brown after meeting with Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert and General Manager Chris Grant on Monday and Tuesday.

Shaw, 44, was an assistant under Jackson the last five seasons. He won two NBA championships as an assistant and three as a player with the Lakers.

Byron Scott, who could become a candidate for the Lakers’ job if Jackson retired, also interviewed for the Cavaliers’ job.

The Lakers lost assistant coach Kurt Rambis last season after he became the head coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves.




A look at some of the NBA’s top free-agent prospects:


* The most-coveted free agent since Shaquille O’Neal in 1996.


* Since he has a ring, would he mind sharing spotlight with LeBron and Bosh?


* He’s a big-time scorer, but remember his poor rebounding against Lakers.


* One thing is for sure: He’s not going back to Toronto.


* The former MVP opted for free agency, but he’s not expected to leave Big D.


* The Knicks would love to sign him to entice LeBron to the Garden.


* Giving up $21.5 million in the final year of his deal to become a free agent for the first time.


* Now that Kobe has one more title, could a reunion happen? Not likely.