Lakers bring new coaching staff, many questions into NBA season
Not much has happened since the Lakers last played a game.
Ron Artest has a new name. Derek Fisher is now 37 years old.
Oh, and Phil Jackson is gone, a whole new coaching staff is in place and there are questions about whether the Lakers can return to their championship air of 2009 and 2010.
Now that the NBA lockout has apparently ended, the Lakers remain one of the league’s most intriguing teams. But what exactly will they look like in 2011-12?
Most of the regulars will be back. Kobe Bryant (33 years old) has three years left on his contract, as does Pau Gasol (31). Lamar Odom (32) has two years remaining, along with Andrew Bynum (24), though neither has a fully guaranteed deal beyond this season.
Then it gets interesting.
Fisher and Steve Blake are holdovers but the Lakers want to add a point guard before the season starts, via free agency or the expected “amnesty” provision in the new labor deal that allows teams to waive a player without having to pay luxury taxes on his salary, or have his salary count toward the salary cap.
The Lakers are curious to see if veteran point guard Baron Davis gets cut by Cleveland. He has two years and $28.7 million left on his contract, though he can be signed for substantially less than that. The Lakers also want a shooter and are monitoring whether forward Rashard Lewis (two years, $43.8 million remaining) gets waived by Washington.
Because the Lakers are so far over the salary cap with a current payroll of about $90 million, their only real spending tool in free agency is the mid-level exception, which will shrink dramatically from last year’s five-year, $29-million maximum for such a player.
Jamal Crawford is one of the top options in a weak free-agent class, but the former Atlanta Hawks combo guard will probably want too much for the Lakers’ taste. Jose Juan Barea ran rings around the Lakers in the playoffs, but Dallas is expected to make a big push to re-sign the unrestricted free-agent guard.
There’s also a question of which player the Lakers will cut with their amnesty provision: Luke Walton or Metta World Peace (Artest).
Walton, 31, has two years and $11.5 million left on his contract. World Peace, 32, has three years and $21.5 million remaining. Walton has been plagued by back problems the last few years and averaged 1.7 points in 54 games last season. World Peace played all 82 regular-season games last season but averaged a career-low 8.5 points.
The Lakers would save $11.5 million in luxury taxes by waiving Walton and $21.5 million by cutting World Peace but would still have to pay the salary of whichever player they cut.
There are other roster questions.
There’s a chance guard Shannon Brown returns despite declining a $2.4-million player option last June. The start of his 2010-11 season was much stronger than his finish but the Lakers hadn’t shut the door on re-signing him after he averaged 8.7 points and 19.1 minutes.
The Lakers will bring back Devin Ebanks for sure with a bargain-like $788,872 team option and might also bring back the less-promising Derrick Caracter for an identical $788,872 team option.
The Lakers did not have a first-round pick in this year’s draft but could quickly add end-of-bench depth by signing at least two of their three second-round picks at cheap prices: Michigan guard Darius Morris, Charleston guard Andrew Goudelock or Sudanese forward Ater Majok.
Above the realm of second-round picks and free agents who might or might not join the team, there’s the almost forgotten factor of all the unfamiliar faces on the Lakers’ coaching staff, let alone the new offense and defense they plan on implementing.
Coach Mike Brown will send away Jackson’s triangle offense and bring in a scheme that centers more on getting the ball down low to the big men.
Not to be forgotten, however, is that Bynum will miss the first five games of an already truncated season because of a suspension for body-slamming Barea in the final game of the Lakers’ forgettable playoff limp in May.
The Lakers are a year older and a year wiser, though they were already supposed to have the wisdom part down. Once their roster shapes up, this season will be about hanging with the younger teams (Oklahoma City, Miami, Chicago) and having enough to turn it up in the playoffs . . . they hope.
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