Down and out Lakers looking ahead to shake-upBy The Sports Xchange | The SportsXchange – Wed, May 23, 2012 10:21 AM EDT
For the second year in a row, the Lakers bowed out of the postseason ingloriously in the second round of the Western Conference playoffs. The 4-1 series loss to Oklahoma City underscored issues inside, outside and all points between, leaving 33-year-old Kobe Bryant to put the focus on the Lakers' brass and GM Mitch Kupchak. "I'm confident in Mitch," Bryant said. "I'm confident in (vice president) Jim (Buss). They've done it before." Bryant is scheduled to address the media later this week. He didn't want to discuss specific players, analyze weaknesses on the roster or past critiques, some of them pointed and on the record, following Monday's loss to the Thunder. He did say the Lakers won't fall off the radar and he'll be back to compete for a sixth NBA championship. He scored 42 points in the Game 5 defeat Monday, but the collective product in the fourth quarter wasn't up to Lakers' standards. Metta World Peace said Tuesday the issue, indirectly, is Bryant, "I think guys need to trust themselves more. I think some guys -- not myself -- look to Kobe too much," World Peace said. It might take a major move to appease Bryant. Because of financial commitments to the core of the roster, a major acquisition almost certainly mean trading either Pau Gasol, who has a maximum contract, or Andrew Bynum. Bynum is regarded as one of the top centers of the league, proving capable of producing huge performances. He had multiple 20-20 games this season and scored 16 points with 30 rebounds April 11 against the Spurs. He's 24, and his value is extremely high. The Lakers have to weigh whether his value is greater as a trade bargaining chip or as Bryant's sidekick or co-star. But Bynum's motor isn't always running wide open, his option for next season is $16.1 million, and coach Mike Brown placed direct blame on his bigs after Game 5. "Obviously, we need more from him," said Brown. Dealing Gasol won't be easy. Kupchak attempted to deal Gasol in a package for Chris Paul before the deal with the Hornets was vetoed by the NBA. He was offered to the Rockets before the season and Houston is reportedly still interested in making a move despite Gasol's diminished point production and $38 million remaining on the final two years of his contract. Dealing Bynum or Gasol would necessitate getting a post player in return. The prize acquisition would be Dwight Howard, the oft-discussed superstar entering the final year of his contract. Other big-money options could be Jazz center Al Jefferson or seeking trades for a potentially available star such as Chris Bosh (Heat). "Am I fearful of change?" Bynum said. "Change never bothers me. I'll play anywhere. I'll come back a better player." The decision is deeper than choosing Bynum or Howard. Several areas on the roster can be flagged as weaknesses, including point guard. Ramon Sessions was overmatched in the series against Oklahoma City by Russell Westbrook. Could pending free agent Steve Nash bring the sizzle the offense lacks? Perhaps, but his defense won't be first-rate. Bryant figures to share more of his many opinions this week. He's shared them with Kupchak before -- publicly decrying the team shopping Gasol at the trade deadline, claiming the whispers dented Gasol's confidence -- and no doubt will again. "Come hell or high water, we're going to be there again," he said. "It's kind of unfamiliar territory. I'm really not used to it. It's pretty odd for me. I'm not the most patient of people and the organization's not extremely patient either. We want to win, and win now. I'm sure we'll figure it out. We always have, and I'm sure we will again."
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