Maybe beating Orlando was the easy part. The hard part might be bringing the band back together next year.
Because the Lakers are young, people talk as if all they have to do is find a way to keep Ariza and Lamar Odom around, and they’ve got a shot at more titles in the coming 3 or 4 years.
If only it were that easy.
On July 1, 2009, Pau Gasol, Derek Fisher, Luke Walton, etc., and a good number of Laker fans will be at the edge of their seats waiting for news on the return of key players.
Lamar Odom ($14.1 million), Trevor Ariza ($3.1 million) and Shannon Brown ($1 million) are free agents, and Kobe Bryant can terminate the last 2 years of his contract and become an unrestricted free agent. Likewise, the Lakers have options to keep Josh Powell ($959,000), DJ Mbenga ($959,000) and Sun Yue ($736,000).
And coming up soon are 3 more expiring contracts at the end of this coming season: Adam Morrison ($5.2 million), Derek Fisher ($5 million) and Jordan Farmar ($1.9 million).
A year after that, contracts expire for Pau Gasol ($34.2 million) and Sasha Vujacic ($10.5).
But wait, there’s more! Phil Jackson can likewise opt out of his contract this summer, or return for a cool $12 million.
Being a student of basketball history, Kobe knows full well that Michael Jordan said he would not be back in Chicago unless Phil was back. Then when the Lakers and Phil parted ways in 2004, another dominate superstar followed suit: Shaquille O’Neal demanded a trade.
Will Kobe’s return likewise be contingent on Phil’s?
Has Phil had his fill of coaching now that he has a championship ring for each finger? Was passing Red to be the undisputed champion of champions enough for Phil? Does he have anything else to prove? Does he still have the hunger (and health) to endure another long season and post season?
Remember, at a crucial time in the race with Cleveland for home court advantage, Phil Jackson didn’t make the trip from Los Angeles to Portland on the Lakers private team jet due to health difficulties. Phil is great, but like the rest of us, he isn’t getting any younger either.
June 25, 2009 will be an interesting day as we all watch what the Lakers do with their 3 picks in the draft (29th, 42nd and 59th picks). Spanish point guard Ricky Rubio couldn’t fall that far, could he? Probably not. But how the Lakers use those draft picks may signal where they feel they could need help in the near future.
It is interesting to me that Mitch Kupcheck had his eyes on Trevor Ariza since college. As Mitch watched Ariza bounce around, he thought he saw a bargain to be acquired and was right. It makes you wonder who else he has his eyes on.
“I think we could be in position to advance to the Finals for the next three, four years,” General Manager Mitch Kupchak said as the Lakers celebrated Phil Jackson’s 10th championship
Can the Lakers afford to do it though?
Last season the Lakers had the 2nd highest payroll in the NBA, and that doesn’t even count the mad money they are playing their coach.
The Lakers forfeit about $3 million profit sharing due to being over the salary cap, and paid about $12 million in luxury tax this year… and now key players will need more money to stay around?
It’s worse than this though. There’s a recession and revenues are down around the League.
Television ratings for the 2009 NBA Finals were down 10 percent from the previous year.
The NBA is considering lowering the threshold for salary caps, which will sharply increase the Lakers’ luxury tax as well.
These pay increases won’t be easy for Dr. Buss to afford.
It doesn’t help that recent contracts to Sasha Vujacic, Luke Walton and Andrew Bynum are tying up critical dollars and not getting much bang for the buck.
Take Andrew Bynum for example. Here is a partial list of NBA Players making LESS than Andrew Bynum next season:
The * signifies a player who has been an all-star.
And even if the group stays together, it is no given that the Lakers will continue to bring home trophies. Let’s not lose sight of the up and coming teams, particularly the Portland Trail Blazers, with whom the Lakers struggle mightily, and the Houston Rockets who gave the Lakers fits even without Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady. Likewise, there are many Eastern Conference teams who are up and coming.
The good news is that the economic factors which affect the Lakers also affect the other teams in the NBA. In fact, being a huge market, the Lakers are perhaps best positioned for attracting and retaining talent.
Also, the Lakers aren’t the only team who has overpaid for their players. As unproductive as Bynum was for the money though, Rashard Lewis (2 of 10 for 6 points in game 3) was the 9th highest paid player in the NBA last season, and he stunk much worse.
Here is a partial list of NBA players making LESS than Rashard Lewis this season:
And of course no * are necessary as most of these players are perennial all stars.
The Lakers may be able to retain and attract players simply because they are the Lakers, and winning is attractive to a lot of players, especially to the kinds of players the Lakers want.
Just today Trevor Ariza said, “I’d love to come back. Money is important, this is our job here, but I built a bond with my coaches and my teammates. We have a really good team and I think we’ll be good for a long time.”
One final note.
People keep talking about how many minutes Kobe Bryant has logged, inferring that he may not have several more grueling seasons left in him.
They could be right, however, Kobe Bryant has missed less games these last 4 years than has youngster LeBron James. In fact, LeBron has yet to go a season without missing games.
The basketball world watched in disbelief when the Chicago Bulls refused to keep Phil Jackson, and Michael Jordan retired as a result and the Bulls imploded.
We were even more stunned as the Los Angeles Lakers unraveled an even younger dynasty and went into rebuilding mode.
It just feels like if there is a way to prevent repeating these mistakes, the Lakers are all over that way and come October Lakers fans will be singing the Thin Lizzy song: The Boys Are Back In Town.