As the Lakers prepare to celebrate with another championship parade, one might wonder if they can do it all again next year. In all likelihood, the 2010-11 Los Angeles Lakers will look similar to this year's team, but there are still a few changes that could happen.
The big question is whether or not Phil Jackson will return, and I think he will. There was a distant possibility that Jackson could have left to coach the Bulls or Nets, but those two teams have since hired head coaches. That leaves the Cleveland Cavaliers and LA Clippers as the only two teams without a head coach. LeBron or not, I simply can't envision Jackson going to Cleveland at this stage in his life. And it would take a dramatic set of circumstances for Jackson to go to the Clippers.
So Jackson's choice is essentially between coaching the Lakers or retiring. I believe that Jackson will ultimately want to try for his unprecedented fourth three-peat and his 12th NBA title. There has been speculation that Jackson might have to take a pay cut, because Jerry Buss increased payroll expenditures (luxury tax included) by $30 million this past year without seeing a marked increase in revenues. But Jerry Buss (who is Hall of Fame bound this offseason) has said his No. 1 goal is to surpass the Celtics in NBA titles. With the Lakers at 16 and the Celtics at 17, Buss knows that Jackson offers him the best chance of getting there quickly. Expect Jackson to sign a one-year deal to come back next year for roughly the same amount of money he's making now.
The other major question is at point guard. Derek Fisher is an unrestricted free agent, Jordan Farmar is a restricted free agent, and Shannon Brown is likely to opt out of his contract to become a free agent. Farmar is as good as gone. He never progressed far enough and just doesn't seem to fit into the triangle offense. The Lakers won't match any team's offer for him, and Farmar sounds like a guy who'd like to try a new situation. I also believe that Brown will wind up getting a larger contract offer from another team hoping to channel his athleticism into quality minutes.
Fisher's free agent options are limited, and it is likely that he will stay. Fisher only wants to play in a handful of cities so that his daughter can continue to get quality medical care, and few teams are looking to sign a 36-year old point guard who is clearly on his last legs. Fisher fits in better with the Lakers than any other team, and he's the squad's emotional leader. Expect Fisher to sign a short-term contract for less than what he's been making the past few years.
The Lakers will subsequently need to sign 2 point guards, and will have limited resources to do so. They will likely make a run at veterans Steve Blake, Luke Ridnour, and Earl Watson. I would also expect the Lakers to audition a variety of point guards most basketball fans haven't heard of before, similar to how Smush Parker came out of nowhere to start a few years back. None of these names are exciting, but the Lakers don't need much out of the point guard position because of their strengths elsewhere.
For nearly a year, we've been hearing rumors about a potential Andrew Bynum for Chris Bosh trade. This is a fun argument for Lakers fans to have. Bosh is one of the best big men in the league, and as a free agent this summer, he could only come to LA in a sign-and-trade with Toronto. The Raptors might be inclined to do the deal in order to at least get something in return for Bosh, who could otherwise walk away for nothing.
Most Laker fans will tell you not to this deal. I would disagree. I think Bosh is a premier NBA player who can keep the Lakers title window open even longer. Contrary to what you hear on sports talk radio, I believe that he can play strong at the basket. Phil Jackson is also one of Bosh's biggest fans, and thinks he'd fit well in the triangle.
On the other hand, Bynum has proven himself to be injury prone and inconsistent. If not for Kendrick Perkins' injury, a Bynum injury could have cost the Lakers the title against the Celtics for the second time in three years. Even when he's at full strength, we never completely know what we'll get. It's true that Bynum is just 23 and still improving, but he's been hurt quite a bit for a player of his age.
Regardless, I don't see this deal happening. I'm not sure if Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo wants to invest $14 million a year in a player who is about to have knee surgery. And I also see Mitch Kupchak being concerned about how Bosh could fit in the front court with Pau Gasol, when we know that Gasol can play with Bynum. Additionally, Bosh will probably cost more than the Lakers can afford. Expect Bynum to get his knee surgery, come slow into the season, and then Laker fans can just hope his body holds up through the year.
Next, there's some question about what Kobe Bryant will do in the offseason. It's easy for me to say this, but if I were him, I would get surgeries on both my knee and my fingers. I'm fairly certain that Bryant will skip the World Basketball Championships. But if he thinks that surgery will take too much away from his offseason training, it's possible he won't go through with it.
Finally, expect the Lakers to part ways with DJ Mbenga and Josh Powell. Neither guy had a significant impact on the team this year, and the Lakers would be better served by taking flyers on other players. Adam Morrison and his $5.25 million contract are gone too. Hopefully, he'll shave his mustache.