Back to the shop
Assessing how the first-round losers can try to retool
Posted: Tuesday May 8, 2007 6:13PM; Updated: Friday May 11, 2007 10:12AM
Losing in the first round of the playoffs is a particularly cruel fate. Not bad enough to feign excitement over a draft lottery pick nor good enough to win any games of substance in the spring, early playoff losers are caught in a state of limbo. Breaking the cycle that lifts a good team to greatness is a difficult and delicate process, one that often requires a step or two back to take the next steps ahead.
How should this year's first-round losers advance their postseason causes? Well, that's what we're here for, to analyze what areas each club needs to address if they hope to maximize the talents already on hand.
Los Angeles Lakers
Projected room under the salary cap (estimated to be $55 million): None
Unlike a certain former teammate, Kobe has become a detriment to recruiting for all but the most desperate of players hoping to chase the playoffs. But as even Lamar Odom has found out, is getting knocked out in Round 1 worth the angry glares, harsh words and lack of touches on the floor? Not unless you're competing for a title, and this Lakers team isn't close to that, especially with a void at power forward and a 19-year-old center in Bynum just learning how to play consistently.
On paper, Bynum presents the team's largest conundrum: Do the Lakers take it on the chin for another season or two while the talented youngster develops into the low-post presence L.A. can't win without? Or do they jettison the 7-foot prospect for a proven talent who will improve the bottom line immediately?
Bryant's post-playoff comments indicate he wants help now, but he'd be wrong if it included using Bynum as bait.
With the Lakers' lack of salary-cap space, Bynum -- and his rookie contract -- represents their only realistic commodity. Odom is still desirable, but the $27 million he's owed the next two seasons may be a poison pill to all teams not playing in New York City. And not even the Knicks would line up for the likes of Brian Cook or Vladimir Radmanovic.
So that leaves Bynum and the possibility he could fetch a Kevin Garnett or a Jermaine O'Neal or a Jason Kidd. Problem is, the Lakers aren't a mere All-Star away from winning the West, not with the Spurs, Suns and Mavs in residence. Further, none of those targets would provide the Lakers the low-post strength they need to compete against the Tim Duncans or Yao Mings, nor would it make them quick enough to deal with the Suns or Nuggets.
In other words, the Lakers are in NBA limbo: not good enough to compete for a title, not bad enough for a franchise-changing draft pick. At least on paper, but that paper hasn't shown GM Mitch Kupchak to be all that creative in building the Lakers' roster. Sure, he could get lucky and get O'Neal on fire sale from Indiana or Garnett on trade demand from Minnesota, but so could 29 other teams that don't have an overbearing ball hog as their front man.
If the Lakers were smart, they'd find something useful in the draft, make some small deals for bench help and think about a sign-and-trade with Walton, whose quiet effectiveness this season will make him an attractive piece on the free-agent market, and also one of the few methods by which the Lakers can acquire some new blood.
1 of 5