Difficult summer choices will shape futures of both Lakers and Magic
If Kobe Bryant opts out, he's expected to sign a long-term deal with the Lakers
Lakers may face bidding war for Trevor Ariza's services after impressive playoffs
Hedo Turkoglu is expected to seek a contract worth about $10 million per season
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Standing on a hastily erected dais at center court in Amway Arena, Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak sported a toothy grin that extended from ear-to-ear. The team that he meticulously assembled over the last few years had climbed the NBA mountaintop, and for the next few days he would reap the rewards in the form of congratulatory phone calls and text messages from his peers and a raucous parade through the streets of Los Angeles.
Right around the time Kupchak was standing tall after Sunday's Game 5 clincher in the NBA Finals, Magic GM Otis Smith walked slowly through a winding hallway in the back of the arena. The feeling was less than sweet for Smith, who put together an unorthodox roster that shocked the basketball world with its march to the NBA Finals.
In the next few weeks, however, the emotions of Kupchak and Smith will eventually come in sync. Kupchak's euphoria will subside; for Smith, the sting of Orlando's loss will ease. And then both men will find themselves with the same task: How do they do it again?
Both teams have significant decisions to make this offseason that will affect their ability to get back to this stage. Let's examine both teams.
Draft picks: 29th overall, 42nd and 59th
Skinny: Don't expect the drama that surrounded Bryant's foray into free agency in 2004 (when he flirted with the Clippers and Bulls) this time around. If Bryant does opt out of the final two season of his seven-year, $136 million deal, he likely would re-sign quickly with the Lakers.
Bringing back their other free agents won't be so easy. Ariza had a career year, highlighted by an 11.3-point, 4.2-rebound, 1.6-steal postseason. There will be a healthy market for the 23-year-old Ariza's services -- he could seek to at least double his $2.8 million salary from this season, though only a few rival teams will have significant cap room -- and L.A. may have to overspend to keep him.
Odom's situation could be trickier. At 29, Odom still considers himself a starter, and despite his success in a reserve role, he may balk at coming back to play behind Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. Odom won't come close to earning the $11.5 million he pocketed this season, but a point forward who can score and rebound is attractive to playoff teams eyeing that missing piece. Which presents the Lakers with another question: Do they want to pay in the neighborhood of $7 to $8 million a year for a backup?
The wild card in this situation is the unpredictability of free agency. With the crashing economy and teams stockpiling cash for the summer of 2010, the market for free agents could be limited. That could lead some high-profile players -- Jason Kidd, Rasheed Wallace and Antonio McDyess, to name a few possibilities -- to take less money to play for a contender. And that could work in the Lakers' favor.
Draft picks: None
Skinny: Since coming to Orlando in 2004, Turkoglu has developed from a spot-up shooter into a versatile offensive star. Turkoglu is prepared to walk away from the $7.3 million he is owed next season and become a free agent. One source said the 29-year-old forward could be seeking a contract worth as much as $10 million per season.
Will the Magic pay it? They almost have to. Turkoglu was the team's leading scorer in the fourth quarter the last two seasons. He is one of the few perimeter players in Orlando who can create his own shot. Allowing Turkoglu to walk with no compensation would be a crippling loss.
Meanwhile, Gortat's numbers (3.8 points, 4.6 rebounds this season) aren't impressive, but some NBA scouts believe his size and defensive skills will make him a starter in a few years. There are sizable holes in his offensive game, but he was solid in his role as the Magic's first big man off the bench in the postseason. He even had a nice chemistry when playing alongside starting center Dwight Howard.
Gortat is unlikely to command more than the mid-level exception, but given his age (25) and upside, there may be teams willing to overpay for him. The Magic have Tony Battie under contract through next season, but Battie is not a traditional center like Gortat. And if Gortat continues to develop, he could play a significant role with Orlando next season.
The biggest trade chip the Magic have this offseason is point guard Rafer Alston. With All-Star Jameer Nelson returning to a starting role next season, Alston, who has one year left on his contract, becomes a luxury. Because of his manageable $5.3 million expiring contract, Alston should be a valuable commodity.
Even if they bring back their own free agents, the Magic will need to upgrade if they hope to return to the Finals next season. Cleveland is expected to add another piece (possibly Howard nemesis Shaquille O'Neal), and Boston should be formidable again with a healthy Kevin Garnett. Adding talent appears to be a must, and Smith will need to be creative -- as he was in the midseason deal for Alston -- to do it.
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