Dwight Howard arrived injured and Steve Nash may have been worse. And we all know about Kobe Bryant and his torn Achilles tendon.
So is it any surprise the Los Angeles Lakers were the NBA’s biggest disappointment? Is it really a shocker they were swept in the first round of the playoffs by the San Antonio Spurs?
Actually, even when Bryant, Howard and Nash were healthy, the Lakers weren’t any great shakes.
They lacked chemistry. They barely defended — at least, not when it mattered most. They possessed a thin and inconsistent bench.
As Howard indicated, the Lakers were basically one gigantic flop.
Now, general manager Mitch Kupchak has some major decisions.
Bryant is 34 years old and coming off surgery. Howard is an unrestricted free agent. Nash is at least a little over-the-hill. And no one’s sure if D’Antoni is actually the right coach.
Bryant offered his own opinion. He suggested the Lakers shouldn’t gut the roster, that most of the key pieces should return.
When Kobe talks, you chisel it in granite and hang it on the wall.
“We can win a championship, no doubt about it,” Bryant told LA reporters.
He may be on to something. Bryant and Howard are two great places to start. A healthy Nash would help, too.
There’s been talk (all of it unfounded) that the Lakers might consider waiving Bryant via the league’s amnesty provision. Let’s not kid ourselves. That’s not going to happen.
As for Howard, it’s true he remained non-committal about his future with the team. But odds are, he’ll re-sign — especially since the Lakers can offer him a larger contract than any of the league’s other 29 teams.
So while not all fans are sold on Howard, he’ll likely be a Laker for a long time.
Nor is Nash going anywhere. His age (39) and recent so-so play leave the Lakers with little choice but to keep him. Besides that, they truly want to give him another shot.
That leaves starting forwards Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace.
Gasol turns 33 in July and is due $19.3 million next season. He’s still pretty good, still capable of being a No. 1 or No. 1-A option on most teams. Trading him shouldn’t be overly difficult, and the Lakers will certainly try.
As for World Peace, he turns 34 early next season (Nov. 13). He’s not nearly the defender he once was. He’s erratic offensively. His contract calls for a player option of $7.7 million next season. The Lakers are privately hoping he declines it and tries his hand at free agency.
If the Lakers can trade Gasol, and World Peace walks, they could have something. Everyone on their bench can be had for cheap – and reserves such as Devin Ebanks, Jodie Meeks and Antawn Jamison (who should’ve retired three years ago) won’t be back.
So, that is where the Lakers stand. They’re about as perplexing as they were during the season. But Kobe is probably right. Re-signing Howard and making the right moves around him and Bryant could put the Lakers right back in serious contention.
More of the wrong moves, however, will likely set the franchise way back.
Kupchak has been the Lakers’ GM since 2000, and he’s officially on the clock. A quick look at the roster shows this is his most important summer yet.
• The Milwaukee Bucks are another team facing potentially sweeping changes following their first-round ouster by the Miami Heat. Key Bucks reserves Mike Dunleavy and J.J. Redick are unrestricted free agents. Starting guard Brandon Jennings is restricted, meaning the Bucks can match any offers.
• The Bucks are also without a coach after parting ways with interim coach Jim Boylan on Wednesday. Houston Rockets assistant Kelvin Sampson and former Cleveland Cavaliers coach Byron Scott are believed to be candidates. The same goes for former Orlando Magic coach Stan Van Gundy — but he seems like a long shot.
• Van Gundy could be holding out to see what becomes of the Los Angeles Clippers and coach Vinny Del Negro during the playoffs. Del Negro’s contract expires at season’s end. League sources believe he could be fired if the Clippers lose their first-round series vs. the Memphis Grizzlies. The Clippers currently trail, three games to two.
• Anyway, back to the Bucks. Jennings told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel his future is up in the air. When asked if he wants to remain with the Bucks, Jennings said, “I don’t know. I can’t answer that.”
• The Detroit Pistons are said to be interested in former Portland Trail Blazers and Seattle SuperSonics coach Nate McMillan for their vacancy. Van Gundy has already hinted he’s not interested.
• Scott may also be a candidate for the Phoenix Suns coaching job, sources said. Interim coach Lindsey Hunter is not expected to be retained.