A Road Map of the Lakers' Offseason

We're now about a week removed from the Lakers' recoronation as NBA champs. Some people might say we should move on with our lives, but those people can eat it. I'm going to savor this title like it's a tumbler of 25-year scotch. I intend to let the sights and sounds linger and allow the flavors to dance on my tongue. When the DVD comes out, I'm buying 30 copies: one for me, and one each to send to the offices of the 29 other teams with Post-Its that read, "This is why you suck."

So by all means, don't take this piece to be a suggestion that you put the championship behind you. It's just that today's the NBA draft, which marks the unofficial beginning of the league's offseason, so I figure we should talk about what it and other upcoming events have to do with the purple and gold. Here at Silver Screen and Roll, we're going to cover the hell out of this offseason, so be sure to keep a browser tab on us at all times, and check back for new material no less frequently than every five minutes.

After the cut, a chronological walk-through of what these summer months portend for Lakerdom.

1.  The Draft

The Lakers have no first-round picks. That's because what would've been their 2010 first-rounder was sent to Memphis in the Pau Gasol trade. Since the Lakers have won two straight titles with Pau, I guess you could argue the deal worked out OK.

The Lakers do, however, have the 43rd pick (which came back from Memphis in the Gasol trade) as well as their own second-rounder, which is the 58th overall. Saurav will be along later today to go over who might be available at those slots. Me, I'm holding out hope that John Wall gets passed over 42 times.

In recent years, the Lakers haven't been in the business of adding key players through the draft. The last Laker draftee to play a significant on-court role for the team was Jordan Farmar. With several possible free-agent departures, though, there's a decent chance that anyone the Lakers take in the second round this year will make the roster.

One name to keep at the back of your mind is Chinemelu Elonu, whom the Lakers selected with the 59th pick last year. He spent this season playing for Zaragoza of the Spanish league, and his numbers there don't imply an ability to contribute in the NBA, but his contract does allow him to opt out to sign with the Lakers.

2.  The Coach

As in, the Lakers might have to find themselves a new one. We reviewed the latest on Phil Jackson yesterday, so no need to belabor the situation further right now. Suffice it to say, the key variables at the moment are Phil's health and motivation to return. If those two factors are in place, the conversation turns to whether Jerry Buss will meet Phil's asking price.

It's been a while since we've heard anything about a paycut for Phil, and the team's second straight banner makes the concept only more laughable. Phil's the best basketball coach in the world, and he's the ideal coach for this particular team. Yeah yeah, I know - the economy. That's a red herring. Laker finances are not made public, but there's just no way, after a championship run that included 12 sold-out home playoff games, the team's revenues aren't in awesome shape. Not every team can afford Phil Jackson, but the Lakers certainly can.

3.  The Free Agents

As C.A. discussed yesterday, this isn't going to be a transformational offseason for the Lakers' roster. Seven players are already under contract for next year: Kobe Bryant, Pau, Andrew Bynum, Lamar Odom, Ron Artest, Sasha Vujacic and Luke Walton. I think we can safely stipulate that Derek Fisher will soon make it eight. Assuming a salary for Fish of around $4 million, the team's total commitments to those eight players come to $85.6 million for next season. The NBA's salary cap is projected to be about $56.1 million, so the Lakers will be over. Way over.

Here's where the five non-Fisher free agents stand.

  • Jordan Farmar - is a restricted free agent. The Lakers can tender him a one-year qualifying offer of $2.85 million, in which case they'll have the right to match any offer he receives from another team. Jordan doesn't sound hugely thrilled about being a backup anymore, so he'll be exploring his options on the open market, and given the Lakers' already high payroll, they'll likely be reluctant to match a third-party offer sheet of any decent size. If the demand for Jordan's services is really thin, however, he could return on a one-year deal and become an unrestricted free agent next season.
  • Shannon Brown - has the choice of becoming a free agent or returning to the team for $2.15 million. I'm guessing he opts out and signs elsewhere, but who knows. The Lakers hold his "Early Bird" rights, so if he does opt out, the Lakers could give him a substantial raise and a new contract, in spite of their being over the cap.
  • Josh Powell and DJ Mbenga - are unrestricted free agents and the very definition of replacement-level talent. There's no real reason for the Lakers to re-sign either of them, but then again, there's no real reason for any other team to sign them. I'd rather the Lakers used the money and roster slots on whomever they draft tonight.
  • Adam Morrison - is an unrestricted free agent. The Lakers can preserve their AMMO rights by tendering a qualifying offer in the amount of $6.9 million AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

As a capped-out team, the Lakers won't have much flexibility to fill open roster slots. There's the mid-level exception of $5.7 million, which can be spread among multiple players. In the case of Shannon, there's the "Early Bird" exception. Beyond that, it'll be all minimum-salary deals. The biannual exception isn't available because the Lakers used it to sign Shannon a year ago.

4.  Chris Bosh

You know the story. Rumors of a sign-and-trade to the Lakers will hang out there unless and until Bosh signs with another team.

5.  The FIBA World Championship

This tournament will take place in Turkey in late August and early September and could include multiple Lakers. Gasol was the MVP of the 2006 FIBA World Championship but will not participate this summer. Kobe hasn't officially ruled himself out yet, but given the likelihood that he'll have offseason surgery to repair the avulsion fracture in his right index finger, everyone's assuming he'll be a no-show.

Odom, however, might play for the U.S. Men's National Team. He's part of a rather expansive preliminary roster. Also possibly appearing in the tournament on behalf of Slovenia is Vujacic. There does remain the issue of his beef with fellow Slovenian Goran Dragic, which (hilariously enough) some speculate could prevent the two from taking the court together this summer.

In short, there will be plenty of off-court action, and maybe a little of the on-court variety, to hold our attention in the next few months. This time last year, we were on the verge of the Artest-Trevor Ariza firestorm, to be followed by Lamar's slow-burn contract negotiations. If any story rises to that level this time around, Phil Jackson or Chris Bosh will be at the center of it.

Follow Dex on Twitter here.

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