|This may have been the last time this trio takes the court together. (Getty Images)|
There will be changes in Lakerland. This is how it goes. The Lakers do not accept being second tier, being second class, being second rate. They swing and swing and upgrade and somehow land stars for discounts because they live somewhere nice and are really popular.
So this, this will not fly.
The Lakers' organization is not a sentimental one. It doesn't keep players around because they are good people or have strong ties to the organization or the community. Its business is winning and it takes it seriously. It's this paradigm that lead to Mike Brown being hired without having discussed the question with Kobe Bryant. It's this line of thought that lead to the trades of Lamar Odom and Derek Fisher. Be it for financial or basketball reasons (ahem), the Lakers are interested in success, and will do whatever they think is best to reach it.
A second round exit in five games is not going to cut it.
Following the Lakers' five-game series loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, there are a number of questions that stand forefront.
1. Can Mike Brown keep his job?
Typically the answer would be an automatic yes, as most organizations won't pay for a coach's full contract after just one season, especially a lockout-shortened one in which the team still managed to nab the fourth seed. But Brown's issues weren't just tactical adjustments to the Nuggets and Thunder, nor were they chemistry and personal issues with Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum. Brown never got the team to buy into what he was selling, and that goes above and beyond. There are better coaches on the market than there were a year ago, and it wouldn't shock anyone to see the Lakers go in a different direction.
If Brown is retained, expect there to be more pressure on him to work with his talent to appease them, despite Kobe Bryant getting more looks than in the past and Andrew Bynum having significantly more plays in the post. If Brown stays, there will be more give asked from the give-and-take relationship.
2. Will Pau Gasol be traded?
Letting down Kobe Bryant once in the playoffs is unfortunate, but given that Gasol helped Bryant win two titles, he had some credit on file. No longer. Not after two straight performances where his no-show directly contributed to the Lakers' downfall. Bryant was visibly frustrated with Gasol during Game 5, and if anyone will be scapegoated, it will be Gasol. Gasol maintains a significant value on the trade market, and should the team elect to move forward with a new core, it will be Gasol used to bring it in.
Someone has to take the blame for the 2012 campaign. Phil Jackson bit the bullet last year, even as he was on his way towards an exit anyway. The Lakers disavowed him as any part of the organization last season. Gasol may fave the same treatment as all the service he's provided the Lakers in two championships in the past five years is wiped away under the memories of these soft, deferring, and weak-willed playoff performances.
3. Is Andrew Bynum worth the extension coming?
Bynum frustrated fans with his inconsistent play, but Lakers management has given him this long a leash, it's hard to see that changing any time soon. Bynum will likely stay in L.A., but if the Lakers choose to pursue Dwight Howard, a sign-and-trade with Bynum will be tops on the options list.
4. Will Ramon Sessions return?
It was Sessions whose play after the trade deadline helped boost the Lakers to their division title and the third seed in the West. But under the lights of the playoffs, he failed miserably, shooting a low percentage and turning the ball over constantly in Game 5.
The Lakers need a dominant point guard to manage the offense (and Kobe's shots). They couldn't get Chris Paul. If Paul is still unavailable, will they go after Deron Williams? Or is Sessions the best answer they have? This decision will be a dividing point for Laker fans in free agency.
5. The Kobe issue
It's nothing anyone wants to talk about, but Kobe Bryant is set to make $58 million over the next two seasons. $58. Million. Dollars. That's crippling under the new CBA, and that's before you start calculating the repeater tax and the luxury tax escalations kicking into effect in 2013.
The Lakers can't live with that contract and contend. It's not possible, outside of managing to draft two Hall of Famers on rookie contracts to immediately contribute. This is the Lakers so that's not out of the question, but it does seem unlikely. How the Lakers handle the end of the Kobe Bryant era is going to be a very touchy subject. It's unlikely they do anything yet, but that $30 million in 2014 is going to weigh heavily on the mind of Mitch Kupchak, should Kupchak remain in L.A..
The fact of the matter is that the Lakers are headed into uncertain territory. All we know is there will be drama, and the Lakers will be back.
There always is, and they always are.