This offseason is sure to be full of interesting story lines as the Lakers try to figure out how to return to the top.
For most teams exiting the NBA playoffs, this is the time for reassessment and evaluations going forward for next season.
It’s safe to say the Los Angeles Lakers will have those issues plus extra. The two-time defending champions early exit from the playoffs has almost assured the offseason will play out like an evolving soap opera.
Here are a some of the interesting story lines heading into the offseason:
— Lakers star Kobe Bryant believes the core of the team should remain intact for another title run despite age issues, glaring talent limitations and attitude problems that may have played a part in the second round exit from the Western Conference playoffs.
“I absolutely believe that,” Kobe said when asked if he thought this team could win again next season during Wednesday’s exit media interviews.
Former Lakers great and current team vice president Magic Johnson, of course, believes it’s time to blow the team up and put some new pieces around Bryant.
Only time will tell who has the most influence with Lakers owner Jerry Buss, Bryant or Magic.
— Another interesting development is the revelation that team chemistry may have been affected in the playoffs due to a rift between center Pau Gasol’s girlfriend, Silvia Lopez Castro, and Bryant’s wife, Vanessa. That might explain Gasol’s poor showing in the playoffs.
But Bryant denied Wednesday there was anything to rumors of a dispute.
“It didn’t anger me so much as it made me laugh,” Bryant said. “People will angle for anything when we struggle. It was ridiculous.”
— There is also erratic young post player Andrew Bynum, who wants to play a bigger role in the Lakers’ offense next season. He made it known during the playoffs that he wasn’t happy with his offensive opportunities.
Bryant shot down any chance Bynum will move up in the offensive pecking order next season. The offense runs through him first, Gasol second and then Bynum. Stay tuned here because Bynum will likely be the subject of trade rumors and could be moved after the collective bargaining strife is worked out between the league and its players this offseason. There is a real possibility Bynum will end up in Orlando in exchange for All-Star center Dwight Howard.
Wherever Bynum ends up, he will have to sit out the first five games of next season after the NBA handed down a stiff penalty earlier this week for his unnecessary flagrant foul on Dallas guard J.J. Barea.
— Then there is the matter of the Lakers coaching situation. The only certainty there is that Phil Jackson will not be on the Lakers' sideline. The Hall of Fame coach was already referring to the Lakers as “they” on Wednesday.
The belief is assistant coach Brian Shaw will take over as head coach. He is certainly Bryant’s choice, if for no other reason than familiarity. But don’t be surprised if Mitch Kupchak brings in an outsider to revamp the offense and get away from Jackson’s triangle offense.
Speaking of Jackson, he has previously said he plans to retire. But Wednesday he said he will give it six months and see how he feels then, which fuels speculation he may end up coaching the New York Knicks next season.
That all remains to be seen. But Jackson did make his vote Wednesday for keeping the core of the Lakers current roster intact.
“It’s still a good team. It needs to build speed,” he said. “It needs to have some speed and they get some easy baskets as a group. I think that’s the biggest key in basketball, you have to be able to find a way to score that’s not always in a set offense, not always in the half court offense.”
Stay tuned because with Ron Artest and Lamar Odom as major cast members, more intriguing story lines will develop.
(Photo: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)