Lakers Face Another Summer Of Turmoil

Being ousted in the Conference Semifinals for the second consecutive season has thrust Lakers Nation into a state of turmoil.

“Sitting here at this point in the year is definitely not satisfying,” Los Angeles Lakers head coach Mike Brown admitted to the media. “Under the circumstances, I feel like we got a lot accomplished and feel we learned a lot… but we can be better.”

One of the main ways the Lakers can get better is clarifying the roles of Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum moving forward. With a new head coach added to the mix this season, Gasol struggled adapting and then he had problems getting used to being the third option on offence.

Sure, part of that is due to a compressed training camp, but the reality of the situation is Brown would like to see Kobe Bryant and Bynum get the majority of the touches on offence next season.

“With Andrew (Bynum) having a bigger role within what we do especially offensively, it made it a little tougher for Pau (Gasol), ” Brown explained. “With Andrew on one block and Kobe (Bryant) on the other, and Metta (World Peace), it was (tough to get opportunities at times). But I thought he adjusted really well.”

As great as Gasol has been for the Lakers the past few seasons, there is currently a shift in place to have Bynum become the focus of the teams offence in the low post instead of Gasol.

“I think (Andrew Bynum) can be a cornerstone to an organization,” Brown boasted. “But you have to remember that Andrew is still learning what he’s (eventually) going to be. He didn’t play near the minutes (as he did in 2011-12). He needs time and the commitment to want to get better every time he steps onto the floor. The sky really is the limit on how good he wants to be.”

This shift in focus by the coaching staff and touches for Gasol has resulted in him being unsure where that leaves his future with the Lakers.

“I wish I could have clarification (about his future with the team) but they can’t give it to me right now,” Gasol lamented. “I think management still has to talk to ownership to see what direction this team will be going next year. We really didn’t talk much about the future. We talked about this year, how things have gone. Everything was really positive and encouraging for (the) potential (of) next season.”

Hearing Gasol talk about the potential of playing for a team besides the Lakers next season can’t be what he or fans of the team want to hear. However, the Spaniard will be 32-years-old when training camp kicks off and he will have a lot of wear due to playing heavy minutes in the NBA and playing for the Spanish national team during the summer.

Plus, besides getting up in age, Gasol was confused at times this season as to what Brown and his teammates needed or expected from him on the court.

“It’s a little difficult,” Gasol admitted. “ I’ve always been a good passer and I facilitated from the most part from the post, which I’m very good at. It has been an adjustment for me, it has been difficult to be pretty much a third option, because I’ve never experienced that in my career since I was very young. I still gave it my best, but that was challenging at times.”

Regardless of the reason why the Lakers flamed out in the second round of the playoffs, it’s clear their general manager, Mitch Kupchak, isn’t content with standing pat with the roster as currently constructed.

“When you lose before you think you should have lost, you have to open up all opportunities,” Kupchak told the media during exit interviews.

One of the players being mentioned in a lot of trade talk, Pau Gasol, seems to be aware of this and the topic was brought up during exit interviews between himself and Kupchak.

“He’s the consummate teammate, consummate professional, but what took place is hard for a player to deal with,” Kupchak admitted. “I’m sure there’s a little bit of trust that’s not quite the same. But he understands … our exit meeting was really good. I think he and I are on the same page.”

Complimentary, sure, but not exactly a ringing endorsement for the Spaniard sticking around for next season in Los Angeles.

Despite the fact the Lakers failed to advance as far as the team or its fans would have liked, it’s clear there is still a lot of faith in the players currently on the roster.

“I just didn’t feel we really hit our stride,” Barnes explained. “I think at times we showed flashes of how dominant we could be, but we really didn’t reel off six, seven, eight or nine consistent, convincing wins that you kind of need to really feel good about yourself. Any time you have a big three like we have, you’re always going to have a chance, but it takes more than three guys to win and there wasn’t really that consistency.”

Steve Blake echoed those sentiments and pointed back to the lack of a true training camp after adding a new head coach as being the culprit for the team failing to live up to expectations.

“More time definitely would have helped us out, maybe (allowed us to) figure out certain areas of the game to make us better,” said Blake. “But you can’t blame (our not winning) on that. I do think having a longer camp next year, us being with this coaching staff and getting more comfortable with them, always will help you.”

Even though the players want the same crew back, they don’t have a vote in the process. The man in charge, Kupchak, talked openly with the media this week about being disappointed and it sounds like he’s ready to make some moves this summer.

“We’re disappointed,” Kupchak admitted. “We don’t grade ourselves on getting into the second round. We thought going into the season that we were one of three or four or five teams that could contend for a championship. It’s hard to get in that position with 30 owners that are very competitive, having to operate under (now different) rules. We felt we had a shot at it, so to watch the conference semifinals was a disappointing feeling.”

Still, despite some harsh words, the embattled general manager left the door open for the current roster returning.

“If we were just able to bring the players back next year and have a full training camp, we’d be one of those five or six teams with a chance to (win a championship),” Kupchak boasted. “ I can’t tell you if that’s going to happen. It’s not like we don’t have a group that’s talented, and that’s all you can really hope for.”

It remains to be seen if the Lakers stick with their currently roster of player, but, if I were a gambling man, I’d put money on the Lakers rolling the dice and making a deal involving Gasol.

Rockets Likely To Target Gasol This Summer

It was the “veto” that sent shockwaves of anger across the association. A blockbuster trade that would have sent Pau Gasol to the Houston Rockets was axed by Commissioner David Stern, due to “basketball reasons.”

The deal would have shipped Kevin Martin, Luis Scola, and Goran Dragic to the Hornets, and in return the Rockets would have received Gasol from the Los Angeles Lakers. It was safe to assume that the Gasol acquisition would have snowballed into possibly acquiring coveted free agent Nene; formerly of the Denver Nuggets. The idea in the NBA now is if you have one star, you could get another.

The Rockets over the past few seasons have failed to take the first step in that theory. This trade was that first step, and while no guarantees could be made on potential acquisitions post Pau, the gates were unlocked for change. The after effects did seem to cause some discomfort as one would expect. Gasol made it clear he didn’t want to leave the Lakers, and Kevin Martin showed signs of discomfort.

As we know now, Martin was slowly removed from the Rockets rotation, and Goran Dragic exploded on the scene as a bona fide starter.

The Rockets failed to make the postseason for the third straight time, and now have significant issues to address. Will bringing back Dragic and restricted free agent Courtney Lee be enough? Will having two first round draft picks in the 2012 NBA Draft let this team take the next big step forward? Will the 7-foot Lithuanian Donatas Motiej?nas make a significant impact, as he joins this Rockets team next season?

While the Rockets have some positives, they still remain starless. Recent reports showed that the Rockets were the last team standing in the Dwight Howard rental sweepstakes. If Dwight had decided to officially move on from the Orlando Magic, the Rockets were ready to scoop him up without a commitment.

Instead, the Rockets continued to fight without a closer, which eventually led to another season ending dud.

The Lakers, who are now on summer vacation courtesy of the Oklahoma City Thuder, find themselves in a position for change as well. The biggest name on that list of change is Pau Gasol. If the Lakers were slightly reluctant to trade Gasol before, you can bet that reluctance has diminished. Gasol is set to make $19,000,000 next season at the age of 31 and is coming of another solid year in which he averaged 17.4 points, 10.4 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks per game, all while shooting 50%. Gasol’s playoff numbers took a significant hit. With only 12.5 points per game, and 9.50 rebounds per game, Gasol was back on the hot seat, being criticized for his “softness” as he is so often.

ESPN’s Chris Broussard continues to report that the Rockets do seem like a logical option for the Lakers to approach, and that the Rockets remain interested in Gasol.

“Houston is looking for a star. They love Pau Gasol,” Broussard said. “Would the Lakers be interested in some type of deal involving maybe Luis Scola, and Kyle Lowry? Lowry is expendable now that Goran Dragic has established himself down in Houston.”

Broussard has reported the Rockets interest in Gasol for months now, and being that the Rockets haven’t changed much since the original trade; it is fair to assume Gasol still may be a Rocket before the season begins. All this depends on whether unrestricted free agent Goran Dragic can be resigned by the Rockets, who are sitting on plenty of cap space. Perhaps with a Lowry trade in place, Dragic is more likely to return to Houston, knowing he will be running the show at the point.

Assuming the trade does involve Scola, and Lowry, the Rockets will need to solidify the backcourt, making Courtney Lee an essential piece to the puzzle. The front court will also need to be addressed. The 38 year old Marcus Camby will most likely be back at a hometown discount, and it’s still a mystery if the Rockets will pick up the $6,700,000 team option on Samuel Dalembert. Kentucky forward Patrick Patterson had a rough year, and the offseason will be a crucial barometer on how the Rockets move forward with him.

Scola, who is a huge fan favorite in Houston, is under contract through the 2014/15 season. The Rockets nabbed Scola from the San Antonio Spurs, and haven’t looked back since. Scola has consistently played hard, but is showing signs of decline, specifically on the defensive end.

Even with the acquisition of Gasol, the Rockets would need more. But would it be a step in the right direction? Does Gasol really carry the interest for a domino effect to take place? Do the Rockets even have the luxury to pass up on a proven big man at this point and time?

For now the rumor mill continues to churn. The days leading up to the draft will be very interesting for this Houston Rockets team, and their general manager Daryl Morey. As the saying goes here in Houston, “trust in Morey.”

Podcast: 2012 NBA Playoffs Preview

After nearly a year, the Hoops Addict Podcast is back on a regular basis. I’ve linked up with Mark Cheel with the intention of bringing back the Podcast on a weekly basis and we started with a preview of the 2012 NBA Playoffs.

Mark and I break down why Atlanta can give Boston a scare, we debate if Utah’s frontcourt can muscle San Antonio out of the playoffs, we lament that the Clippers lack of a strong coach will result in Blake Griffin and Chris Paul not lasting as long as they should in the playoffs as well as the rest of the first round match-ups.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Here’s the MP3 of the Podcast if you want to download it.