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Waiver Wire: Is Dwight the Problem?

Many thought this Lakers team was a mortal lock for the Western Conference Finals, if not the NBA Finals. I had them losing to Oklahoma City in the West Finals, primarily because of the Steve Nash/Russell Westbrook defensive matchup, but why quibble – even projecting them to make the conference finals was a gross over-estimation of their collective ability. They stumbled out of the gate, getting Mike Brown fired in the process, and have yet to show any sign that they’ll turn things around.

The Lakers have a host of problems, but many of them can be traced back to Dwight Howard. He’s been an awful fit playing alongside Kobe Bryant. He doesn’t like being a complementary player on the offensive end – even though he’s probably the Lakers’ fifth-best scorer. His presence has pushed Pau Gasol out of position. Gasol has been ineffective playing the four, fallen out of the starting five, and like Howard, taken to sulking about his role.

What’s Mitch Kupchak to do? He may have an out. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but according to reports, Dwight Howard is unhappy, isn’t sure what he wants to do with his next contract, and may be traded at the deadline. It might make an awful lot of sense for Kupchak to cut his losses and see what he can get for Howard, rather than risk losing him for nothing in the offseason. A deal sending Howard to his hometown Atlanta Hawks could bring back Josh Smith, a deal that might make sense for both teams.

Of course, there’s a very real possibility that Jim Buss was the real force behind the Howard trade, which could complicate matters significantly. Not to mention Howard’s lingering shoulder injury, which caused him to leave Wednesday’s game. (He should be back in action on Friday.)

via Waiver Wire: Is Dwight the Problem? – RotoWire.com.

MSG.com NBA Playoff Roundup

While they might look unimpressive at times during the regular season, the Lakers always manage to turn it on in the playoffs, right? And while the Dallas Mavericks may look like world-beaters, they tend to fall apart in the post season. We might need to re-think both teams’ reputations, as the Lakers are in a 0-2 hole after dropping Games One and Two – at home – to the Mavs.

The Lakers’ core – Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, Lamar Odom, Derek Fisher – has been together for years. But they’re playing like a squad thrown together at the trade deadline. After the game, Bynum told reporters the team has “trust issues.” Bryant explained Bynum’s comment as a way of expressing their poor communication on defense. Or was it Bynum’s way of saying, “Hey Kobe, you took more shots than me, Gasol and Odom combined in Game One – cut that out.”

via Playoff Roundup – Charlie Zegers – MSG.com.

What’s Next for the Lakers?

Note to the rest of the Western Conference: if you think the champs are going to be an easier mark next year — or the year after that — you might want to re-think your position. With most of the team’s core locked up through the 2013/14 season, the Lakers aren’t going anywhere.

2010-11 Roster:

Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Ron Artest are signed for the next four seasons (though Artest has a player option for 2012/13). Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum are locked up through 2011/12, and the team has options on both players for 2012/13. That’s a pretty solid core, especially if Bynum can ever get healthy and develop into the player many think he’ll become.

Bench players Sasha Vujacic and Luke Walton are also signed for next season. The team holds options on Shannon Brown, Adam Morrison and Jordan Farmar. Brown will almost certainly be back, but they’re expected to let Farmar walk, and the nameplate above Morrison’s locker is probably gone by now.

Free Agents:

The Lakers’ only significant free agent is point guard Derek Fisher, who is expected to re-sign with the team.

Needs and How to Fill Them:

If Farmar walks as expected, the Lakers’ biggest need will be point guard. Some have suggested the team might look for a younger/more athletic point to start alongside Kobe, which would shift Fisher to the second unit.

The Lakers have no first-round pick this year, and they can’t bank on finding a quality point picking 42nd or 58th. The crop of free-agent point guards is somewhat slim, but there are a few intriguing names — Detroit’s Will Bynum, the Clippers’ Steve Blake, even Orlando’s J.J. Redick, to name a few — who might be willing to sign for less to chase a championship with Kobe and company.

Question Marks:

The only real area of concern for this team: who’s calling the plays? Phil Jackson’s contract expires after the season, and the Zen Master has suggested Laker management will ask him to take a pay cut. Should Jackson sail off into the sunset, the two primary candidates to take over are assistant coach Brian Shaw and Laker great Byron Scott.

Outlook for 2011-12:

Even if Jackson leaves, and even if a Western Conference competitor somehow manages to sign one of the top free agents, the Lakers will go into next season as big favorites to return to the Finals for the third straight season.

What’s Next for the Lakers? originally appeared on About.com Basketball on Monday, June 21st, 2010 at 10:58:14.

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