Lakers Parade Ends, Real Work Begins

Note to Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak: Hope you enjoyed the parade, you earned the plaudits. You did a fantastic job building this team.

Now get back to work.

It has been a long time since and NBA Champion faced this many big questions going into an off-season. Questions like:

How much money will Jerry Buss spend? The Lakers are already locked in at just over $74 million in payroll next year (with big money for Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and a $10 million raise coming for Andrew Bynum). That means the Lakers are already about $10 million over the semi-meaningless NBA salary cap and right at the very serious NBA luxury tax threshold (ever dollar over about $75 million in salary is met with a dollar in tax). Word is he is willing to spend a Knicks-like $100 million in salary, but that may not be enough to keep this team together.

How do the Lakers keep both Lamar Odom and Trevor Ariza? Both played central roles in this title, and both are unrestricted free agents — which means they can do whatever they want. Lakers brass will tell you they are willing to pay to keep Ariza, so you can expect him to return. Odom has said he wants to be a Laker and will offer a hometown discount. But if the Lakers offer $7 million a year and someone else (Portland?) offers $11 — that’s a lot of cash that could buy a lot of Gummy Bears. What will Odom choose?

Does Phil Jackson want to come back? Anyone watching the Lakers this year could tell Jackson was in pain. Not just because of all the blown leads by his team, but actual physical pain. Jackson has two surgically replaced hips and a host of nagging ailments that hit just about every former NBA player. It hurts to get around, let alone out of planes and out of little sideline chairs and to walk around practice courts and hotels. He has 10 rings and enough money to keep Jeannie Buss happy. Right now he is saying all the right things about returning. But it’s not hard to picture him stepping away, leaving the Lakers with some serious choices.

Does Kobe Bryant opt out of his deal? This one will get the most media hype, but is really the least scary. Yes, Kobe can opt out of his contract and be a free agent. He wants to play at least another five years. But do you seriously think he wants to leave this championship team built for the next three years to help rebuild New York? If he opts out he gets an automatic new max contract with the Lakers that goes out six years — and he actually takes a $1 million paycut next season, which helps the bottom line short term.

Then there are a million little (and not so little questions): How do the Lakers improve the point guard situation? Would anyone take a player like Sasha Vujacic in a trade? What kind of long-term deal do you offer Jordan Farmar, or do you try to trade him? Do you want Shannon Brown back, because he is a free agent? Do you pick up the options on DJ Mbenga and Josh Powell?

Kupchak had better enjoy the parade, because there is a ton of work sitting back on his desk when it’s over.

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