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NBA FINALS: WHAT'S NEXT FOR LAKERS

Examining the Laker Roster

June 06, 2004|Tim Brown

KOBE BRYANT

Despite the rigors of his felony court case and the limitations of injury, Bryant was again first team All-NBA and All-Defense. Many say he is the best player in the league; no one is more athletic or more assertive in the clutch. Bryant has said he will opt out of his contract in order to sign a maximum-allowed, seven-year contract with the Lakers. He has also said he has a curiosity for free agency. His desire to return to the Lakers, where he would continue to play alongside Shaquille O'Neal and perhaps continue to play for Phil Jackson, seems to change by the moment. If he does not opt out, he is due $14.6 million next season.

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BRIAN COOK

In a season spent near the end of the Laker bench, Cook worked to develop upper-body strength and a better post game. He arrived a good shooter, particularly from midrange, and the Lakers like his attitude. In the postseason, his minutes have come in emergencies only, and that's how they'll continue to come in the NBA Finals. Cook is in the first year of a three-year, guaranteed rookie contract.

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DEREK FISHER

Forgotten in the months after Gary Payton was acquired, Fisher is again the Lakers' most important point guard. He lost his starting job and his shooting touch at about the same time but did not complain and finds himself at the center of all the Lakers have done this postseason, beginning with his oh-point-four game winner against San Antonio. Once, experts observed that the Lakers won in spite of Fisher. Now he is called one of the underrated players in the league. It's the difference between starting and coming off the bench. He can return next year for $3 million or opt out of his contract and become an unrestricted free agent.

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RICK FOX

Fox is a smart player whose selfless play symbolized that of the role players who supported Bryant and O'Neal in the three-peat era. He spent the regular season recovering from foot surgery and the postseason recovering from a dislocated thumb, so he has fallen in behind Devean George and, at times, Bryant at small forward. He averaged 8.8 minutes in the first three rounds, about half of that in the conference finals. Though he would consider retirement if the Laker roster were pulled apart, Fox is expected to return for $5.1 million.

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DEVEAN GEORGE

At some point in every season, every Laker employee comes to believe that George has begun to fulfill his enormous potential. It is a moment that is followed, often within hours, with some grand disappointment. So it was that George lost his starting job to Fox in the regular season, then shot 54.5% in the conference semifinals against San Antonio, then shot 35.1% in the conference finals against Minnesota. Finishing the second year of a four-year contract that will pay him $4.5 million next season and $5 million the season after, George will return, probably as the starting small forward.

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HORACE GRANT

A favorite of the coach, Grant averaged about 20 minutes a game before suffering the hip injury that kept him off the playoff roster. Before that, Grant was a serviceable backup to O'Neal and Karl Malone, particularly on defense. Grant is about to turn 39 and will need hip surgery in the off-season. He probably will retire if the Lakers don't have him back, though it appears he still has some minutes left in him.

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KARL MALONE

He had a 26.3 scoring average in 172 playoff games before this season, reached the Finals twice and never won a title. Now, coming off a season in which he averaged a career-low 13.2 points and 17 playoff games in which he averaged 13.1, Malone has never been closer to a championship. Unlike Payton, who had some lingering inclusion issues, Malone filled in behind Bryant and O'Neal, followed Jackson's orders and, despite sitting out 40 regular-season games, found some satisfaction. Nearing 41, he has said he will retire or return to the Lakers, at his option, for $1.7 million.

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SLAVA MEDVEDENKO

He just recently turned 25 and every once in a while shows the same commitment on defense and defensive rebounding that he does on the offensive end, where he is a relentless rebounder and good -- and frequent -- shooter. The Lakers like his toughness, but only recently, after four years in the league, is he overcoming a language barrier that slowed his development. Medvedenko is a free agent the Lakers would like to keep.

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SHAQUILLE O'NEAL

The big man is slowing down at 32, one of the reasons negotiations on a contract extension remain $9 million apart over two seasons. Despite distant trade rumors, the Lakers are unlikely to make that move just yet, even if removing O'Neal is one of the imperatives for Bryant's returning. He is still more than any two men can handle. He is committed to the system and Jackson. And he is talking about another off-season workout regimen. He is due $27.7 million next season and $30.6 million the year after.

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GARY PAYTON

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