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With Bynum back, will Odom be moved?

Mark Heisler ON THE NBA

June 19, 2008|Mark Heisler

Now for the cruelest season in Lakerdom . . . the off-season. Just kidding, I think.

The Lakers have had some horrific ones -- such as 2004 when they thought they might lose Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant, or their Kobe Summer of 2007 -- but this isn't one of those.

Predictably, the sky fell on them right after the Celtics did as the Lakers were surprised, overwhelmed, bullied, mocked and humiliated -- and that was just in Game 6.

The story line went as it always does: No matter how great the losing team's star is -- in this case he's the NBA's best player and its newly crowned MVP -- he's dirt.

The Lakers lost by 39 points so if Bryant had just scored 62 instead of 22, they would have won!

He once scored 81, didn't he?

Someone even asked him about it in the postgame interview as if Bryant were a super hero who chose to remain in human form and sit this one out.

Q: "We've seen you do the impossible, 30 points in a quarter, 81 in the game. . . . When did you sort of concede that tonight you guys weren't going to be able to come out of the hole?"

Bryant: "Not sure. I don't know."

Unfortunately for lovers of comics, unlike Toronto Coach Sam Mitchell, who was nice enough to single-cover Bryant in his 81-point game, the Celtics tracked him with their entire defense the entire series.

If Bryant isn't Michael Jordan, he is the best there ever was at creating a shot, but of his 11 attempts in Tuesday night's first half, two were inside 20 feet.

By halftime, of course, the Lakers were no longer trying to make history, they were history.

While they have issues, Bryant isn't one -- assuming he's OK with them, as you would assume he is . . . if you didn't know never to assume anything where he's concerned.

For the Lakers, it would have been lame to say, "Wait till we get Andrew Bynum back" during this series, although he never seemed far from their thoughts.

After Game 6, Coach Phil Jackson went as far as to say the Lakers were "surprised" to get as far as they did.

If they were, that was a while back.

They started the Finals 12-3 in the postseason and 34-8 overall with Pau Gasol in the lineup. In the absence of any great teams, they were not only good enough to win a title, they thought they would -- including Jackson, as did almost everyone.

However, there was one problem that was soft-pedaled as long as they were winning: They were billowy soft inside where the willowy Gasol was shoved aside all series while Kevin Garnett roamed off the "confused" Lamar Odom as the Celtics sealed off the middle and massed their troops on Bryant.

Of course, the Lakers really are getting the 7-0, 275-pound Bynum back next season so this isn't as big a problem for them as it would be for anyone else.

Lost amid the excitement when they got Gasol but crystal clear now, if Gasol was the icing on the cake, Bynum was the cake.

Let's put it this way: With Bynum, it won't be any big deal to the Lakers whether Kendrick Perkins plays.

The issue now is making the pieces fit with one problem position, small forward . . . where Odom would have to go with Bynum at center and Gasol at power forward.

Jackson wants a shooter there badly enough to start his favorite Martian, Vladimir Radmanovic.

The weakest part of Odom's game is shooting, a problem that came home to roost with Garnett backing off him.

Then there's Odom's $14-million salary, as the Lakers assume as much as $90 million in additional salary and luxury tax over the next three seasons with Gasol.

However, from the day they made the trade, the Lakers never thought they would end up paying that much, suggesting they were already thinking of moving Odom.

Indeed, Odom was in their package for Gasol until Memphis owner Michael Heisley took him out, asking for lesser players who afforded more cap relief. Odom then surprised everyone, meshing smoothly with Gasol to give the Lakers twin towers who were wizards with the ball and, according to San Antonio Coach Gregg Popovich, the NBA's best passing team.

If the Lakers had gone on to win a title, with all the good feeling that went with it, they might have given Odom the extension that he's now seeking.

Since they didn't win a title, with the Finals highlighting Odom's limitations in what could be seen as a preview of next season, they'll surely shop him this off-season.

In the meantime, everyone will watch Bryant for cues.

His postgame news conference wasn't exactly a laugh-fest with Bryant so subdued; it was like an old Gary Cooper Western in which the hero answers yep, nope or maybe.

Nevertheless, Bryant finally allowed that he didn't think the Lakers need a shake-up ("We're fine"), talking about them as if he's one of them.

"[I'm] just upset more than anything, frustrated but I'm proud," he said. "I'm proud of the way that we performed all year. I'm proud of my guys. I'm proud of the effort that we gave. We did a good job. We did a very good job and we should be proud of ourselves for that.

"At the same time, understand that second place just means you're the first loser. . . .

"We should hold our heads up high. We did pretty well."

They did pretty well up to Tuesday night, anyway, but there will be other nights (they hope).

--

mark.heisler@latimes.com

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