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Gasol takes a hard look ahead

June 20, 2008|Mike Bresnahan | Times Staff Writer

Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum were finally together.

It wasn't on the court, though. They went one after the other in exit meetings Thursday, passing in the hallways of the Lakers' training facility after meeting with Coach Phil Jackson and General Manager Mitch Kupchak.

Gasol set an early agenda for next season by saying the Lakers should aim for the league's best record in order to secure home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.

He acknowledged that the Lakers could have been "a little tougher" against Boston in the NBA Finals but bristled slightly when asked if he was bothered by the word "soft" that others used to describe the Lakers' frontcourt.

"I don't think that a soft team could get to the Finals. Period," he said. "If somebody thinks otherwise, I think you should check yourself. It's a fact."

Gasol also said he would remember the team's hectic exit from TD Banknorth Garden after the Game 6 loss.

A mob of Celtics fans pounded the Lakers' bus with their fists and shouted out expletives. Some revelers threw rocks and chased the bus down the street.

"It's something that I'm going to keep in mind all year long until we get there again," Gasol said.

Bynum, who never returned to game action after injuring his knee Jan. 13, left without talking to reporters after his exit meeting. He wasn't aware that players were supposed to speak with the media after meeting with Jackson and Kupchak, a team spokesman said.

As players filtered in and out of the 30-minute sessions over a seven-hour period, there was an overall feeling of disappointment, though also some hope for the future after they cleaned out their lockers.

Even the Lakers' energetic source on the bench, Ronny Turiaf, seemed subdued, though he brightened up when asked about his future with the Lakers.

"I'm hoping to be here, that's for sure," he said. "You can write that in big capital headlines, 'Ronny Turiaf would like to be a Laker.' "

Turiaf, a restricted fee agent who made a relatively low $770,610, also acknowledged that it had to be economically feasible for him and the franchise.

"When it comes down to it, this is a business decision for both sides." he said. "They have to worry about salary-cap issues and I have to find the best situation for me as far as playing and also as far as the financial situation."

Sasha Vujacic, also a restricted free agent, wasn't quite as definitive as he was in previous comments in which he said he wanted to stay with the Lakers.

"It's going to be the team that wants me and needs me the most," he said. "Who that's going to be, I don't know. I just want to win a championship."

Vujacic, who made $1.8 million this season, is expected to receive more interest in free agency than Turiaf, but the Lakers would probably pay him more to return than Turiaf.

In other financial news, Trevor Ariza said he would exercise a one-year, $3.1-million clause in his contract that would keep him with the Lakers next season. He will also change his jersey from No. 3 to No. 1.

Ariza, who sat out four months because of a broken bone in his right foot, will have another MRI exam next week, but didn't expect any problems.

"No pain, no nothing," he said. "It feels good."

The only aches that remained for the franchise were those associated with losing in six games to the Celtics.

"We had a great team this year, and it was one of those teams that we felt was special," Luke Walton said. "It would have been great to win one and come back to this city and be champions. It's tough to come home and know the season's over, [tough] to try to do anything right now."

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