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Lakers don't exactly storm the gates

Only two players are on the court at training facility for voluntary workouts. Luke Walton says, by phone, he's not retiring.

December 01, 2011|By Mike Bresnahan
  • Lakers forward Luke Walton, who has been an assistant coach at Memphis this fall, will rejoin the team soon to prepare for the upcoming NBA season.
Lakers forward Luke Walton, who has been an assistant coach at Memphis this… (Justin A. Shaw / For The Times )

The doors opened at the Lakers' training facility and tons of players spilled through them Thursday, joyously embracing the apparent end of the lockout.

Not really.

Metta World Peace ambled around in street clothes for a little while but didn't take part in the first day of voluntary workouts.

The only Lakers to hit the court were Devin Ebanks, a rookie last season, and Darius Morris, a second-round pick in June.

Training camp isn't scheduled to start until Dec. 9, but the Lakers haven't exactly reassembled.

Pau Gasol landed in Los Angeles on Thursday and worked out privately, location unknown. Matt Barnes worked out at Loyola Marymount. Luke Walton is still an assistant coach at the University of Memphis, returning to L.A. early next week.

The Lakers' first headache will be to determine who's on their team when training camp starts next Friday. Their next one will be figuring out a starting lineup.

When Andrew Bynum returns from a five-game suspension, Coach Mike Brown might take a long look at a large frontcourt of Bynum, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom, an idea tossed around as a curiosity piece the last few years but never fully employed by Phil Jackson's staff.

The move would send World Peace to the bench, which goes hand in hand with the Lakers' concern about his physical shape. They hadn't been allowed to contact him during the lockout, but he looked heavier when he arrived at the training facility, adding some of the weight he dropped last season.

Heavy or not, the Lakers will not use their amnesty provision on him or Luke Walton this season unless they acquire a starting small forward in a trade or free agency in the next few weeks. The Lakers need to keep World Peace right now because they're not sure what free agents they can get with their limited spending power.

Assuming World Peace isn't cut this season, he will be waived or traded for sure before the dreaded 2013-14 season, when luxury taxes escalate rapidly and force some teams to double their current tax payment if they continue spending at the same pace.

Under the new amnesty provision, players who are currently on a roster can be cut before any season remaining on their contract, allowing teams to free up salary-cap space and reduce luxury taxes.

Walton said his chronically sore back was not forcing him into early retirement.

"I expect to be on the court," he said in a phone interview with The Times. "I can fight through any pain I have and finish up the contract. I feel great right now, so there's no reason to believe I won't be able to play and help out the squad."

Walton, 31, has two years and $11.5 million left on his contract. World Peace, 32, has three years and $21.5 million remaining.

Walton said he ignored reports that he might be waived.

"I felt there's a chance it could happen, but everything I've heard is that Mitch [Kupchak] isn't using it this year," Walton said, referring to the Lakers' general manager. "I think it's great. Our team is fine. We don't need big change. If you ask anyone on our team, we feel very confident that our window is not closed and we could win another championship before it does close.

"People flip out because we didn't go to the Finals last year, but if you take a step back and look at the big picture, we went to three straight NBA Finals and won two of them. We were the No. 2 seed in the West [last season] and got beat by a good team that ended up winning it all and got really hot against us."

The Lakers will try to add a guard and forward via free agency but can use the relatively mild "mini mid-level exception" for only one of them — a three-year contract worth $9.4 million. For the other, they can pay only the veteran's minimum of about $1 million.

That's what free agency means for teams with a $91-million payroll. It's the dawn of a more tightly wound collective-bargaining agreement, which is expected to be ratified next week by players and owners.

mike.bresnahan@latimes.com

twitter.com/Mike_Bresnahan

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