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Decisions loom on free agents, team options and player options

May 22, 2012|By Mark Medina
  • The Lakers' Ramon Sessions fouls the Thunder's Russell Westbrook during Game 5 of their playoff series. Sessions has a player option on his contract this off-season; will he opt out?
The Lakers' Ramon Sessions fouls the Thunder's Russell Westbrook… (Larry W. Smith / EPA / May…)

Here's a look at what the Lakers should do with their agents as well as players who hold either team or player options.

Andrew Bynum, center

Status: Lakers hold $16.1-million team option

Verdict: Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak told The Times' Mike Bresnahan that the Lakers will exercise the team option before the June 30 deadline. But Bynum expressed indifference to reporters after the Lakers' Game 5 loss Monday to Oklahoma City on where he plays.

The Lakers should think long and hard before committing to a long-term deal with Bynum. For once, the concerns go beyond injuries. He's proven he can handle that. But can he truly be counted on to be the Lakers' next franchise player? He's shown he has the skills. But his development hinges on his maturity and effort levels, variables that proved spotty both in the regular season and the playoffs.

Pursuing Dwight Howard wouldn't be the answer. He's had worse maturity issues (trying to get Stan Van Gundy fired). Reports say Howard doesn't want to play second fiddle behind Kobe Bryant and follow  a path traveled by Shaquille O'Neal. Beyond that, I honestly have no idea whom the Lakers should trade Bynum for. Clearing his contract wouldn't open enough cap space for Deron Williams. Size still remains a rare and significant asset. But because of Bynum's maturity issues, keeping him long-term no longer remains a no-brainer. 

Ramon Sessions, point guard

Status: Sessions holds $4.6-million player option

Verdict: When the Lakers acquired him from Cleveland before the March 15 trading deadline, his future seemed to be a non-issue. It appeared Sessions instantly bolstered the Lakers' point-guard position. Even though he made it clear he planned to opt out of his player option, both Sessions and the Lakers seemed interested in a long-term deal. Because of his disappearing act in the playoffs, though, Sessions should reconsider and keep his player option. It will give Sessions another year to fully grasp the system. He'll have more time finding the right balance in pace and aggressiveness. And perhaps he won't shy away from the postseason spotlight.

For a team that wants to get under the luxury tax threshold, the Lakers can't afford to throw too much at Sessions when he hardly proved his worth this season. But losing him would put the Lakers back to square one in upgrading their backcourt. For both parties involved, it will simply be easier if Sessions exercises his player option.

Matt Barnes, small forward

Status: Unrestricted free agent

Verdict: Let him walk. I honestly didn't see this coming. Even with the lineup shuffling at small forward, Barnes remained the most consistent player off the bench. He, of course, had his struggles with outside shooting and making silly fouls on defense. But for a bench that lacked an identity, the Lakers could always rely on Barnes to provide instant energy, get hustle points and space the floor. Once the postseason hit, however, everything evaporated. His sprained right ankle bothered him. Barnes couldn't buy a bucket. And the intangible qualities that he usually brought were non-existent. The Lakers won't save much money by letting him go (Barnes made $1.9 million this year). But I don't see how he'd provide much after seeing him play this postseason.

Devin Ebanks, small forward

Status: Restricted free agent ($789,000)

Verdict: Depends. His agent, David Bauman, outlined to me a few months ago how he'd approach Ebanks' free agency. Ideally, he wants Ebanks to stay with the Lakers. But if the Lakers kept Metta World Peace and Barnes with no indications his playing time would increase, Bauman would shop Ebanks around. The Lakers can match any offer. As much potential as Ebanks has, I don't really see him getting much on the open market. So it's likely the Lakers will hold the leverage.

In that case, the Lakers should keep him. He's a solid role player and will keep improving because of his serious work ethic and unassuming personality. But if Ebanks is aggressively pursuing a hefty contract, he's not worth the money at this point.

Jordan Hill, power forward

Status: Unrestricted free agent

Verdict: Keep him. Everyone, including the Lakers, saw him as a throw-in as part of the Derek Fisher trade.  But once he got the opportunity, Hill proved he's worth keeping. Of course, his future will be affected by his pending court case involving a third-degree felony charge. But assuming that works out, Hill's worth the investment. He consistently makes hustle plays, stays engaged despite having no sets drawn for him and plays effectively enough to give the Lakers' frontline much-needed rest. 

Troy Murphy, forward

Status: Unrestricted free agent

Verdict: Let him walk. The Lakers signed him to the veteran's minimum ($1.4 million) so that he'd provide reliable outside shooting. He didn't do that consistently enough this year, while bringing very little value elsewhere.

Darius Morris, guard

Status: Restricted free agent

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