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Some big questions about Lakers' future

Andrew Bynum's option will be picked up, but Pau Gasol doesn't get firm answers in his exit meeting.

May 23, 2012|By Mike Bresnahan
  • Lakers teammates Pau Gasol, left, and Andrew Bynum walk off the court following the Lakers' loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals on Saturday. Gasol hasn't received any assurances from the team that he'll be back next season.
Lakers teammates Pau Gasol, left, and Andrew Bynum walk off the court following… (Stephen Dunn / Getty Images )

Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol were in the Lakers' training facility on the same day, possibly for the last time.

They arrived several hours apart for their exit interviews Wednesday and then stepped into the sunshine afterward, though nothing looked overly bright about the Lakers' future.

"There will be some change," said Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak, the sting still fresh from another ouster in the Western Conference semifinals. "When you lose before you think you should have lost, you have to open up all opportunities.

"We get graded on the success of the team. That's how it is in this franchise….We're disappointed. We thought going into the season, and even up until a week ago, that we were one of three or four or five teams that could contend for a championship."

Instead, the Lakers failed to get out of the month of May, again.

On the same day Kupchak reaffirmed the Lakers would pick up a $16.1-million team option on Bynum next season, it became more obvious that Gasol would be the team's main trade chip. He underperformed this season, averaging only 12.5 points in the playoffs, and couldn't get any firm answers from Kupchak in his exit meeting.

"I wish I could have clarification, but they can't give it to me right now," said Gasol, who has two years and $38.3 million left on his contract. "I think management still has to talk to ownership to see what direction this thing will be going next year."

The Lakers have a host of players who will become free agents July 1. Point guard Ramon Sessions is also expected to become one by declining a one-year, $4.55-million player option next month. Matt Barnes is not expected back. Jordan Hill and Devin Ebanks probably will find only limited interest in the free-agent market.

Despite saying the Lakers would pursue trades more aggressively, Kupchak added that the team could be successful if it didn't pull off anything.

"If we were just able to bring back the players that were on the team this year and have a full training camp, I think we'd be in a position to be one of those five or six teams to contend," he said. "It's not like we don't have a group that's talented."

Kupchak said the Lakers would try to improve their position in next month's draft but didn't think they could trade into the first round. They currently hold only the 60th pick, the final one in the second round.

Kupchak said Mike Brown "did a fine job," though Brown was critical of his first season as the Lakers' coach. "I feel like I could have done a lot better," he said.

Gasol said Wednesday that the Lakers went with too many isolation plays down the stretch in important games. Brown countered by citing an overall lack of practice time in the lockout-shortened season.

"We wouldn't have practiced that much more because we have an old, veteran team…but I know there were a lot of things that I felt rushed on that I kind of did on the fly based on the lack of time," Brown said.

In the meantime, Bynum says he will be back next season … he thinks.

"I don't expect to hear my name as a possible trade, but I think anything can happen," he said. "Obviously, I want to be a Laker…."

Despite one-sided playoff exits the last two seasons, Bynum believed the Lakers could be title contenders with the current roster.

"This group definitely can win," he said. "Obviously, we had different players when we won championships and guys were younger, but I think this team is capable."

He shrugged off trade rumors that pop up almost continually involving him. "I've been traded a lot," he said jokingly. "I try to see the good in it. It just means you have some value somewhere."

In his exit meeting, Bynum was told by Kupchak and Brown to stay mentally strong throughout the entire season and have an impact on every game, Bynum said.

Bynum's historically troubling knees did not cause him to miss any games this season, but he "most definitely" plans to go to Germany in September to have the same innovative, non-invasive procedure on his knees that Kobe Bryant had last summer. The procedure is called "Orthokine," has a very short recovery time and involves an injection that targets interleukin — proteins or molecules that cause inflammation.

More than five months have passed since the NBA vetoed the Lakers' trade for Chris Paul, but Kupchak said the burden of it fell primarily on Gasol, who was slated for Houston in the three-team deal.

"There's a little bit of trust that's not quite the same," Kupchak said. "When there's pretty intense trade rumors, it's shocking to a player."

In a long day of interviews at the training facility, Gasol captured the overriding feeling about the Lakers' immediate future.

"It's not up to us," he said. "We can talk about it all day long, but it's somebody else's call."

Not first team

Bryant was selected to the NBA all-defensive second team, the first time since 2005 he wasn't on the first team.

The Clippers' Chris Paul and Memphis' Tony Allen were the guards selected to the first team, which was rounded out by Miami forward LeBron James, Oklahoma City forward Serge Ibaka and Orlando center Dwight Howard. New York center Tyson Chandler, the defensive player of the year, was on the second team.

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