Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Lakers Big Deal

Lakers' big deal: expected return of Bynum
By Elliott Teaford, Staff Writer
Article Last Updated: 06/20/2008 11:18:50 PM PDT

The Lakers don't need to make a blockbuster trade to be a title contender again next season. They don't need to make a jaw-dropping free agent signing to ignite another deep playoff run. They don't need to revamp their roster.

What they need is a healthy 7-foot center back in their starting lineup. What they need is all the rebounding, shot-blocking and defensive skills that 20-year-old Andrew Bynum can give them next season.

So said general manager Mitch Kupchak, three days after the Lakers suffered a humiliating 39-point loss to the Boston Celtics in the decisive Game 6 of the NBA Finals.

"I don't think it solves everything, but if I had a player to add that's the player I would like to add," Kupchak said after he and Coach Phil Jackson concluded their season-ending meetings with their players Friday.

Bynum sat out of the final three months of the regular season plus all of the playoffs because of a partially dislocated left kneecap. He underwent surgery last month, but said Friday he would resume his customary offseason workouts next month. Bynum was in the midst of a breakout season, averaging 13.1points, 10.2 rebounds and 2.1 blocked shots, when he was hurt Jan. 13.

If Bynum returns as anticipated next season, then he would join with fellow 7-footer Pau Gasol and 6-10 forward Lamar Odom to form one of the biggest and most formidable front lines in the NBA. Bynum would play center, with Gasol shifting to power forward
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from center and Odom moving to small forward from power forward.

It's also possible league MVP Kobe Bryant could play small forward, with the playmaking Odom moving to a guard spot alongside Derek Fisher.

"I think Phil will be challenged to get really creative because it is a team that would be very talented and versatile and I think training camp would be a very important time for him to test out what he's decided to do over the summer," Kupchak said. "The possibilities are endless."

Kupchak said he would discuss a contract extension for Bynum with team owner Jerry Buss within the next few days. Kupchak indicated he doesn't believe Bynum's injury would prevent the team from giving him a new deal.

"The injury is not a career- altering injury," Kupchak said.

In addition, the Lakers intend to re-sign restricted free agents Sasha Vujacic and Ronny Turiaf once the signing period begins July 1. Kupchak said it was unlikely that he would pursue other team's free agents because of salary cap concerns.

"If we did nothing and brought back the players who are existing free agents, just by virtue of this team aging one more year and getting Trevor (Ariza) and Andrew back (from injuries), I think we're right back in the hunt," he said.

Ariza exercised his option Friday and will return to the Lakers next season.

Meanwhile, Jackson's message to his players was straightforward.

"How can you get better to help this team next year?" Jackson said. "They have to put together a summer that brings them back here that makes them better basketball players. ... We're not about looking back at what we did wrong. We're about looking forwards and seeing if we can do it again."

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