Thinking Outside the Triangle

ESPN.com contributor Larry Coon took questions on Twitter regarding the Lakers’ offseason. Here are just a few samples:

@Cizzle697: What about Pau or Bynum and the other guys for Hickson or Varejo, Sessions and Harris or Eyenga + one of Cavs 1st rd picks?

@Thad_singley: You think NO would accept Pau, filler and a first rounder for CP3?

@Dgtedford: Do lakers give up a combo of Drew + Pau/Lamar or does Drew + picks get it done? (for Dwight Howard)

The annual knee-jerk reactions are coming in furiously from Lakers fans. They want Pau’s head …er changes. Most Lakers fans are already looking towards the summer of 2012 — assuming they will pluck Dwight Howard from Orlando a la 1996 when they signed Shaq away from Orlando in free agency. Others believe Chris Paul, coming off his dismantling of said Lakers, will join forces with Kobe, forming a hall of fame backcourt. I don’t see either of those moves happening for a variety of reasons including other teams having more to offer, a new CBA and the Lakers being capped out until my 2 year old nephew can legally buy a Playboy. (Luke Walton will make $6,100,000 in 2012-2013).

According to Hoopshype.com, the Lakers have $89 million committed in salary next season. If Shannon Brown and Matt Barnes opt into their contracts that number rises to $92 million and change. Hell, the Lakers will have $61,466,130 committed in salary for the 2013-2014 season! With the CBA in limbo, the Lakers could be saddled with the same team, a new coach and a strike shortened season.

I do believe changes will be made this offseason. The Mavs exposed the Lakers as old, slow and defensively challenged. The good news for Lakers fans is that this trifecta of problems can be fixed on the cheap. They already have two quality big men and veteran leadership. Plus, Kobe can still find ways to score. But Lakers fans do not want to hear “on the cheap.” Rare is it that “on the cheap” wins rings. The Lakers could use a second scorer at the small forward spot to take some of the pressure off of Kobe. But again, second scorers are way overpriced in the NBA. Rudy Gay and Andre Iguodala are second scorers. Gay will make $15,032,144 next season. Iguodala still has three years and $56 million left on his deal.

Unfortunately, with the number one payroll in the NBA ($91,645,878) and cap uncertainty, Dwight Howard and/or CP3 are all but out of the picture unless they force their respective teams to deal them to the Lakers in a Melo-like move. The Magic and Hornets will not be as patient as the Nuggets were with Melo and would likely pull the trigger on the best deal available, like the shocker the Jazz pulled with Deron Williams. The Lakers can move Gasol, who will be 32 in 2012 (and seemingly on the decline) or Andrew Bynum, who has shown flashes of greatness but cannot seem to stay on the floor due to various knee injuries, but little else.

The Lakers do not have any young talent, draft picks, or attractive contracts to offer Orlando for Howard or New Orleans for CP3. Also, keep in mind that the other 29 teams in the NBA currently own the New Orleans Hornets. I doubt they would sign off on a deal that sends its face of the franchise and lone marketing tool to LA.

Look, Gasol played terribly throughout the entire playoffs. He was soft, taking every hit the Mavs gave him without ever hitting back. He looked lost on defense and lethargic on offense. Maybe he was just worn out. Maybe, as he hinted in the Mavs series, he let outside influences seep into his mind. Maybe he was mentally worn out? I will not speculate what those outside influences were. But hopefully they disappear by November 2011.

So what do the Lakers need? An infusion of inexpensive youth and athleticism at the point guard and wing positions. The Lakers can improve via free agency and the draft next season, assuming there is a mid-level exception, which is a major assumption. Here are a few summer 2011 free agents I think the Lakers should take a hard look at this offseason. You won’t find a point guard on this list. I know the Lakers need a point guard, but Derek Fisher has a player option for the 2012-2013 season and Steve Blake is signed through 2013-2014, plus there weren’t many attractive point guards on the 2011 FA market anyway. Perhaps a deal for Raymond Felton is a possibility due to the Nugs having Ty Lawson.

J.R. Smith – Nuggets
Position: Shooting Guard
2010-2011 Salary: $6,031,851
J.R. Smith would likely cost the Lakers the full mid-level exception. Still, the Lakers need youth and athleticism and Smith fits the bill. He can create his own shot and fill it up when Bryant is on the bench. He shot 39% from three and has the ability to jump out the damn building, giving Kobe some relief on the offsensive end. What the Lakers do not need is a headache and Smith was known for being in and out of George Karl’s doghouse throughout his Denver career. He is basically Shannon Brown with a jumpshot and a worse attitude. Still, if Brown opts out, Smith could work here.

Reggie Williams – Warriors
Position: Shooting Guard/Small Forward
2010-2011 Salary: $762,195
Like J.R. Smith, Reggie Williams can fill it up. When given the opportunity, Williams performed. He averaged 16.5 pts/gm when playing 25 minutes or more. A pure shooter, Williams shot 47% from the field and 42.3% from 3. At 24, his best years are still be ahead of him.

Gary Forbes – Nuggets
Position: Shooting Guard/Small Forward
Salary: $473,604
Gary Forbes is a solid 6’7” 220. Like Reggie Williams, Forbes, the UMass product, is cheap, young and can shoot the ball when given minutes. Forbes played 20 minutes or more 14 times for the Nuggets this season and averaged 11.5 points a game. I like his size and although he’s raw, he can defend chest to chest with his opponent. The Lakers need more glue-guys like Forbes who have scratched and clawed their way into the league and are happy to do the little things if it means they get a paycheck every two weeks. Not many blue-collar guys on the roster right now for L.A.

Luc Mbah a Moute – Bucks
Position:Small Forward/Power Forward
Salary: $854,389
The 6’8” 220 UCLA product would be a steal for the Lakers. Mbah a Moute, a second round pick, played 79 games and multiple positions for the injury plagued Bucks, often defending the opponents best big man. The problem is where and when would he play? He’s not a shooter and would likely play the backup power forward spot. With Lamar Odom locked in through 2012-2013, I’m not sure there is room for Mbah a Moute in L.A. Still, if the Lakers are serious about improving on the defensive end, they should take a look at Luc.

Derrick Brown – Knicks
Position: Small Forward/Power Forward
Salary: $287,940
Throw out the stats here because they aren’t impressive. There are more talented players out there that may have more of an initial impact than Derrick Brown. But I watched this Xavier product give it to my Saint Joseph’s Hawks for years. I always came away impressed with Brown’s athleticism. He was drafted in the second round by Charlotte and was thought to be one of the steals of 2009 draft. Never panned out. But LB is known for destroying young players careers. He is only 23 and has the athleticism at 6’8” 220 to make an impact for a team in the years to come. He may be a Trevor Ariza-type player, we may never hear from him again. I have no idea, but at that price why not take a shot?

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