By Dave McMenamin, NBA.com
Posted Jun 17 2009 6:41AM
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- The 2009 world champion Lakers conducted exit interviews for half their roster on Tuesday, with a full-fledged press corps present and eager to discover whether Los Angeles will be able to keep its roster in tact to threaten for additional titles in 2010 and beyond.
Too bad the only question that was definitively answered was who would reprise Mark Madsen's role as the goofy white-guy dancer on stage at the team's championship rally.
Luke Walton and Pau Gasol both said they'll dance, but the Madsen moves will be saved for someone else.
"What about [Adam] Morrison?!," Walton asked.
If only Morrison still had that mop top of his, he might have been able to out-awkward Madsen with his locks flopping around when he does the cabbage patch.
Nine years ago, when Kobe Bryant, Derek Fisher, Phil Jackson and the Lakers teamed up for their first championship, those exit interviews were covered by a handful of beat writers talking to the players in the parking lot as they walked to their cars carrying trash bags full of sneakers from their lockers.
Tuesday at the Toyota Sports Center, more than 40 reporters and a dozen television cameras showed up to talk to the team in news conference format, showing just how much the stakes have risen. One ring isn't enough. This town wants another dynasty.
"Why not? Sure. We feel like we can," Walton said. "Obviously Mitch [Kupchak] and Dr. [Jerry] Buss have some work to do this offseason. If we can keep this team together, there's no reason why we can't."
That work will include figuring out the final answers to what will happen with L.A.'s unrestricted free agents, "What about Lamar Odom?", "What about Shannon Brown?", "What about Trevor Ariza?," and the fate of its coach, "What about Phil Jackson?"
Ariza was the only member of the group in question to speak Tuesday. Brown and Odom are scheduled to talk to Jackson, Kupchak and the media on Thursday.
The Lakers' starting small forward reiterated his desire to stay with the team.
"I would love to [come back]. I feel like I am at home here because I am at home," said Ariza, a Los Angeles native.
Coming off his fifth season in which he averaged 8.9 points, 4.3 rebounds and 1.7 steals, Ariza said that winning and feeling like he is "a part of something" are two of the biggest determining factors going into his decision.
But, in the next breath, Ariza talked about seeking fellow UCLA alumnus Baron Davis' counsel and testing the free-agent market. "It should be a fun time for me and my family," he said. "I'm going to enjoy it a little bit. Hopefully it doesn't get too out of hand."
Ariza said he felt "a lot of love" during his exit interview and that management expressed that they want him back. Sometimes the things we want just aren't realistic, however.
The Lakers already have approximately $74 million already committed to eight players next season. That figure does not include Ariza, Odom and Brown, three key members of L.A.'s rotation, who are all free agents come June 30.
The luxury tax threshold is estimated to be in the $70 million range for next season, so L.A. will be penalized even if it fills the required 13-man roster out by signing five players for the league minimum.
Ariza and Odom will fetch much more than the minimum. One Western Conference executive said both players will warrant the mid-level exception at least, set to be in the neighborhood of $6 million next year.
Just signing one of the two players at that price, plus four more players to round out the roster, would put L.A.'s salary figure around $85 million next season. That figure would jump to $100 million if you account for the $15 million in luxury tax L.A. would have to pay.
Before L.A.'s management can put the team back together again, it must figure out the Lakers' chicken-egg conundrum: What comes first, Jackson or the free agents? Will Phil come back if Trevor and Lamar don't? Will Trevor and Lamar re-sign if Phil is gone?
Jackson is scheduled to speak to the media on Friday, but don't be surprised if he makes some sort of declarative statement on Wednesday during the rally at L.A. Coliseum following the Lakers' championship parade.
After financial concerns in a troubled economy threatened to cancel the celebration, it was green-lit in the eleventh hour thanks to the Lakers, AEG (which owns of the Staples Center) and Fox Sports Net pledging to help cover production costs. In addition, an additional $900,000 in private donations helped finance the city costs of police, traffic and other expenses.
The L.A. players who spoke to the coach on Tuesday were unanimous in reading Jackson's intentions -- he'll be back.
"I think he would like to come back," Gasol said. "I really want and hope and wish he comes back. He's such a big part of our team and our success and I don't know if he gets enough credit for what he does ... I really hope that he can coach us again, not just for one year, but for as long as he wants, or can, or is allowed to."
Said Walton: "I hope he's coming back. The way he was talking, he was saying what he expects next year."
And, dressed in a yellow sweater with matching yellow socks, Fisher made Jackson's return sound as good as gold.
"I didn't get the feeling leaving that he wasn't going to be my coach next season," Fisher said.
It will be weeks or even months before it becomes finalized which Lakers will definitely return. At least the wait won't be that long for the newest edition of the Madsen Mash.
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