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Scott Howard-Cooper

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The Mavs' semifinal blitz of the Lakers leaves Kobe and Co. with big questions in the offseason.
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Uncertain future for Lakers, but they've been here before


Posted May 9 2011 1:19PM

DALLAS -- And so, to review:

The extremely popular ex-star and Hall of Famer suggested it's time to sledgehammer the roster. The coach is leaving. The All-Star power forward lost his confidence and the starting point guard turns 37 in August. The roster is not athletic enough. The center notes trust issues and the Sixth Man of the Year winner seconds the chemistry concern. A lockout is coming, and the season just ended in smoldering wreckage. All after a giant flash of craziness that engulfed the team.

Or as they call it around the Lakers:

Monday.

If being shoved out of the playoffs by the Mavericks in a semifinal sweep is unlike anything your favorite dysfunctional franchise has seen before, the comforting thought on the first day of the rest of their lives is that they have been through worse and lived to tell. Phil Jackson wrote in a book that Kobe Bryant was "uncoachable" and came back to coach him a second time. Bryant scorched the earth trying to leave L.A. when he demanded a trade, and soon after called himself a Lakers lifer. Shaquille O'Neal and Bryant destroyed one championship roster with an ego showdown, and management built another.

Leaving here Sunday night with an underachieving season capped by the 36-point loss in Game 4 and two fourth-quarter ejections that added to the appearance of a meltdown? That sucked a little bit too.

There was no other way for them to go out, of course, the Lakers having always lived big and bold. Something along the lines of your basic 4-2 exit wouldn't have fit, and so, they are not really heading into the offseason as much as being launched there on a rocket.

ABC/ESPN analyst Magic Johnson said Saturday on television that owner Jerry Buss is "probably going to have to blow this team up," a statement that did not go over well in the locker room with the Lakers a day away from stepping into an elimination game. (Derek Fisher, asked after the Game 4 drubbing about the future of the roster, snapped to go ask Magic.) It was ill-timed, but possibly also credible since Johnson remains very close to Buss.

Wanting to do something doesn't make it so. General manager Mitch Kupchak, seeing the chance of this kind of end coming from months away, shopped for a significant deal before the February trade deadline and found nothing real. The same could happen now with the Lakers looking but having only big (or big and bad) contracts to offer.

Of course, they also have the luxury of surplus bigs, usually a good conversation-starter with other clubs. Among that group, Andrew Bynum almost certainly is not going anywhere unless Dwight Howard is coming in return. Odom and Pau Gasol are much better candidates, especially with Odom coming off a Sixth Man of the Year Award-winning season and with only one more year of guaranteed money on his deal.

Besides, it's fair to ask whether the Lakers should do major reconstruction. Gasol, the target of scorn for going soft in the playoffs, was just the second-best player on consecutive championship teams. He is an ideal Bryant complement and has produced at an elite level. Buss and Kupchak don't do knee jerk reactions and could decide 2011 was momentary condition, not a permanent problem.

The only clear move is to replace Jackson, and that's as unpredictable a direction as the player decisions. History shows there is no such thing as a homecourt advantage for an ex-Laker or a Lakers assistant, an important note since Brian Shaw is both and mentioned most often as a successor. The bigger vote on his behalf is that the veteran players want Shaw, believing his familiarity would ease the adjustment to a new coach in a season of win-now mode and possibly chopped up by a lockout.

"There isn't anybody else but Brian at this point," Fisher said recently. "I don't know what kind of selection process they're going to try and go through .... We feel comfortable that Brian could get the job done. He's played with us, he's played for Phil, he's worked under Phil for a long time. We feel like if he chose to accept the job and be the head coach, we definitely could keep the same system that we have and do a lot of the same things."

The last-four-years-thing. Not the last-week thing.

Jackson was asked before the Sunday finale, even though he will have no say on deals going forward, whether he thought dramatic changed were needed if the Lakers were to lose in the semis.

"That's an 'if' I don't even want to go to," he said.

After the elimination had been sealed -- after, a development as critical as the Mavericks outplaying the Lakers, Jackson noted how "I felt there was a couple players that felt daunted by the energy in the game," -- he was asked again about a potential roster renovation.

"That's not my decision to make," he said. "That's Dr. Buss', and ultimately, with Mitch Kupchak, they'll put it together. But it's a great franchise and we all know that they always come back and get themselves back in the race. The Lakers are going to survive and do well."

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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