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Scott Howard-Cooper

Which way do Kobe Bryant (left), Metta World Peace and the Lakers go from here?
Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images

Lakers ride off uneasily into another bumpy offseason

Posted May 23 2012 10:25AM

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Four losses in five games should have said enough about the jarring offseason that awaits the Lakers. Four losses in eight days that underlined the fact that their roster again was unable to stand up to the emotional challenge of the second round and the superior talent of an opponent.

But just in case the losses weren't enough, very early Tuesday, hours after their elimination at the hands of the young Thunder in Oklahoma City, the Lakers headed home to heal and plot a response. The team plane jetted into the dark Oklahoma sky and was some 10 minutes into the journey when it happened.

Turbulence. Twenty minutes of bouncing through the night. Part roller coaster, part life as a mid-air punching bag.

It could be that kind of summer after a second bad beating in the Western Conference semifinals in as many years. There can be no conversation about what happens now, post Oklahoma City, without unearthing the horrid memories of Dallas '11.

The clearest sign that the Lakers know that they need to shock the system is that they knew it a year ago, after losing to the Mavericks, and went for the bold moves. When that didn't work -- when commissioner David Stern scuttled the Chris Paul deal -- the Lakers regrouped and kept up talks with teams about trading forward Pau Gasol. They followed through in giving Lamar Odom an outbound ticket. Then they traded Derek Fisher at the trade deadline. That's three of the top six players from last season who were involved in trade talks. And two were dealt.

So, yes, the Lakers will be considering a breakup again in 2012, now that there is a pattern. Now that Kobe Bryant is having to ask teammates to, you know, play hard in the postseason. Now that absolutely nothing has changed.

Last February, when Bryant said that the front office either needed to trade Gasol quickly or tell Gasol he is in it for the long haul, general manager Mitch Kupchak correctly declined to do either. They weren't about to promise Gasol he was locked in as a Laker. Bryant shouldn't have wanted them to, not when the team had holes to fix and few options to get a serious return.

It's the same thing now. What are the Lakers' options?

Bryant? Not going anywhere.

Andrew Bynum? Almost certainly not going anywhere. As disappointing as his finish was, he made impressive gains during the regular season. And if the Lakers wouldn't swap him for Dwight Howard last season, they certainly won't do it now with Howard up for a massive contract the season after back surgery. In a statement no one would have made a year ago, Bynum is a safer investment.

Metta World Peace? He wouldn't bring much in return, despite his sometimes absurd confidence. (At the end-of-season interview with the media on Tuesday, he said of the just-completed 4-1 series loss to the Thunder: "We had those guys beat fairly easy.")

Ramon Sessions? He said he is undecided about whether to pick up the 2012-13 option on his contract or become a free agent July 1. With the lack of options for a replacement -- don't even start with the Deron Williams questions -- the Lakers may need him more than he needs them.

That leaves Gasol.

(Coach Mike Brown isn't going anywhere, either.)

More will be known Wednesday, when Brown and Kupchak do media sessions after their exit interviews with players. But expect some version from Kupchak of "The Lakers don't make panic decisions" and "Management is as disappointed with relatively early playoff exits as the fans." Bryant already weighed in after the elimination game in Oklahoma City:

"It's kind of unfamiliar territory. I'm really not used to it. It's pretty odd for me. I'm not the most patient of people and the organization's not extremely patient either. We want to win and win now," Bryant said. "I'm sure we'll figure it out. We always have and I'm sure we will again."

Then he left for Los Angeles with the rest of the Lakers. Right into the turbulence.

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

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