"The Fast Break" is a weekly NBA notebook column that features interviews, insight, international news and more. New every Thursday on NBA.com/fastbreak.

Secaucus, N.J. – I’m all about giving back. I’ll be the first one to help someone load groceries into the back of their car or step in front of a moving truck to rescue a puppy that had run away from a small child. That’s just the kind of guy I am. This week I want to give back to you, the fans of the NBA, by answering your questions. I sifted through dozens to pick out a few that I’ve been personally thinking about a lot recently. If I didn’t get to yours, don’t fret. As the optimist in me believes, there’s always next time.

What’s going on with the Lakers? Are we going to see Kobe, Pau, Ron and the rest of the gang back together again next year? – Marcus (San Juan, Puerto Rico)

It’s said that all good things must come to an end. The Lakers had a good thing going with back-to-back championships and that streak is now kaput. It’s no secret that the Lakers are getting older. The average age of their starting five is 30.4 years old. That’s elderly compared to the Oklahoma City Thunder’s average of 23.6.

Outside of center Andrew Bynum, the Lakers don’t have much youth to surround Kobe Bryant with. That’s an area, if moves are made, they’ll need to tackle. Bynum is the one who said the Lakers have trust issues. That sounds like something your girlfriend of two years says when she’s ready to give you the boot. Bynum is the Lakers best asset to include in a trade. He is 23, 7-feet-tall and has the potential to become one of the best rebounders in the game. He’s also an unrestricted free agent after next season.

Pau Gasol is also an interesting case. He’s still one of the NBA’s top forwards and has enjoyed a strong working relationship with Kobe. Like Bynum though, he too may be a valuable piece to offer up in a trade. On ESPN, former Lakers superstar Magic Johnson suggested the team try to deal Gasol and Lamar Odom for Dwight Howard. To me, that seems too lopsided in favor of the Lakers.

Ron Artest and Derek Fisher are both under contract next season. We all know Kobe isn’t going anywhere. This offseason is as good a time as any to reevaluate the pieces in place and develop a plan moving forward.

Who do you think the Nets should be targeting with the 27th and 36th picks in this year’s draft? – J.P. (Brooklyn, NY)

The odds of selecting an impact player late in the draft are small. For every Tony Parker (28th overall, 2001), there are dozens of others who never pan out. With that in mind, there’s two ways to approach utilizing their first round pick: select the best available player on the board or aim for depth. Let’s ignore the best available notion since there’s no way of telling which players will be left when commissioner David Stern announces the Nets are on the clock. Based purely on depth, the Nets need to grab a center first. Brook Lopez is one of the best in the game, but when he’s off the floor, they lack offense and defense. New Jersey signed Johan Petro to be Lopez’ backup last offseason, but he finished the season with slightly lower than career average numbers (3.5 ppg, 2.8 rpg) in limited nightly action.

Another spot the Nets would be wise to use one of those draft picks on is a combo guard. Deron Williams is here for at least next season – they hope it’s much longer than that – and he’d be great to study behind. Williams has better shooting skills than many of the other point guards in the league and is one of the best at facilitating scoring.

I enjoyed your playoff predictions a few weeks back. Now that we’re a couple weeks into the postseason, who do you think will be in the Finals? Gina (Louisiana)

Who knew the Lakers losing five of seven heading into the playoffs would actually carry into the postseason calendar? I certainly didn’t, and that’s why I picked them to win it all for a third straight season. But they’re out and the Mavericks remain. Due to the fact that the Memphis Grizzlies and Oklahoma City Thunder are beating each other up with triple-overtime games , I believe this could be the Mavs’ year to make the Finals. In the East, the Miami Heat look so good, but I’ll stick with my original selection of the Chicago Bulls. If this turns out to be the Finals matchup, Chicago will prevail.

Foreign Intelligence


San Antonio Spurs forward Manu Ginobili will play for Argentina's national team this summer as they attempt to qualify for the Olympics...Heat center Joel Anthony (Canada) picked up his first start of the playoffs in Monday's Game 4 against Boston. He finished with four points, four rebounds and two blocks in 31 minutes. Zydrunas Ilgauskas (Lithuania) was moved to the bench as a result. Anthony started Game 5, as well... Thunder center Serge Ibaka (Rep. of Congo) sprained his left ankle Saturday, but returned to the starting lineup for Game 4. Ibaka played just 17 minutes in the Thunder's 133-123 triple-overtime win...Grizzlies guard Greivis Vasquez' (Venezuela) 3-pointer sent that game to the second overtime...Center Al Horford (Dominican Republic) and Joakim Noah were teammates at the University of Florida. The past two weeks, they've been squaring off for an opportunity to play in the Eastern Conference Finals. So far Horford has the edge with 57 points, 50 rebounds and 19 assists compared to Noah's 38, 55 and 14. Noah's Chicago Bulls, however, have the 3-2 series lead over Horford's Atlanta Hawks...The 2010-ALL NBA All-Defensive Teams were announced on Monday. No international players made the first or second teams, however, Chicago's Luol Deng (Great Britain), San Antonio's Tim Duncan (U.S. Virgin Islands), Portland's Nicolas Batum (France), Oklahoma City's Thabo Sefolosha (Switzerland), Milwaukee's Luc Mbah a Moute (Cameroon) and Andrew Bogut (Australia), Denver's Nene (Brazil), Ginobili, Horford and Ibaka all received votes...Dirk Nowitzki (Germany) is the primary reason the Mavericks were able to sweep the Lakers out of the playoffs. Nowitzki finished the four game series with averages of 25.3 points, 9.3 rebounds and 2.5 assists...Deng finished second in voting for the Joe Dumars Trophy, which is awarded to the NBA Sportsmanship Award winner. Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry picked up this year's honor. Deng won the award after the 2006-07 season. He'll receive a $5,000 donation to his Luol Deng Foundation...Grizzlies center Hamed Haddadi (Iran) was the team's first post player off the bench in Game 3. The 7-foot-2, 265-pounder only played six minutes, but finished with five points and two rebounds in that short amount of time...Mavericks reserve point guard JJ Barea (Puerto Rico) had a heck of a conference semifinals. Barea’s averaged 11.5 points and 5.5 assists in just 18 minutes of action. He's also been on the other end of Artest and Bynum's ejections...Photos of Utah Jazz forward Andrei Kirilenko's new tattoo have sprung up all over the Internet. Quite the amount of artwork is the best way to put it...Mavericks forward Peja Stojakovic (Serbia) was 7-for-7, including 6-for-6 from three, in Dallas' Game 4 win over Los Angeles...The Gasol Brother Playoff Stats: Marc - 16 ppg, 12.5 rpg; Pau - 12.5 ppg, 7.8 rpg…Cleveland Cavaliers forward Anderson Varejao (Brazil) spoke with Cavs.com about rehab after missing the team’s last 47 games.

Fire & Ice


Fire:
Josh Smith: The crowd at Philips Arena doesn’t seem to like watching Smith put up shots. They’d prefer he stick to his high-energy style of defense. You can’t have one without the other in Smith’s case though. Watch Smith play and you’ll see someone who seems to be involved in every play, diving for balls and not afraid to go up in a crowd for a tough rebound. That approach has the Hawks still in the hunt.

Memphis/Oklahoma City: Has there been a more exciting series? The back-to-back overtime thrillers, including a triple-OT finish on Monday night, have everyone watching. Who thought Memphis would even be two wins away from a trip to the Conference Finals?

Jason Terry: The Mavericks guard was 9-for-10 from 3-point land in his team’s clincher against the Lakers on Sunday. He might not be one of the NBA’s all-time bests from behind the arc as he claimed afterwards, but the performance was certainly history book worthy.

Ice:
Andrew Bynum: Blatantly body checking Barea on a drive to the basket was a classless act by Bynum. Then, Bynum took off his jersey as he strolled off the court. That just made him look like a punk. Barea has accepted Bynum’s apology. The NBA still handed down a five game suspension plus a fine.

Los Angeles Lakers: Phil Jackson had never been swept out of the playoffs in four games. That’s over a 65 series span. The Lakers have some serious chemistry issues for a team that’s largely the same as the ones that won back-to-back titles the last two years.

Glen Davis: Big Baby had just 20 points and 12 rebounds in 92 minutes of action against the Heat. Those are miserable numbers for a team’s top post player off the bench.

NBA StatsCube Cruncher


+14- The field goal percentage difference in the paint the Bulls have against the Hawks this season compared to their team average. (StatsCube Index)

Video Peak


Twitter Talk


”phil jackson leaving some monster size shoes to fill #bestcoachinNBAhistory” (View)
Tracy McGrady (@thereal_tmac) on May 9, one day after the Lakers were swept out of the playoffs.

“MRI and cat scan results all negative on Rajon Rondo's left elbow. Still listed as a game-time decision for Game 4.” (View)
Boston Celtics (@celtics) on May 8 after learning the medical diagnosis on point guard Rajon Rondo.

“Check out photos from the #Wizards new jersey player photo shoot. http://on.nba.com/jhaShl (View)
Washington Wizards (@washwizards) on May 10 after unveiling their new team logo and uniforms.


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