How Many Changes Will Lakers Make in Quest of Championship?

Thursday, 26 Jun 2008, 5:00:00 AM

(unassigned)

There’s a mentality throughout the National Basketball Association, an unhealthy one in my estimation, that major changes are in order if the team doesn’t win a championship.

I dislike this thought process for one reason. There can be only one champion each season, so does everyone else shake up their roster and fire the coach?

Apparently so.

Dallas and Phoenix made dramatic changes – the Suns, sacrificing Shawn Marion to get Shaquille O’Neal, created an environment that made Coach Mike D’Antoni uncomfortable, then lost him to New York. And the Mavericks gave up half their team for Jason Kidd, lost in the first playoff round and fired Avery Johnson, who two years ago was NBA Coach of the Year.

And how about Detroit, perennially one of the NBA’s best teams, firing Coach Flip Saunders for losing the Eastern Conference Final playoff series to the eventual champion Boston Celtics, four games to two? And then G.M. Joe Dumars saying every player is available in trade.

Overreaction? Absolutely.

And now we have the Lakers, who overachieved in a surprisingly successful season, in the same position. They lost to the Celtics in the championship round, so be prepared for anything.

General Manager Mitch Kupchak says it isn’t going to happen. Kobe Bryant, the star player who pushed for changes last summer, says he won’t do that again, claiming, "I’m happy with what we have."

I’ll believe that when I see the Lakers go to training camp in October with basically the same roster, but I won’t be surprised if there is a shakeup.

At first glance there isn’t much the Lakers can do. They have some high-salaried players and some lesser ones (Luke Walton, Vladimir Radmanovic) coming off sub-par seasons, yet possessing contracts large enough to make them difficult to swap.

They have to decide whether or not to bring back Sasha Vujacic and Ronny Turiaf, and Kupchak says the Lakers want to keep them.

But there’s enough mystery to believe something will happen. The biggest question is deciding where Andrew Bynum fits. The next question is this -- how effective would a frontline of Bynum, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom be?

Assuming the Lakers want that to be the frontline, what do they do with three small forwards, all under contract but none regarded as a starting player? I’m talking about Walton, Radmanovic and Trevor Ariza, who had a player option for next season and exercised it, meaning the Lakers have to pay him $3.1 million or trade him.

It’s hard to believe those three players will be on the team and it’s proper to wonder if Odom will stay if Gasol moves to his forward position.

Adding to my theory that the parts don’t fit is the fact the Lakers finished many games this season with Bryant at forward, allowing Vujacic and either Derek Fisher or Jordan Farmar to be the guards. It was easy to remove Radmanovic in fourth quarters, but if the choice comes down to Gasol, Odom or Bynum, would any of them be content with that role? Unlikely.

If Bynum is the hope to elevate the Lakers a notch – a 21-year-old 7-footer who was playing brilliantly when a knee injury ended his season in January – then economics may force the Lakers to choose between Odom or Gasol because both would essentially be $3 million a season players manning the same position.

No, I don’t think we’ll see the same roster for long. The Lakers will join the list of teams that figure they weren’t good enough, and what happened in the last two weeks will cancel out what happened from October to May.

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