Commentary

Grading the Lakers

Now that the NBA draft is here, we take a look at the Lakers' roster

Updated: June 24, 2010, 5:57 PM ET
By Dave McMenamin | ESPNLosAngeles.com

With the NBA draft upon us, it's time to take a look at the Lakers' roster and how the players performed this past season. First, the leaders:

Kobe Bryant -- Age: 31 -- Position: Guard

2010-11 Salary: $24.8 million -- Years remaining on contract: 4

Year in review: Those eight game-winners Bryant hit during the regular season served as teasers for the NBA Finals heroics he couldn't muster until a 10-point fourth quarter against Boston with the title on the line won him his fifth championship and the Lakers their 16th. He finished fourth in the league in regular-season scoring average (27.0) and ramped up his level of play in the postseason, averaging 29.2 points and taking home his second Finals MVP award despite dealing with a troublesome right knee that needed to be drained in the first round, a sore left ankle and a fractured right index finger that caused him to adjust his shooting stroke. As his career moves forward he is chasing the classification of not only greatest Laker of all time, but greatest player of all time, period. After his exit interview he was asked to describe his season in one word and replied: "Epic."

What to expect next year: Bryant's success next season will likely come down to what he decides to do this summer. He has yet to back out of his commitment to USA Basketball and the FIBA World Championships in Turkey, a duty to his country that could be taxing on a body that has already logged 14 seasons and more than 1,200 games in the NBA. "I'm going to talk with our staff here and [Lakers general manager] Mitch [Kupchak] as well and come up with a timeline to take care of some of the injuries that have been nagging me and things we need to address," Bryant said. He said that his knee and ankle ailments are mostly behind him, but his finger could require surgery, a procedure Bryant described as "invasive" but didn't "expect it to be anything major." The Lakers' sun still rises and sets around Bryant.

Grade: A


Pau Gasol -- Age: 30 -- Position: Forward

2010-11 Salary: $17.8 million -- Years remaining on contract: 4

Year in review: Kupchak, not one to waste words or speak in hyperbole, might have said it best when describing Gasol: "We're biased, but we might say he's the best big man in the league." In his 10th season, Gasol averaged a career-high 11.3 rebounds per game and was the most consistent Lakers player down the stretch, even being named the team MVP of the second half of the season by coach Phil Jackson. Gasol was recognized as an All-Star for the third time in his career and, like Bryant, increased his scoring and blocks per games in the postseason, culminating in dominant performances in Games 6 and 7 of the Finals when he averaged 18.0 points, 15.5 rebounds, 6.0 assists and 2.5 blocks in two must-win games.

What to expect next year: Gasol will continue to play sidekick to Bryant, but their control of the team should continue to shift to more of a partnership than anything else. "I think we complement each other really well," Gasol said. "We're communicating every year better and better. It's a great relationship, obviously it's key for us to have that relationship in order for the whole team to function. We understand what our roles are and what importance we have on the team." After missing 17 games during the regular season with two hamstring tears, Gasol will skip playing for his native Spain in the World Championships and take the summer off to prepare his body for the toll that a full NBA slate brings -- it amounted to the Lakers playing 114 games in 2009-10 between the preseason, regular season and postseason.

Grade: A


Andrew Bynum -- Age: 22 -- Position: Center

2010-11 Salary: $13.8 million -- Years remaining on contract: 3

Year in review: His left Achilles tendon was aching him and his right knee would swell to the size of a grapefruit between games, but Bynum soldiered on, playing in all 23 of the Lakers' playoff games. Bynum had the best regular season of his five-year career, averaging 15 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.4 blocks while shooting 57 percent from the floor and 73.9 percent from the free throw line, and although his averages dipped to 8.6 points and 6.9 rebounds in the playoffs, he proved his toughness and dedication after being labeled as injury prone after consecutive knee injuries derailed his last two seasons.

What to expect next year: Bynum will undergo surgery to repair his right knee in mid-July and spend his offseason rehabbing and improving his core strength with Lakers trainer Alex McKechnie. "That [core training] is just so when you get pushed, you can always find neutral, being in the best athletic position," Bynum said. "I think that will help me out in my game a lot. Sometimes I get into extension and people push me and things like that, so I just really need to work on being pushed and being able to explode back up and finish over the top." He's missed 96 games over the last three seasons and his trade value might never be higher than it is now, especially if he has another breakdown to his body next season, but as the rest of the Lakers starters -- Bryant, Gasol, Derek Fisher and Ron Artest -- keep aging into their 30s, Bynum remains the future of the franchise.

Grade: B+


Lamar Odom -- Age: 30 -- Position: Forward

2010-11 Salary: $8.2 million -- Years remaining on contract: 3

Year in review: He ignored Miami's monetary advances last summer to take a pay cut and win another ring in L.A. and accomplished what he set out to do, but Odom still left you wanting more. He showed flashes of the brilliant player he can be, averaging 18 points and 15 rebounds in the first two games of the conference finals against Phoenix when L.A. went up 2-0, but then pulled a disappearing act at the outset of the Finals, totaling just eight points and nine rebounds in the first two games because of foul trouble. Ultimately, he proved his value by being the person he is, the guy who cracked up Bryant by storming his Game 7 postgame news conference, causing Kobe to beam, "I love that kid," and playing keeper to Artest, guiding his former AAU teammate through the trials and tribulations of the triangle offense. He remained his same versatile self, plugging into the starting lineup when Gasol and Bynum went down with alternating injuries and then seamlessly moving to the bench when the big men returned.

What to expect next year: Despite a left shoulder that Odom said "is something that I always worry about a little bit," Odom does not think surgery is necessary this summer and plans on trying out for USA Basketball to seek some gold-medal redemption at the World Championships (he took home bronze from the 2004 Olympics). After starting his season with a marriage the day before training camp opened, Odom seemed to be playing catch-up all year. Competing internationally could spread him thin again, but he plans on playing more small forward next season to ease some of the pounding his body takes lining up down low. "I'm going to work on my quickness, tell the coaches on this team I want to play a little more small forward," Odom said. "I think I could really help this team [at small forward]. If we could go to a big lineup, if that could be one of the lineups we go to. Slow the game down, make it real methodical. I'll work on my quickness and my footspeed a lot more this summer, so we don't lose that."

Grade: C+


Ron Artest -- Age: 30 -- Position: Forward

2010-11 Salary: $6.3 million -- Years remaining on contract: 4

Year in review: What's left to say that hasn't been said after Artest cemented his place in Lakers lore not only with an ultra-clutch 3-pointer with a minute left in Game 7 of the Finals, but by following it with one of the greatest stream-of-consciousness news conferences you'll ever see? He had his ups and downs in his first season in L.A., taking an inordinate amount of time to grasp the offense but bringing his patented get-in-your body defense to make up for any ineptitude he showed in scoring the ball. It seemed like the Ron Artest Experiment was going to blow up in the Lakers' face several times this season -- from his mysterious fall on Christmas to his poorly timed Twitter tantrum in the middle of the playoffs -- but he came through in the end, from the game-winning putback and 25-point series closing effort against Phoenix to the rugged defense and dagger 3s he provided in the Finals. Said Kupchak: "I think he was great. He was delightfully different in so many ways. ... Throughout the year he always worked hard. I think he'll be better next year."

What to expect next year: With his weight down 20 pounds from the time he joined the team and Artest finding a comfort and confidence in what the Lakers do on offense, expect an expanded role for Ron Ron next season. He averaged just 11 points per game in 2009-10, the first time he's put up less than 15 points per game since he was with Indiana in '01-02, but that scoring should climb in '10-11. As long as Artest doesn't let his championship celebration continue all the way until October when training camp opens, that is.

Grade: B-


Derek Fisher -- Age: 35 -- Position: Guard

2010-11 Salary: Free agent -- Years remaining on contract: 0

Year in review: His clutch 3-pointer to tie it up late in the fourth quarter of Game 7 of the Finals and his 11 points in the fourth quarter of Game 3 make you forget that he shot just 4-for-17 combined in losses in Games 2 and 5, but Fisher always seems make himself look good come championship time. The Lakers' co-captain and "vocal leader" according to Bryant was underwhelming in the regular season, averaging just 7.5 points per game on an anemic 38 percent shooting clip, but he sparked those numbers to 10.3 on 44.8 percent in the postseason. Nobody is more respected on the Lakers' roster, and like Odom, his contributions to the team cannot merely be measured in statistics.

What to expect next year: If the No. 1 question surrounding the Lakers as they head into the offseason is, "What will Phil Jackson do?" then a close No. 1A is "Will the Lakers be able to keep Fisher in the fold?" Fisher earned more than $5 million this season and while his age would suggest a pay cut is inevitable, the veteran knows his value. "Sometimes it's hard to quantify that and put a price on it, but in our business you have to. You have to find a way to put a price on things that sometimes you can't quantify."

Grade: B


Sasha Vujacic -- Age: 26 -- Position: Guard

2010-11 Salary: $5.5 million -- Years remaining on contract: 1

Year in review: After he got in an argument on the sidelines with Brian Shaw during a game, Vujacic was so far in the back of the doghouse that he had to buy a meal for the coaching staff just to get them to talk to him, let alone play him. He missed a chunk of the regular season with a sprained right shoulder and all of the first two rounds of the playoffs with a severely sprained left ankle. When he got a chance in the conference finals against Phoenix, he nearly sparked a dramatic comeback by the Suns with an ill-advised foul on fellow Slovenian Goran Dragic's chin. Yet through it all, Vujacic was a hero in his own way for the Lakers repeat title team, coming up huge with two perfectly-swished foul shots in the final minute of Game 7 that doubled L.A.'s precarious two-point lead. Much like his team that finished with just 57 wins when it had the talent to go for 70, Vujacic struggled through most of the year, but came through when it mattered most.

What to expect next year: Vujacic's biggest fault has always been caring too much, which doesn't bode well for him entering into a contract year. With that said, the 6-7 backup guard showed the perseverance necessary to save his season, so do not put it past him to have the ability to revive his career with it all on the line.

Grade: C


Shannon Brown -- Age: 24 -- Position: Guard

2010-11 Salary: $2.2 million player option -- Years remaining on contract: 1*

Year in review: Brown might have struggled mightily in the playoffs, reaching his low point in Game 5 of the Finals when he played just 19 seconds, but he was still the biggest bargain for the team all year long. Making a modest $2 million, Brown averaged career highs in points (8.1), rebounds (2.2), assists (1.3) and steals (0.7) per game. He proved to be an able spot-starter in the seven games he got the nod at shooting guard when Bryant was injured, putting up 15.3 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.9 assists over that stretch. He might have flopped at the slam dunk contest during All-Star weekend, but his in-game dunks remained the most YouTube-worthy stuffs of any player in the league.

What to expect next year: Brown found a home in L.A. after bouncing around to four different teams in the first three and a half years of his career. He could very well end up back with the Lakers, but if some team with cap space comes looking for bench scoring, (imagine how the Madison Square Garden crowd would eat him up), Brown is at the point in his career when you almost have to go for the money.

Grade: B-


Luke Walton -- Age: 30 -- Position: Forward

2010-11 Salary: $5.3 million -- Years remaining on contract: 3

Year in review: It's easy to forget that Walton was once a full-time starter for the Lakers. He struggled through a dreadful season in which he missed 53 games and averaged just 2.4 points because of debilitating back injuries. Even with all the missed time, he remained a value piece of the team, filling in as a quasi assistant coach (much the same way Jackson did for his coach, Red Holzman, when he was hurt in his days with the Knicks), and assuming his role as a facilitator of the offense when he was healthy enough to take the court. "This year was probably the toughest [for me personally]," Walton said. "I was in a dark place, I was struggling; I wasn't a happy man."

What to expect next year: "Obviously surgery would be the last option," Walton said about his offseason plans to rehabilitate his back. "There are a couple trainers and work-out guys I'm going to really work with hard and a lot this year . . . There's no way to really know right now [how bad the back is] until I work with specialists and focus right on the area that's hurt. I'm optimistic about it that I'll be able to get it where it needs to be." The Lakers bench was lacking that extra oomph this year with Walton M.I.A. If he can get healthy, there will be an opportunity for him to be a key contributor again.

Grade: C-


Jordan Farmar -- Age: 23 -- Position: Guard

2010-11 Salary: Free agent -- Years remaining on contract: 0

Year in review: He had his moments this year. The 12 points he had in that road win in Dallas when Bryant's back was bothering him come to mind. The 21 points on 8-for-11 shooting he had in Games 1 and 2 of the conference finals when L.A. took a 2-0 series lead on Phoenix flicker in your memory. The floor burns he got from diving for one of his three steals in the Lakers' pivotal Game 6 blowout win are burned into the brains of Lakers fans as well. But none of that was enough for Farmar, who was never fulfilled by his backup role to Fisher where he averaged 7.2 points in 18 minutes per game. He wanted to start.

What to expect next year: "I love L.A., [but] I think it's good for somebody to get away sometimes," Farmar said to the media after his exit interview with Jackson and Kupchak. He was as close as there is to a home-grown talent, growing up in the shadow of the Forum in L.A., but Farmar is focused on finding a team where he can start at point guard. Could Charlotte, Memphis, Indiana or New York come calling?

Grade: C+


Josh Powell -- Age: 27 -- Position: Forward

2010-11 Salary: Free agent -- Years remaining on contract: 0

Year in review: One of the most popular players on the team because of the work ethic and enthusiasm he brings to the work place every day, Powell was an important part of the Lakers even though he averaged just 2.7 points on 36.6 percent shooting in the regular season and scored nine points total in the playoffs.

What to expect next year: Like a lot of the free agents on the Lakers, Powell loves L.A. and wants to stay, but management might balk at granting him a pay increase considering that any raise he gets costs the team double, because the Lakers are already so far past the luxury tax threshold.

Grade: B-


Adam Morrison -- Age: 25 -- Position: Guard

2010-11 Salary: Free agent -- Years remaining on contract: 0

Year in review: Morrison never became the designated shooter the Lakers hoped they were getting when they trade Vladimir Radmanovic to Charlotte last season, but he was able to revive his passion for the game while becoming someone who Lakers spokesman John Black describes as the "funniest person in the locker room." It wasn't all jokes with him, however. He treated practices like his games and was as competitive as anybody on the roster, Bryant included.

What to expect next year: "I didn't play here so I don't know why they'd want to bring me back," Morrison said after his exit interview. The former collegiate star and No. 3 pick in the draft will try to latch onto another team to extend his NBA dream.

Grade: C-


D.J. Mbenga -- Age: 29 -- Position: Center

2010-11 Salary: Free agent -- Years remaining on contract: 0

Year in review: Say this about Mbenga: He might drive his coaches nuts, but the fans go crazy for him. From his own cheering crew, "Mbenga's Mbangers," to possessing the coolest nickname on the team, "Congo Cash," Mbenga made his mark on the Lakers despite only averaging 2.1 points in 7.2 minutes per game during the regular season. He was the team's de facto victory cigar, launching jump shots in garbage time, but Mbenga's true value to the team was as a 7-foot practice player for Bynum and Gasol to battle against.

What to expect next year: If Jackson is back, it doesn't bode well for Mbenga, who is notorious for trying the Zen Master's patience. Mbenga openly declared, "I want to play more," after his exit interview and the odds of that happening are better somewhere other than L.A.

Grade: C-

Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter. http://twitter.com/mcten