We're not quite done telling the story of the 2010-11 Lakers, but it's certainly not to early to look ahead to next year's edition, and the work to be done this summer.
Here are 19 thoughts percolating around my brain in the wake of Sunday's season ending loss. Why 19? Because round numbers get too much love. And I ran out of thoughts following a weekend of very long hours...
1. The Lakers don't have an age problem, they have a skill set problem. Focusing too heavily on the former won't solve any of their issues. Keep in mind, they just lost to a team with a 32-year old star (Dirk), a 38 year old point guard (Jason Kidd), a 33-year old sixth man (Terry), and a 33-year old small forward (Marion). The Mavs are older than the Lakers, and swept them anyway.
2. The Lakers could use athleticism, but athleticism doesn't automatically equal productivity. Shannon Brown is easily the best pure athlete on the team, and played very poorly for most of the season.
3. Many of their problems are instantly fixed by not winning this year. The Lakers will benefit greatly by coming into next season as just another contender in the Western Conference, with fresh motivation, a chip on their shoulder, and things like a new coach to keep them engaged during the year. They're the band touring too long that needs to get off the road for a year.
4. Speaking of which, I still think Brian Shaw ends up the guy, but losing early and badly raises the likelihood the Lakers go outside the organization and shake things up.
5. The core of the Lakers roster -- Kobe, Gasol, Bynum, Odom -- is versatile enough to run any system. But obviously if the Lakers go a different direction than Shaw and the triangle, Derek Fisher's role is put in serious question. Really, it's in question, anyway.
6. No matter who coaches, the Lakers need to figure something out at point guard, and it's less about defense than offense. The Lakers have the least productive point guard tandem in basketball, and can no longer afford to play four on five at that end, particularly given the inconsistencies of Ron Artest's offensive game.
7. There's an irony to Andrew Bynum finally finishing a season healthy, putting himself in position be as strong as he's ever been come next year . . . and he now could lose a large portion of his season to suspension, following Sunday's cheap shot on J.J. Barea. Between the play, removing his jersey at halfcourt like he was in the octagon, and an increasingly large permanent record -- the NBA, like the parole board in "Raising Arizona," frowns on recidivism -- expect the league to hammer Bynum with a major penalty. His proverbial permanent record is getting lengthy.
8. That said, the Lakers may have a larger Bynum issue. Given how well he played down the stretch, will he remain content to finish games on the bench?
9. Given their current contractual obligations, blowing up the roster Magic Johnson-style while still attempting to keep the team at an elite level is a far more difficult proposition than making targeted improvements to meet specific needs.
10. I'd start with a reliable source of outside shooting and another player able to create offense off the dribble, then work from there. The Lakers need reliable depth. Practically speaking, once Matt Barnes got hurt -- he was never the same after -- the Lakers were down to a five or six man rotation in terms of reliable players. Dallas, Oklahoma City, Memphis, San Antonio, Denver -- all are teams able to throw reliable second units on the floor. The Lakers can't.
11. Over-reacting to this season's result, and particularly Game 4, is probably more dangerous than under-reacting.
12. If the Lakers do keep the core of the roster together, the lockout only helps. Less wear on Bryant and Gasol, plus more time for guys to get away from the game and rediscover their enthusiasm. And yes, I'm betting Gasol comes back strong.
13. Given the apparent inevitability of said lockout, keeping the core together likely makes more sense. A short season favors teams already accustomed to playing together.
14. Man, did Andy and I get the Steve Blake thing wrong.
15. Keep in mind, at some point the run had to end, but the window is still open on this team.
16. The Lakers need to improve more on offense than defense.
17. Always remember, this season ended poorly and there will be regret, but three straight runs to the Finals is a special thing.
18. Luke Walton's contract is the Everlasting Gobstopper of basketball deals.
19. It won't hurt if guys shave a few extra-curriculars off their respective activity lists, something losing this year will make easier (winning titles brings more opportunities than second round losses).