With all the news about Darius Morris, Andrew Goudelock, the draft in general and Metta World Peace, a potentially interesting tidbit flew under the radar. While addressing the media Thursday about persistent trade rumors, Mitch Kupchak also shared his gut feeling about Shannon Brown's player option.
What Kupchak did anticipate to address with the Lakers' four second-round picks (Nos. 41, 46, 56 and 58) was some backcourt help because he expects guard Shannon Brown to opt out of his contract worth approximately $2.4 million next season and explore free agency.
"Shannon Brown has still not decided whether to opt [out] or extend his contract," Kupchak said. "My guess is, and it's only a guess, is that he will decide not to extend one more year. But, not knowing what the answer is at this time, we'll probably look to add a player to our backcourt."
Kupchak's instinct isn't terribly shocking. Contrary to Matt Barnes, who all but declared his now-official return during his exit interview, Brown has maintained an undecided stance. He's also been a tough guy to read. Between a hand injury derailing the second half of his 2010 season and his desire for stability after early years bouncing around, I figured there was no chance he'd opt out heading into the 2011 season. Shannon instead tested free agency, and the Lakers eventually re-signed him to a deal with another opt-out clause. Given this season's regression and the impending lockout, exercising his player option feels like the safe route. However, his track record speaks of a willingness to take chances, as do Kupchak's comments.
Should Brown dip his toe into the free agency waters again, I'm convinced the wheels are in motion for him to play elsewhere. Unlike last season, when the Lakers heavily prioritized his return despite the addition of Barnes and the presence of Sasha Vujacic, I don't anticipate the team working particularly hard to bring him back. Who'll replace Brown behind Kobe Bryant is a legitimate question and concern. If the new CBA doesn't allow for a mid-level exception, the Lakers' already-limited options to add a reserve two-guard grow even slimmer. The veteran's minimum equivalent may still exist, but there's an inherent ceiling to the quality of player inked through these means. Trades are always an option, but difficult to predict.
Of course, the solution could come from within.
I've expressed on several occasions my hunch that Devin Ebanks is being earmarked for future duty as a guard, perhaps even next season. However, if his guard skills don't develop quickly enough, maybe the youngster will play his natural position and Barnes will put the "swing" in swing man. If Morris impresses Mike Brown enough to get on the court, Steve Blake could slide to the two-spot and theoretically create a proficient-but-undersized backcourt. Or maybe Blake stays at the one with Goudelock alongside him in spot minutes as a deep threat. Blake nabbing the starting point guard gig could mean Derek Fisher not just playing off the bench, but as a two guard alongside a rookie. (He played off-ball with Deron Williams in Utah.) I suppose it's not even impossible Luke Walton could work his way into the mix, but deteriorating health -- and by extension, skills -- make this feel like a long shot.
Whatever approach won't necessarily make or break the hopes for a 2012 championship, but it definitely matters.