They're already committed to more than $88 million in salaries with nine guaranteed contracts for next season, including $18.7 million for disappearing All-Star Pau Gasol, $6.8 million for the regressing Artest, and $11.7 million over the next two seasons for forward Luke Walton, whose 4 minutes of garbage time on Sunday were his only action of the postseason.
Yet the Lakers' fans don't want to hear about accounting problems. On talk radio and Internet message boards, they've already moved on to the possibility of landing one or two marquee free agents in the next year, when Dwight Howard, Chris Paul and Deron Williams all will be available.
Although the Lakers' biggest need clearly is at point guard, where Fisher and backup Steve Blake contributed almost nothing all season long, Howard was a trending topic on Twitter in Los Angeles for most of Monday. The Lakers' glamour could attract superstar free agents, but Kupchak must figure out how to pay them.
Kupchak doesn't appear to be in a hurry to replace Jackson, and the Lakers' early exit might have hurt the chances of assistant coach Brian Shaw, Bryant's favorite for the job. After Detroit upset the Lakers in the 2004 NBA finals during a similar collapse, Buss went outside the Lakers family to hire two-time champion Rudy Tomjanovich during Jackson's brief retirement.
Several veteran coaches are available this time around, including Larry Brown and longtime Lakers nemesis Rick Adelman. Kurt Rambis already has a job in Minnesota, yet he's a longtime Lakers stalwart who attended nearly every home playoff game this spring, sometimes sitting with executive Jeanie Buss.
Hidden in the Lakers' disappointment is a chance to retool for the future, rebuilding into another championship contender for the final years of Bryant's career. Jackson's departure means the slow, old Lakers have a chance to change their image if Kupchak and Buss can turn their backlog of bloated contracts into new assets.
But changing the Lakers' culture won't be easy, even after this humbling end. Shortly after the Lakers' supposedly somber plane ride home Sunday night, Artest — whose third-quarter breakaway layup attempt was blocked by the rim — already was on Twitter asking fans to come bowling with him.
"The Lakers are a marked franchise," backup guard Shannon Brown said. "Every time we step out there, nobody wants to see us win."
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