EL SEGUNDO, Calif. The healing process has begun for the Los Angeles Lakers.
Despite their loss to the Boston Celtics in the NBA finals, which included a 39-point defeat in the decisive Game 6, the Lakers believe their future is bright.
Lakers coach Phil Jackson and general manager Mitch Kupchak each said Friday afternoon they believe the team can be a contender for the next five to six years.
"We're not about looking back at what we did wrong," Jackson said. "We're about looking forward and seeing if we can do it again."
Jackson said his message to his players during season-ending meetings Thursday and Friday was simple and straightforward.
"How can you get better to help this team next year?" he said. "They have to put together a summer that brings them back here and makes them better basketball players."
The Celtics exposed at least two of the Los Angeles' shortcomings during the finals: defense and rebounding. The Lakers had difficulty matching up with Boston's stronger and more aggressive front line, including Kevin Garnett and Kendrick Perkins.
Kupchak believes the answer to the Lakers' woes will be solved by the return of Andrew Bynum from a partially dislocated left kneecap, which sidelined him for the final three months of the regular season plus the playoffs.
The 20-year-old Bynum was in the midst of a breakout season, averaging 13.1 points, 10.2 rebounds and 2.1 blocked shots, when he was injured Jan. 13.
If Bynum returns to form as anticipated, then he would join with fellow 7-footer Pau Gasol and 6-10 forward Lamar Odom to form one of the biggest front lines in the NBA. Bynum would play center, with Gasol shifting to power forward from center and Odom moving to small forward from power forward.
It's also possible that league MVP Kobe Bryant could play small forward, with the playmaking Odom switching to a guard spot alongside Derek Fisher, Kupchak said.
"I think Phil will be challenged to get really creative because it is a team that would be very talented and versatile. I think training camp would be a very important time for him to test out what he's decided to do over the summer," Kupchak said.
The Lakers have only a second-round pick (58th overall) in next week's draft, but they might look to move up if they can make a deal, Kupchak said.
He also said the Lakers plan to re-sign restricted free agents Sasha Vujacic and Ronny Turiaf, but they probably won't be active in pursuing other team's free agents when the signing period begins July 1."I do believe the future for this team is bright going forward," Kupchak said. "I would hope that we have the ability to be in the hunt every year in the immediate future."
NBA DEMANDS $1.4 MILLION FROM DONAGHY: The NBA wants disgraced referee Tim Donaghy to pay the league $1.4 million, including his wages for games on which he bet or provided inside tips to gamblers.
The written demand, filed Thursday in federal court, asks a judge to force Donaghy to pay the sum as restitution in his gambling case.
The Donaghy scandal "has harmed the NBA and caused it to spend vast sums to undo that harm," league lawyers wrote.In an earlier filing, defense attorney John Lauro accused the NBA of trying to extract the money to punish Donaghy for embarrassing the league with allegations of widespread misconduct by executives and employees including claims that referees rigged games by making bad calls. The league has denied the accusations.
SUNS COMPLETE COACHING STAFF: The Phoenix Suns hired Alvin Gentry, Bill Cartwright, Dan Majerle and Igor Kokoskov as assistant coaches to Terry Porter.
Gentry, a 29-year coaching veteran, is the lone holdover from Mike D'Antoni's staff. Gentry will return for his fifth season with the Suns.
Majerle, a former Suns player who is in the team's Ring of Honor, hasn't coached before. He had been a Suns broadcast analyst for the past four seasons.
Cartwright spent 10 seasons as an assistant, including the last four with the New Jersey Nets. He also was the Chicago Bulls' head coach for parts of three seasons.Kokoskov spent the last five seasons on the Detroit Pistons' staff and served with Porter the last two years.
KNICKS FILL OUT COACHING STAFF: The New York Knicks added three assistants to coach Mike D'Antoni's staff Friday, retaining Herb Williams from Isiah Thomas' crew and signing former Suns assistants Phil Weber and Dan D'Antoni.
"We have three top quality assistant coaches that will be great assets as we work toward our goal of bringing winning basketball back to New York," said Donnie Walsh, the Knicks' president of basketball operations. "Phil and Dan enjoyed tremendous success with coach D'Antoni in Phoenix, while Herb has been a great part of our franchise for many years."Dan D'Antoni, Mike's older brother, was an assistant in Phoenix for three seasons
FORMER SONICS PRESIDENT TAKES STAND: The SuperSonics said in court Friday that the city of Seattle tried to make it too expensive for them to leave town.
The accusations stemmed from a previously sealed document that was admitted Friday as an exhibit in the city's lawsuit against the team. It discussed "locking them into losses" and exposing "the league to embarrassment in a market they like."
Owner Clay Bennett, who bought the team in 2006 for $350 million, is trying to move the Sonics to Oklahoma City, his hometown, saying the team could lose $60 million if forced to stay for the final two years of its lease at KeyArena, the NBA's smallest venue.
The city is asking U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman to enforce its terms, hoping two more years would be enough time to find a way to keep the Sonics or at least another NBA team in town.