As if the Los Angeles Lakers, fresh from the franchise's 15th NBA championship, weren't tough enough to begin with, they just added renowned tough guy Ron Artest to a lineup that's already loaded.

Meanwhile, the small-market Utah Jazz couldn't help but wish and wonder what they might be able to do this offseason if they weren't already over the league's salary cap.

The Dallas Mavericks swung a deal to acquire proven veteran forward Shawn Marion from Toronto, and the Mavs also dangled a $34 million deal in front of Orlando Magic backup center Marcin Gortat.

The Jazz fretted over the future of their prized young power forward, Paul Millsap, a restricted free agent who reportedly is now the Portland Trail Blazers' top priority after they were spurned by Hedo Turkoglu, who wound up in Toronto instead.

San Antonio, never one to stand idly by while other teams reshape their rosters, landed veteran free agent forward Antonio McDyess. That deal comes on the heels of one late last month in which the Spurs acquired another proven performer, swingman Richard Jefferson, in a four-player deal with Milwaukee.

And the Jazz, in a major front-office move, announced plans for a season-ticket open house.

Such is the quandary in which the Jazz find themselves these days. While other Western Conference teams are busy trying to strengthen themselves via the free-agent market this offseason, the Jazz must feel like a fourth-string point guard who's buried on the end of the bench without a chance to get in the game.

With Carlos Boozer, Mehmet Okur and Kyle Korver all choosing to opt in and play the final years of their contracts with the team, Utah — already financially hamstrung by Andrei Kirilenko's bloated contract and the new big-money deal of cornerstone point guard Deron Williams — finds itself on the outside looking in as an interested-but-handcuffed observer at this year's NBA free-agent merry-go-round.

If Boozer had opted out of his contract, as expected, and became a free agent, the Jazz could have gained some financial flexibility to possibly do some wheeling and dealing. But now that they're obligated to pay Boozer his $12.7 million this season — barring a trade, of course, which would conceivably save the Jazz some salary space if they could find a taker for Boozer or Kirilenko — the Jazz don't have a lot of options.

They'd love to keep Millsap, too, because the kid has shown a sincere desire to work hard, hustle and produce solid numbers, either off the bench or as a starter, during his first three years in the league.

But now that Portland has come into the picture, matching the Blazers' pending offer for Millsap would push the Jazz so far over the salary cap — thus costing them a pile of money in luxury tax penalties — that their lovable longtime owner, the late Larry H. Miller, would be torn and tearing up over what to do with his team these days.

Now, that critical decision-making responsibility falls on Miller's son, Greg, and the Jazz front-office hierarchy to determine what's the best course of action for this franchise to take in the future.

They must make difficult decisions that will shape the success — or failure — of this team for years to come.

But hey, it's not as if the Jazz are rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic here. Utah has a solid roster which, when healthy, could definitely make another postseason run like the Jazz did in 2006, when they reached the Western Conference finals.

Of course, the key phrase there is "when healthy" — Boozer, Williams, Kirilenko, Okur and seemingly all their other key personnel spent at least a little (and in the case of Boozer, a lot of) time on the injured list last season.

Thankfully, Boozer will be playing for his next contract this season, so if he isn't traded away to another team, the man who once suffered from the slowest-healing hamstring in the history of hamstrings will likely play his big back bumper off in an effort to prove he deserves a big-money deal next summer.

But while the rest of the West is making roster moves in a quest to be the best, with several more signings certainly still to come as free agents shout "Show me the money!" Utah is forced to pretty much stand pat, watch and wait. They're already paying out too much money to too many guys, caught between a rock and a hard salary cap, with no immediate relief in sight.

Oh, sure, the Jazz could still swing a trade, but, with the salary cap shrinking by about a million bucks from last year and Utah still needing to sign a couple more players while well over the cap already, it's going to be dang difficult to revamp its roster.

So their hopes to overtake the Lakers, Nuggets, Spurs, Mavericks, Blazers and Rockets will hinge on how well the Jazz, as presently constituted, can play "when healthy" — because we've already seen that, without all their weapons, they're about as dangerous as a dud SCUD missile waiting to misfire.