By Josh Redetzke

2007/08 Los Angeles Lakers Payroll: $57.6 million
2007/08 Estimated NBA Salary Cap: $55 million
Roughly: $2.6 million over cap

The Good: The Lakers have been looking for a new Shaq since they sent him packing to sunny Miami. It appears they have found one, although we won’t be certain for a few more years. Andrew Bynum improved by leaps and bounds this season. No one expected the seven-foot, 285-pound twenty year old to contribute as much as he did, averaging 7.8 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks on 55.8% shooting. While Bynum’s ceiling probably isn’t at Shaq-like levels, he might just be a year or two away from becoming a very good NBA center. The Lakers have him at rookie pay for two more seasons. By that time, they’ll have a good idea of what Bynum is really capable of. Whether Kobe will wait that long is another story.

Former center Brian Grant has been gone from the team for a while, released under the Allan Houston rule so the Lakers could save a few bucks in luxury taxes. However, his old, expensive contract still counted against the salary cap. Well, not anymore. Grant’s old deal is finally finished, saving the team nearly $15 million in cap space. It doesn’t put them under the limit, but at least they are close.

Recently, free agent Luke Walton signed a six year contract extension for $30 million dollars. Walton is a versatile "glue-guy" and $5 million per year is an excellent bargain. He showed how he could fill up a box score this season by averaging 11.4 points, 5 boards, and 4.3 assists. Walton even developed a pretty nice three point shot to add to his game. If the Lakers had a few more players like him, Kobe might not be so mad.

The Bad: L.A. made a major free agent blunder last summer by signing Vladimir Radmanovic to a five-year, $30 million dollar deal. Unlike Luke Walton, Radmanovic isn’t versatile and had a terrible season. He was hurt a large portion of the year, shot the ball poorly, and only averaged 6.6 points per game. For that kind of dough, Radmanovic should play a larger role on the team. If he doesn’t play better, the Lakers won’t even be able to trade his dead weight.

Kwame Brown is still on the books next season for a whopping $9 million. At that price, you would expect more than 8.4 points and 6 rebounds a game. To make matters worse, Kwame played in just 41 games due to injury. Since this is the last year of his contract, Brown is now a valuable trading chip. I have a feeling the Lakers will use it.

The Future: Despite all the talk, Kobe Bryant is not going anywhere. For one, he’ll be paid $19 million next season, which makes it difficult to work out a trade that is realistic and beneficial for the Lakers. Secondly, he makes the team too much money, raking in ticket and merchandise sales like crazy. When the Lakers traded Shaq, they had Kobe to fall back on. Without Kobe, there is no one left to generate interest and make those courtside seats the hottest in town. The Lakers simply cannot afford to lose a player like him.

Much like Kevin Garnett, Kobe is stuck on a mediocre team with not enough options to make them better. Lamar Odom has played very well and is a good compliment to Bryant, but if the Lakers want to bring in another superstar, Odom would have to be part of the deal because of his high salary ($13.5 million next season). If that happens, L.A. would be giving up a good player for a somewhat better player, which ultimately doesn’t improve the team very much. If Odom isn’t included in the deal, they would have to gut the rest of the team and there wouldn’t be any talent left to fill in the gaps. A blockbuster trade seems unlikely at this point.

Kobe’s best option will be patience. The Lakers will be under the salary cap next year and could have enough room to sign a decent free agent. They can also make a smart trade with Kwame Brown’s expiring deal, like sending him to the Clippers for Corey Maggette. With a little more patience, young guys like Bynum, Walton, and the recently drafted Javaris Crittenton, will be able to develop into better players. The future looks pretty good for the Lakers, they just need to convince Kobe to stick around long enough to see it.

Free Throw: I can’t talk about the Lakers without acknowledging the effort put out by Ronny Turiaf this season. I thought Turiaf was a great pickup in the second round two years ago and I was sad to hear of his heart complications. Now that he is back, Turiaf is one of the most energetic power forwards in the league and a key member of the Lakers’ bench. Hopefully, Turiaf’s playing time will increase next year so we can see more of that heart on display.

Grade: B

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