Contract Status: under contract
Minor injuries nagged Walton all season long, resulting in a seven point, four rebound average that was well below the career marks he set the year before as one of the primary offensive weapons for the team. Despite his often inconsistent play, Coach Jackson showed a lot of faith in Luke, still opting to have him on the floor during some of the most critical moments of this year’s Finals run. Walton rewarded him by his much improved play down the stretch, proving why he was an excellent fit within the Lakers’ vaunted passing game.
After a full offseason of healing, Walton should return for the 2008-09 season ready to make a more regular contribution to a bench that will rely on his diverse playmaking abilities. Although he is known to fill up the stat sheet, the soon-to-be fifth year forward still has several weaknesses in his game that needs to be addressed, starting with his still inconsistent outside shot and his overall defense.
Contract Status: Player option
What was supposed to be a comeback season ended up much the same way the previous one did for Chris—with him sitting on the bench in street clothes. Mihm only played in 23 games this season, averaging 3.8 points in 12 minutes of play. After attempting several mini comebacks throughout the year, the center finally conceded to yet another foot surgery around the mid-way point of the season. Luckily for Chris, his recovery went well and he was able to play a few spot minutes in the playoffs, pain free too.
With Mihm expected to exercise his player option and return to the team next year, his role for now appears to be as a key backup center to Bynum, barring any free agent signings or trades that bring in other big men. However, in order to receive bigger minutes, Chris will have to show more rhythm and tenacity around the hoop after appearing tentative and out of place within the Lakers’ offense in his limited playoff minutes.
Contract Status: Team Option
Karl only appeared in 17 games for L.A. this season, averaging just over four minutes of playing time—most of which came during garbage time. However, Karl instantly became a fan favorite at STAPLES Center, shooting 31% in three pointers and showing the potential to become a top-tier shooter for the Lakers down the road.
After spending time in the D-League and at the NBA level, Karl’s place on the Lakers’ roster is still up in the air heading into next season. Karl is expected to participate in the Vegas Summer League though where he’ll seek to fine-tune his court awareness, defensive game and ball-handling skills.
Two days after the Celtics defeated the Lakers by the largest margin of victory in a clinching game in Finals history, Kobe said that the initial pain had begun to drift away, but that the sting from coming up just short of his fourth title was likely to linger for much longer. Luckily for Bryant, he has the start of USA Basketball in just over a week to keep his mind off of the loss.
For the regular season MVP, playing in the Olympics requires a completely different mindset as there is no particular brand at stake, but instead, the weight of an entire country. Kobe described the opportunity to win a Gold Medal as “beyond special,” noting that his strict training regimen has him in top shape entering the Olympics despite playing in over 100 NBA games this season.
Looking back on the season that was, Kobe said that he probably considers it his best overall season, not simply because of his individual accolades, but because the Lakers played well as a team. With such a young roster outside of himself and Derek Fisher, the All-Star said that he thinks the experience the team racked up during their unprecedented Finals run should help them as they gear up to repeat their effort next year. While the Lakers came up just short of winning their 15th NBA title, the guard said he was still proud of the strides his team made this season.
Kobe also discussed the expected return of Andrew Bynum to the lineup, noting that his defense and shot-blocking abilities were sorely missed in the Finals against the physically tougher Celtics. With regards to his own longstanding injury to his pinky finger, Bryant said that he plans to have surgery in September as soon as the Olympics are over.
Chris Mihm–who announced that he will exercise his payer option for next season–enters the summer with good reason for optimism as he’s finally healthy after more than a year of battling through troublesome foot injuries that threatened to prematurely end his career.
According to the center, he’s finally regained the explosion that he had two years ago for the Lakers when he averaged 10 points and seven rebounds as the starter at the five spot. “The last two years have been a big learning experience in a lot of ways,” said the center.
With a clean bill of health, Mihm said he is finally able to resume his normal training regimen–something that will doubt help him in 2008-09. Specifically, Chris said he will look to focus on his hook shot and timing.
After a forgettable first season with the Lakers two years ago in which he was immobilized due to a snowboarding injury, Vladimir Radmanovic said in his exit interview that he thinks this season brought an increased comfort level with his offensive game and so to, his new city. Ramdanovic said he had a “good season, but as a basketball player, you’re never really satisfied with what you do.”
Going into this season, Vladi said he felt the need to prove himself somewhat after drawing criticism for his ill-advised snowboarding mishap in 2006-07–a goal he feels he accomplished.
Entering next season, the sharpshooter said that paying attention to the details will be critical in the Lakers’ attempt to duplicate their NBA Finals appearance. According to Radmanovic, simple mistakes such as turnovers often mean the difference between winning an NBA title and coming up two wins short. For his part, Vladi said that he plans on working on his consistency in 2008-09–a feat he said will be made easier by the triangle offense.
With free agency looming, Ronny Turiaf said that he hopes to remain a Laker next season, but understands that it is a business decision for both parties involved.
With the team’s Finals loss to Boston still lingering, the energetic big man said that his recovery process had been aided by the presence of his mother. According to Ronny, this season brought about a great deal of adversity for the Lakers, with injuries, trades and changing lineups all taking their toll on the team that finished with the Western Conference’s best record. Through the many challenges, Turiaf said that this Lakers squad maintained a special family-like bond of its own–a relationship that he hopes to continue building in the future.
Looking ahead to the upcoming offseason, Ronny said he plans on working on his rebounding ability, overall game and his conditioning, noting that he wants to return next season in even better shape than he was before entering the NBA Draft.
While Kobe and Derek Fisher were both on the last Lakers team to make the NBA Finals before this season, many people forget that Luke Walton was also on that team that lost in five games to the Pistons. At the time the forward was only a rookie and was merely along for the ride–a point he reiterated during his exit interview today.
According to Walton, this year’s Lakers team had all the ingredients necessary to win a title, making major strides from the team that lost in the First Round to the Phoenix Suns the season prior. As a staple of this seasons much improved bench, Walton said that “it would have been great to deliver a title to L.A.,” referring to this year’s squad as a special team.
However, Luke is looking even more forward to next season when he hopes to return with a clean bill of health after battling injuries throughout the 2007-08 season. “Obviously, numbers wise, it wasn’t nice as I would have liked them to be,” said Walton. Luke said that reduced minutes and the additions of playmakers like Gasol and Fisher also shifted his role.
During his exit interview today, Trevor Ariza reflected on the mid-season trade that sent him from the Magic to the Lakers and so to, back to his hometown. According to the athletic forward, he’s planning on being in L.A. next fall, noting that the Lakers are a good place for him. “It’s a dream almost, playing here. I don’t want to wake up from it,” said Ariza.
Physically, Trevor said he feels rejuvenated after missing more than four months with a broken foot. “It was a breath of fresh air for sure,” said Ariza, after getting to play a few minutes in his first NBA Finals. Even in small doses, his taste of extended NBA post-season action has left him wanting more.
“I know its not easy getting there…It’s going to take a lot of hard work,” said Trevor, noting that the team must take what they learned during this playoff run and apply it to next season.
Overall, Trevor said he feels fine physically and is experiencing no pain in his foot. In the next few months, the forward said he plans on focusing primarily on his ball-handing skills and shooting while hopefully adding 10 pounds to his lanky frame.
What Went Right:
• The Lakers played extremely well in spurts against the Celtics, storming back from 24 points in Game 2 to nearly steal a win in Boston and jumping out by the same margin in Game 4. However, the Lakers’ youthful roster was unable to sustain the momentum as evidenced by the Celtics’ historic Game 4 comeback.
• Aside from his outstanding 36 point Game 3 effort, Kobe struggled throughout parts of the Finals with Boston throwing two and sometimes, three defenders at the regular season MVP. Still, Bryant averaged a team-high 26 points on 41% from the floor.
• Sasha Vujacic came through with the biggest game of his young career in a must-win Game 3 at STAPLES Center, scoring 20 points and proving himself an X-factor in the Lakers’ first victory of the series. For the Finals, the guard averaged eight points per game–fifth best on the team.
• Jordan Farmar also came through during stretches of the Finals, compiling seven points per game on an impressive 48% shooting from the field, including 53% from beyond the arc. Moreover, Coach Jackson trusted the sophomore guard down the stretch of the final games of the series, utilizing a smaller lineup that featured Fisher at shooting guard and Bryant at small forward in place of the ineffective Radmanovic.
Continue reading ‘The Finals: What Went Right/Wrong’