At some point in the possibly quite distant future, the NBA lockout will come to an end. When it does, the Lakers' front office will set about the challenge of fine-tuning a roster that boasts star talent and useless deadweight in equal measure. Slots one through four - held down by Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom - look strong. It's the rest of the lineup that gets one's innards a-churning. If the Lake Show hopes to enlarge its collection of Larry O'Brien trophies before the grand rebuild starts in 2015, the supporting cast needs to get more productive and dynamic. And there's no position in more dire need of an upgrade than point guard.
Derek Fisher is a beloved figure in Lakerdom, and for good reason. He's been a key element of five championship teams. He's responsible for three of the all-time greatest moments in Laker playoff history (his 0:00.4 shot against the Spurs in 2003, his dagger threes against the Magic in Game Four of the 2009 Finals and his coast-to-coast "and one" drive against the Celtics in Game Three of the 2010 Finals). Amid the absurd turmoil that periodically afflicts the organization, he's a constant source of stability and quiet leadership.
But Fish is a lion in winter. He turns 37 next month, and his abilities are in decline. For a guy whose only offensive role the past few seasons has been to knock down open looks, his shooting numbers are unacceptably poor. He can't beat anyone off the dribble. On defense, he lacks the lateral mobility to check even average point guards, to say nothing of the elite PG's the Lakers face in the playoffs.
To make matters worse, the Lakers are abandoning the system that allowed them to mask many of Fish's shortcomings. In Phil Jackson's Triangle offense, Fish was a semi-viable option because the system neither required nor could even really accommodate a classic, ball-dominating point. The Lakers won't have the same luxury under Mike Brown. His playbook calls for the point guard to assume a more traditional playmaking role, of which Fish is simply incapable.
Below him on the depth chart, solutions don't really present themselves. Steve Blake's first season as a Laker was a small-scale disaster. He'll likely bounce back a touch and might feel more at home in the new offense than in the Triangle, but he's a terrible finisher and struggles mightily against quick opponents. If he's your backup, you can get by. If he's your starter, you need a new starter. As for rookie Darius Morris, the kid has skills that could make him the point guard of the future. For now, he's too green even to contemplate tossing him the keys to the offense.
The sickly status quo must have management thinking of outside cures. Flexibility, though, is constrained. The capped-out Lakers can't simply cut a check to a free agent of their choosing. The salary-cap exceptions they might previously have used for this purpose could well be eliminated in the new collective-bargaining agreement. And there are other, almost as pressing, needs to address. With Shannon Brown having opted out of his contract, the team needs a new backup shooting guard. They also have to find a big man to back up Andrew Bynum at center. This is roster management as triage. The front office has to decide which of these problems is most ominous and which is survivable, at least in the short term.
The trade market offers its own set of prickly dilemmas. Talent can be had, but at what price? Most everyone on the Lakers' roster falls into one of two categories: guys the team can't bear to part with, and guys nobody else wants. Gasol or Bynum could bring back a top point guard, but word is ownership considers them untouchable. The front office would be willing (delighted, even) to move Ron Artest or Luke Walton, but only the most gravely deluded GM would take on their heinous contracts. Lamar Odom is the one player who could allow you to thread the needle. He's coming off a career year, and his contract (which has only one more fully guaranteed year left, at $8.9 million) is quite reasonable. If the returns were appealing enough, you could see the Lakers learning to live without him.
In coming installments, we'll stare at and evaluate each of these options. We'll discuss their pros, their cons, their ins, outs and what-have-yous. We'll also try handicapping what the Laker front office will actually do once the lockout lifts.
A maddening irony here is that the Lakers had their point guard of the future and willingly sent him packing. In 2009 they selected Toney Douglas with the 29th pick in the draft. Even though they could've kept him on a cheap rookie-scale contract, the Lakers sold him to the Knicks for a few million bucks. Douglas was productive from pretty much the moment he set foot on an NBA floor, and he's since developed into exactly the kind of athletic, two-way guard the Lakers now need. The trade was a horrid bit of penny-wisdom and pound-foolishness that the organization no doubt wishes it could have back.
Follow Dex on Twitter @dexterfishmore.