Where do the Lakers go from here?

Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant pauses in the final seconds of their loss to the Dallas Mavericks during Game 3 of the NBA Western Conference semi-final basketball playoff in Dallas, Texas May 6, 2011. REUTERS/Mike Stone (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL IMAGES OF THE DAY)

Even before the final buzzer sounded in the Mavs’ Game 4 sweep, fans and pundits alike were talking about what the Lakers do now that their quest for a three-peat is over.

We (think we) know this: Phil Jackson won’t be coaching the Lakers next season.

The first step is to find a coach that meets Kobe Bryant’s approval, because he’s still the centerpiece of the franchise. Brian Shaw’s name has been mentioned, but I’m sure there will be other candidates.

Magic Johnson suggested recently that the team would need to be “blown up,” and said that Kobe is the only untouchable player on the roster. So the Lakers could trade Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol or Lamar Odom, or some combination of the three. Someone might also be interested in Steve Blake and/or Shannon Brown, but that’s about it in terms of trade chips.

Below is the payroll situation for the Lakers, which I downloaded from ShamSports, a great site that is always on top of the financials for every NBA franchise.

The Lakers have a couple of bad contracts on the books in Ron Artest and Luke Walton. They won’t be able to move either of these players unless they can convince some team to take them on as part of a bigger deal.

On the local post-game show after Game 4, Lisa Leslie suggested that the Lakers need to get Dwight Howard and Chris Paul. (Stop laughing.) For any other team, this would be a ridiculous notion, but the Lakers have shown that they have the ability to get something for nothing (though Marc Gasol is certainly making that Pau Gasol trade a lot more even). Players love the bright lights and great weather of L.A. — it’s probably the most desirable franchise to work for from a player’s standpoint.

The question is — do the Lakers have the trade pieces to pull it off?

They do have a few things working in their favor. First, Dwight Howard and Chris Paul both have one more year on their respective contracts before they can opt out and hit the free agent market, and they both have been rumored to have one eye on the door. The Magic and Hornets are in the unenviable position of potentially having to ‘take what they can get’ for their superstars because a franchise never gets equal value when trading away a player of this caliber.

The Lakers do have a few nice pieces. Bynum is All-Star caliber when he’s healthy, but his health is his biggest question mark. He’s only 23 and already has a long history of knee injuries which could (and probably should) scare potential suitors off. That said, he has a great touch around the basket, tremendous length and is still developing. If the Magic knew they were going to get 70+ games out of Bynum for the next seven seasons, I think they’d trade away Howard knowing that there’s a good chance Howard is leaving anyway. Bynum’s contract is also semi-reasonable for a player of his caliber and the team holds the option for the 2012-13 season if his health is still a major issue. He didn’t show much class when he drilled J.J. Barea with a cheap shot out of frustration, but I doubt that would be a reason for a team not to trade for him.

Los Angeles Lakers center Andrew Bynum (L) and guard Kobe Bryant (R) sit on the bench in the final minutes of a loss to the Dallas Mavericks during Game 2 of the NBA Western Conference semi-final basketball playoff in Los Angeles, California May 4, 2011. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

Pau Gasol didn’t do himself any favors with his lackluster play in the postseason, but it’s funny how quickly Laker fans forget what this guy has meant to the franchise over the last three seasons. Just last summer, everyone was calling Gasol the best offensive big man in the league (and they were right). But he’s on the wrong side of 30 and his contract, which runs three more years at the tune of $57 million, would be tough to take on considering he averaged just 13/8 with 42% shooting in 10 postseason games.

And then there’s Odom, who is 31 and is coming off arguably his best season as a Laker, averaging 14/9/3 on 53% shooting (and 38% from 3PT). He can still be a great third or fourth option on the contender and thrives in a reserve role where he can anchor the bench in scoring. I’m not sure how much interest he would draw around the league since he seems like the kind of guy who could only thrive in Los Angeles with his new wife and reality show. If he were to get traded to New Orleans or Orlando, he could slip into a major funk.

Bottom line? If Gasol were two years younger, I think the Lakers would have a shot at landing both Chris Paul and Dwight Howard, but as it stands, he’s an aging big man with a huge contract that just came off a lackluster postseason. Truthfully, given his age, Gasol’s stock probably hasn’t ever been this low and I doubt either the Magic or Hornets would part with their superstar to get him.

The Lakers might be able to swing a Bynum-for-Howard swap, but Orlando would have to 1) know that Howard isn’t going to re-sign and 2) have enough confidence in Bynum’s knees to make the investment. If they were able to add the Defensive Player of the Year to the lineup, it would give the team a true stopper in the middle to erase some of the mistakes on the perimeter. Guard play would still be an issue. J.J. Barea’s quickness gave the Lakers fits, but having Howard back there to protect the rim should help in that area.

One thing’s for sure — GM Mitch Kupchak has a lot of work to do. Spoiled Laker fans are screaming for change, and he has to find a way to re-tool the roster around Kobe while ensuring that the Lakers remain contenders. But unless Howard and Paul independently decide to force a trade to L.A., it isn’t going to be as simple as just adding those two All-NBAers to the roster.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom.

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