During the course of the free agency period 2012, the Los Angeles Lakers have attempted to address areas where, over the past two seasons, they have struggled to make an impact and in the end fallen to teams that were far more superior in these areas. It was almost as if this great franchise was becoming one of the more slow, tired and old teams in the league, and something simply had to be done. After the new CBA was put into effect, the Lakers were put under immense pressure to sign good players cheaply, as they were not only over the salary cap, they would also incur a huge fee as part of the luxury tax. They had at their disposal a mini mid-level player exception as part of the Lamar Odom trade, and could potentially sign players at veteran minimums, but in reality it looked fairly grim for a team in desperate need of spark and talent. Here, we will take a look at the trades Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss have been able to pull off in a time where the Lakers are simply desperate to reclaim the throne and once again be NBA Champions.
Throughout the 2011/12 season, there were several areas where the Lakers suffered. Both in offense and defense, the team struggled to find rhythm and succumbed to some humiliating losses at the expense of their lagging game. First and foremost, the Lakers desperate need for a point guard had to be addressed. Someone to run the floor, take the pressure off Kobe Bryant and help to establish easy buckets for Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. They needed to find some scoring power off the bench, and eradicate the high turnover rate from the second unit that was the downfall plenty of times during the course of last season. They needed to find a back up shooting guard to replicate (as best they can) the impact Kobe Bryant has on the floor when he is not there with a high 3-point shooting percentage. These areas are all vital to the Lakers championship aspirations come the 2012/13 season and should all their efforts this off season pay off, they will be a very real threat. But how did management address these issues whilst being so tied down financially? How could L.A. shake the competition with only one draft pick at the very end of the line in pick #60? Did the Lakers get younger, or did they become more of an experienced and lethal weapon in the race for a championship?
Let’s take a look at the Lakers off-season moves that Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss have been able to orchestrate in order to restore the Lakers to their rightful spot atop the Western Conference.
Contracted: G Kobe Bryant, F Pau Gasol, C Andrew Bynum, G Steve Nash, F Metta World Peace, G Steve Blake, F Jordan Hill, F Antawn Jamison, F Devin Ebanks, F Josh McRoberts, G Christian Eyenga, G Darius Morris, G Andrew Goudelock.
Free Agents Still Attached: F Troy Murphy, F Matt Barnes
Originally drafted 55th overall by the Dallas Mavericks from Marquette University where he was a standout guard, Odom was bought by the Lakers as part of a deal that saw approximately half a million dollars worth of cash considerations sent to their Texan rivals. As the team was unable to work their way into the first round, acquiring not only a second pick but also a young guard was a win win situation for the team and he was considered a steal in many circles. Standing 6’2″, DJO has had an impressive stint with his Marquette team averaging 18.3PPG on 45% shooting, 3.5 assists and 2.7 assists in his senior year whilst starting at shooting guard.
While fairly short, DJO’s ability to knock down shots will be of undeniable value to the Lakers who’s bench was 25th in the league in second unit point last season. From three point range, his percentage stands at 39% which will be hugely effective for L.A. should he be able to replicate it as it is another area of concern for the team. Also, his ability to drive and score in traffic has been favorable for Marquette and he has the ability to create space and open looks for surrounding players. This will be of service to the likes of Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum who at times last year struggled to find the open space to operate.
His size is an obvious factor standing only 6’2″ which, in the NBA, could be an issue against the bigger players, and although his desired position lies at the point, he does not possess the offensive hustle to be able to run it full time. Also, there is doubt over his ability to improve and should that fear become reality, he may not last long on the Lakers bench before a demotion to the D-Fenders. Hopefully, DJO can impress his coaches and team mates enough to warrant a full time spot on the bench and help L.A.’s scoring woes.
(Various DJO Highlights)
Drafted at #60 overall by the Lakers from Gozaga University, Robert Sacre was one target they had pinned much higher on their prospected draft board and were very happy to pick up the offensive pressure this 7 footer can bring. Averaging 12 PPG last season for Gonzaga, Sacre’s hustle meant the team made a good run in the later half of the season on the back of his scoring ability in the paint. With Pau Gasol likely staying in L.A., Sacre will be able to stamp his ability as a back up power forward/center and contribute to the Lakers offensive game. An area where the Lakers were rich in 2011/12 was their height but they only used it to their advantage approximately 75% of the time. Being 7 foot, Sacre can add to the Lakers size and compete with Oklahoma City who are the only other team in the West that can rival that particular aspect.
His size is paramount in his ability to create something out of nothing and coupled with the Lakers already tall front court, Sacre will be able to fit right into the fold. Add to that his ability to make a considerable amount of mid-range jump shots from 15 feet makes him and Pau a very offensive threat inside the arc. Another big stat in Sacre’s favor is his free throw percentage which currently stands at 80%. Not an area L.A. struggled with last season, but still a hugely effective and important one for the team. His defensive hustle is to be admired and has showed an ability to be able to defend the pick and roll with relative strength and ease, which will be of huge value as the Lakers are one of the worst teams in the league at defending it.
Rebounds. Averaging approximately 7 per game in his senior year, Sacre was expected to dominate many of the WCC’s bigs on the boards but wasn’t able to use his size and strength to stand up and dominate on the glass. He also tends to struggle on the double team, something which other teams generally love to do to the Lakers so he will have to tend to that issue quick smart if he wants to be of assistance to them. Keeping the ball low also affects his ability to drive high and dunk which has lowered his percentages. Hopefully with the guidance of L.A.’s coaching staff and the Gasol/Bynum combo he can find the confidence to post up 100% of the time.
(Various Sacre Highlights)
Acquired from the Phoenix Suns in a sign-and-trade for cash considerations and future picks, signed on a three-year, 27 Million dollar deal, and undoubtedly the biggest signing the Lakers could/would/did make is that of veteran All-Star point guard and 2-time MVP Steve Nash. Nash had offers from Toronto and New York for considerable amounts of money but the 38-year old veteran stressed his decision was based around his desire for a Championship and the chance to play alongside Kobe Bryant. The Lakers issues in the back court had become extremely problematic and coupled with the loss of Ramon Sessions who refused to sign a player option the team was left with Steve Blake as their single and only option at the point. Nash’s acquisition means that not only are the Lakers strengthened offensively, they also have a floor general who knows how to create space, and give his team mates open looks. Kobe Bryant will benefit hugely from Nash being in his back court as he brings with him the ability to run the floor and create the play. Kobe thrives when given the opportunity to focus on his own game and Nash will take all the pressure off him and allow him to do that. Nash is also hugely effective from beyond the arc shooting 43% from three point land on his career. If he drives into the paint and can open up spaces for Gasol, Bynum and World Peace then the Lakers are scoring in every area on the floor. The addition of Nash makes the Lakers older, but it also makes them about a tonne more dangerous and L.A.’s 2012/13 starting lineup is now one of the most dangerous in the NBA.
High scoring and has the ability to create space and create open looks on offense. Whilst his assist rates weren’t hugely impressive at Phoenix he only had Marcin Gortat to work with deep in the paint so feeding the ball to Pau, Drew and MWP should create higher numbers. Even at 38, Nash is quick and is easily able to orchestrate a high or low pick and roll with any player on the floor to establish almost undefendable offense. When coupled with great players, Nash puts up numbers that are often better than those of Derrick Rose or Chris Paul.Three point shooting is a handy skill to posses and Steve brings it in spades. The Lakers were one of the worst teams in the league from three point range last year so any help will go a long way in their success from deep. Also, you can’t put a price on the experience and leadership that comes with Steve Nash. The Lakers need it, and he can provide it.
Nash isn’t the best defensive point guard the league has ever seen and can sometimes be a little sloppy with his protection of the ball. Last season he averaged over 4.3 turnovers per game leading to points for opposition teams which is an area the Lakers also struggled in so this will have to be addressed. Should Nash be able to defend with slightly more vigor then this will eliminate these issues and hopefully see him get the ring he so deserves.
(10 of Steve Nash’s best moments)
Acquired via free agency from the Cleveland Cavaliers for the 1-year veterans minimum, Antawn Jamison was signed by the Lakers in an attempt to replicate a forward off the bench like Lamar Odom who could score and post up on defense. Since Odom left, the Lakers have had barely any scoring power off the bench, relying on names such as Matt Barnes, Josh McRoberts, Troy Murphy and the lowly Jason Kapono (in part) to back up the starting five. It never worked, and seeing L.A. make a trade such as this should warm any Laker fans heart. Jamison is a 14 year veteran of the NBA and has been instrumental for every team he has played for. Posting big numbers, and powering off the bench saw the 36 year old average over 17PPG last season for the Cavs. Oh how Lakers fans would love to see that again! Look out for Jamison off the bench, but don’t expect huge numbers from him. What you will see is a personality on the court who can ease the pressure on the rest of the team by actually hitting shots. This is a good signing by the Lakers and you will see an improved bench performance because of it.
Simply his ability to score. Jamison’s 17PPG with Cleveland last season was nearly half that of the entire Laker bench so in reality it’s probably the biggest thing he’s going to bring to the team. After Lamar Odom’s departure there was no one present on L.A.’s bench that had the ability to completely take over a game, but Jamison has that ability and will be able to champion the bench and contribute points on a night to night basis.
His defense. Unfortunately, Jamison is not the ideal defender that they need on the bench. At times he posts up and notches rebounds, at one point averaging over 8 per game last season but it dwindled and hence his inconsistency on D. His ability to turn defense into offense and orchestrate a fast break may also be an area Lakers fans expect to see him excel but it’s not the case. Jamison has never been a great defender but presuming L.A. can add a piece to back up Bynum and Gasol in the defensive paint it shouldn’t be an issue.
(Jamison drops 32 on the Detroit Pistons)
Young Jordan Hill was acquired by the Lakers mid 2011/12 as part of the trade that saw Ramon Sessions fill the void at point (all be it only for a few months) and he was nothing short of impressive. So impressed were Lakers management they offered Hill a 2-year $8 Million deal so as to ensure his services. Hill was thrilled as it gave him the opportunity to play alongside Kobe and Steve. Could not have been a smarter move made by Kupchak and Buss. J-Hill was instrumental for the Lakers off the bench in the later half of last season and only continued to show signs of improvement. Some will remember late last year Hill was subbed in for Bynum in a game against the Oklahoma City Thunder and recorded a double double. The Lakers were down by as many as 18 points in the third quarter, but Hill exploded for 15 points, 15 rebounds and 3 blocks to help L.A. get the win in a game fans will remember for a long time.
Athletesism. J-Hill is extremely agile and while he stands 6’10″, he is surprisingly nimble and can move around inside the paint with relative ease compared to some other forward who struggle to move at all. He also is explosive on the fast break, tearing away from opponents and generally loves the big finish. In addition, he has managed to tweak his mid range jump shot so not all of his points come from inside the paint. Hugely helpful when it pays off as you see with Gasol when his shot is on. Jordan Hill should provide an incredible spark off the bench for L.A. this season and should he continue to chip away at his game, we should see this young up and comer go the distance.
Control. Hill is prone to becoming erratic and forgetting where he is and at times can suffer from Bynum syndrome, going missing for extended periods. This general lack of intensity contributes to fouling, violations, and turnovers against him and at times could be very costly is not addressed. It has improved since he came to the Lakers, but nevertheless it’s still an issue that can arise at any moment. If Hill can continue to improve however, and be open to the senior team’s mentoring, he’ll be a player the Lakers will be very happy to hold on to.
(Hill scores 17 Points and 13 rebounds to lead the Rockets past the Spurs)
While this Lakers squad can already be considered Championship contenders, it would be unlike management to not continue swinging. This team is undoubtedly one of the more scary teams in the NBA now, however there is always more to do and Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss are no strangers to this fact. During the past few weeks various rumors have been flying around the NBA as to who the Lakers will sign next. Here’s the list of rumored players that may still be targeted by the Lakers in the coming weeks:
* Dwight Howard – Center – Orlando Magic: (Chance of signing – 85%)
* Jodie Meeks – Shooting Guard – Philadelphia 76′ers (Chance of signing – 60%)
* Jermaine O’Neal – Center – Boston Celtics (Chance of signing – 50%)
* Michael Redd – Shooting Guard – Milwaukee Bucks (Chance of signing – 60%)
* Leandro Barbosa – Guard – Phoenix Suns (Chance of signing – 55%)
* Gilbert Arenas – Guard – Memphis Grizzlies (Chance of signing – 50%)
* Tracy McGrady – Guard – Atlanta Hawks (Chance of signing 50%)
As you can see, there is an obvious leaning towards the acquisition of a backup shooting guard for Kobe Bryant. Dwight Howard aside, the Lakers heads are in the right place in terms of finding the right pieces to be real contenders. The reason they are pursuing Howard is because they’ve seen success from signing dominant big men in the past and know it will happen again should he come to Los Angeles. But that’s not where the Lakers are focusing until the point where the Magic agree to terms. Right now, management’s focus must surely be on finding the necessary piece to fill Kobe Bryant’s shoes. There’s no real hurry. Kobe still has a few years left in him, but it’s important to start the building process before he does. If the Lakers can encourage a young, skilled back up guard to sign with them they will secure even more scoring power and take even more pressure of Kobe.
If you consider where the team was a year ago, you wouldn’t be wrong by considering this new look team a real contender for the Championship. With the Miami Heat rising to power in the East, and the likes of the Thunder dominating the West, the Lakers desperately needed to pull the trigger to have any hope and that’s exactly what they have done. As mentioned the areas that needed tending to, have been and in doing so a number of problems have been solved. The bench, the point guard, the scoring ability… It’s all there now and the Lakers can capitalize and make a dedicated, strong and realistic run at the Finals. There may be a slight issue on defense, as the players acquired aren’t known to dominate in that area, but you can imagine that’s something Kupchak and Buss will be working on over the coming weeks. Should the Dwight deal go through, that solves a lot of the existing problems on D, but it’s up to everyone to limit the turnovers and start creating points out of every opportunity. Against teams such as Miami and OKC that is their only option and should they not do it, the West will not be bathed in purple and gold. But, the Lakers have made something out of nothing this off season and have given themselves every chance of reclaiming the NBA crown.
With a schedule that sees the Lakers hardest games come around the middle of the season, and some easier games at the start and finishing points, I am predicting the team finishes 2012/13 with a win/loss record of 62-20 and a ticket to the Western Conference Finals against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
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