This is part 2 of our preview of the upcoming season for the Lakers.
Having 16 NBA championship titles, the most NBA Finals appearance in league history, and the highest winning percentage in NBA playoffs history, no franchise in the NBA understands the intricacy of winning it all more or have mastered the art of putting together a championship-caliber team more than the Lakers. And this summer was no different.
In order to get back to the NBA Finals for the third season in a row let alone defend their title successfully a second time in a row, the Lakers know they will need better help from the bench next season. With only a mid-level exemption of around $6 million and a veteran's minimum of around $1.3 million to work with, Mitch Kupchak orchestrated the acquisitions of three proven veterans that will never question their role in the team or go out onto the floor unmotivated.
The New and Improved "Bench Mob"
Steve Blake (PG): The Lakers wanted this guy for quite some time. Well, he's finally in purple and gold. Blake is a blue-collar type player that takes pride in playing the game. His abilities on offense is why he's still in the league. That's pretty impressive when you consider the amount of guards in the NBA that can do what he can. The difference is Blake can also play defense and is a very likeable guy on or off the court. However, he hasn't played for an elite team as big as the 2-time defending champs. Will the pressures of expectations of a three-peat or consistent productivity off of him affect him? We shall see.
Shannon Brown (SG/PG): Some Laker fans wanted Tracy McGrady instead. But the Lakers are more interested in keeping as many players who have championship experience rather than collect big names like the Miami Heat. Shannon knows having 2 rings means more will be expected of him which is why he's been trying to work on the areas where he needs to: ball-handling, shooting, and defense. But the acquisitions of Blake and Barnes should relieve some pressure off of Shannon to focus on what the coaching staff wants him to do more than anything else. But expect Phil to use him mainly on defense against athletic, quick, and strong guards.
Sasha Vujacic (SG/PG): "The Machine" hasn't been in order since 2008. Last year showed glimpses of his old form until an ankle injury late in the regular season derailed his come back trail. He wants to remain a Laker even after his contract year expires, but the Lakers have been attempting to trade him this summer for cap relief. So would it matter if Sasha finally goes over the hump this upcoming year? With a roster this deep, it's probaby a no. Then again, Phil always has a need for shooters in the Triangle.
Matt Barnes (SF/SG): Tattoos aside. Matt is the one guy the Lakers are relying upon to lead the second unit on defense. He's a feisty defender who loves to attack the glass as well. His ability to knock down an open trey is a huge plus in a system that promotes floor spacing. But, to many people he also has a reputation of stepping over the line of getting-under-your-skin and being dirty. Are the Lakers concerned about it? Simply put...no.
Devin Ebanks (SF): Devin is a lengthy kid known for his defense. But in the Triangle, he will need to learn to develop his jumpshot for him to have any hope of seeing some playing time from Phil Jackson. He showed promise during the summer camp in Las Vegas and looks like he really wants to become a better basketball player. If this guy ever develops a jumpshot and hones his defensive skills, people just might stop comparing him to Trevor Ariza.
Luke Walton (SF): You don't have to be a Laker fan to feel sorry for a guy whose career is being threatened prematurely by a nagging back injury. All signs say Luke could retire if his back doesn't heal properly anytime this upcoming season. Like him or not, Luke's high basketball IQ, selflessness and nifty passes will be missed. His defense? Not so much.
Lamar Odom (PF/SF): The most versatile 6th man in the NBA will once again be counted on to lead the bench despite probably having his most erratic post-season as a Laker. It's become pointless to wonder if he'll ever stay consistent because he's never showed any signs that he will at any time of his 11-year career. He talked about being physically and mentally fatigued after Game 7, but that didn't stop him from participating in the FIBA World Championship this summer. The plus side of that is Lamar will be in basketball shape even before training camp starts in October. The bad side is Lamar could get burned out by All-Star weekend.
Derrick Caracter (PF): The Lakers gave him a 2-year rookie contract unlike Ebanks. Derrick shed a few pounds and is still projected to lose even more when training camp rolls along. He's raw but is a gifted big man who has a nice touch from mid-range. Being a beast on the boards doesn't hurt his value in this team, either.
Theo Ratfliff (C): The minerals-craving shot-blocker is signed for a year, but that doesn't mean he's satisfied with finally joining the top elite team in the league to win his first ring. Not at all. He promised to defend the paint and help control the boards when called upon. The problem is he may not get more opportunities as he did with the San Antonio Spurs last season. Still, his vast experience in the league and willingness to share them should benefit the Laker big men.
Phil Jackson: Any talks of any three-peat would be invalid if Phil isn't in the mix. It's a good thing he decided to make a final run to get his unprecedented 12th championship ring. The soon-to-be 65-year old Zen master will be entering his 20th (10th with the Lakers) and final season as a head coach in the NBA. We, Laker fans, have been spoiled by Phil's grand mastery of winning NBA championships, but all things, as they say, must come to an end. Hopefully, it will be one heck of an ending culminating to another parade next June.
Since the upcoming season is the final one for Phil, what could we expect from the master of the Triangle? Will he coach the same way or will he add something new? Will he be a little bolder? More yielding to the suggestions of his players or assistant coaches? Or will he just be as he ever was and not let the emotions of his farewell tour get in the way of the team's mission?
Besides winning, Phil has always been about sharing the moment, the journey and the experience of ending a season with the Larry O'Brien trophy in the middle of the locker room soaked in champagne as his team celebrate with all their hearts for doing something not a lot of professional athlete even gets a chance to. So yeah, don't be surprised to see a more upbeat, but a more intense Phil next season.
So which teams have what it takes to dethrone the Lakers? We'll take a look at that in Part 3.