Lakers give their guards a vote of NO CONFIDENCE

If anyone is wondering where the Lakers think they are weakest, they need not look further than the fact that their last 3 personnel moves were all attempts to shore up their backcourt.

— Transaction #1: the Lakers used their sole pick in the 2008 NBA draft: Joe Crawford a guard out of the Univeristy of Kentucky. Crawford, who is 6’5″ in some reports and 6’4″ in others, is a solid shooter, but no ball handler, particularly under pressure.

Why would the Lakers need a point guard sized shooter who can’t play point guard? Well, this IS a Phil Jackson coached team, isn’t it. Jackson is known for using small forwards that handle the ball (Pippen, Odom), and shooters like Steve Kerr, Craig Hodges, John Paxson and B.J. Armstrong to spread the floor on offense, and defend opposing point guards on defense.

— Transaction #2: the Lakers offered 6’7″ shooting guard Sasha Vujacic a 3-year, $2.6 million contract, and ended up re-signing Sasha Vujacic to a 3-year, $15 million contract. That’s some difference! If Sasha has peaked as a player, then the Lakers have overpaid yet again for a player. However, if Sasha continues to grow and to step up at critical times, then the Lakers did alright. But what else could they do? If Sasha got an offer from another NBA team, the Lakers would have had a chance to match it. But with Josh Childress going to Greece for $20 million for 3 years, it was feasible that Sasha, who is from Slovenia, could likewise get such an offer, particularly after his Finals performance brought him world attention, and the Lakers would not be able to match it.

— Transaction #3: on Friday, August 1, 2008, the Lakers signed 6’5″ shooting guard Dwane Mitchell. Like Crawford, Mitchell is a shooter, not a ball handler. In the d-league last year, Mitchell managed to be 5th in the league in turnovers, even though he left the d-league to play in Germany in February. In his partial d-league season, however, Mitchell averaged 20.4 points, 6.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.60 steals in 37.3 minutes and found himself in the 2008 D-League All-Star game. And even though he left the D-League early, Mitchell was 3rd in the league in free throws attempted, indicating he is aggressive and takes the ball to the hole and doesn’t settle for jump shots. The kicker though is that Mitchell distinguished himself in the Lakers summer league this summer.

Given that the last 3 personnel moves for the Lakers were all attempts to improve their backcourt, obviously the Lakers are concerned with their guards.

Which leaves us wondering what they are doing with 6′ 5″ Koby Karl. And will Jordan Farmar be able to play himself out of the dog house he put himself into during the NBA Finals?

According to Lenovo’s stats, the most effective 5 player combination for the Lakers over the course of their last 10 games of the post season was: Fisher, Bryant, Odom, Gasol and Radmanovic. I know a lot of bloggers are down on Radmanovic, but this wasn’t close. This 5 player combination was at least 190% more effective than any other 5 player combination the Lakers tried. A lot of players were critical of Phil Jackson’s substitutions as well during the playoffs, but it looks like he nailed the right starting 5.

Here’s a quick look at the Lakers depth by position:

1 – PG – Fisher, Farmar
2 – SG – Bryant, Vujacic, Mitchell / Karl / Crawford
3 – SF – Odom, Ariza, Walton, Newble
4 – PF – Gasol, Radmanovic
5 – Ce – Bynum, Mihm, Mbenga

Four of the Lakers starting five could potentially make the All-Star team if they have good years next year. Obviously, the bench is where the worries are.

While other teams are wheeling and dealing, the Lakers are healing.

If Andrew Bynum, Chris Mihm, Trevor Ariza, and Luke Walton can make it back to their top form prior to injury, the Lakers suddenly look very deep in the front court.We don’t need no stinkin’ Ron Artest!

I can see why their player acquisitions have focused on upgrading the back court though.

But perhaps another area the Lakers should be improving is its coaching staff, particularly with Tex Winter in retirement. Frank Hamblen, Kurt Rambis, Brian Shaw, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Craig Hodges and Jim Cleamons don’t quite do it for me.

  1. Roland LazenbyRoland Lazenby08-03-2008

    Fascinating post. Don’t agree with it entirely. But Phil’s effectiveness as a coach has declined with Tex Winter’s decreased role on his staff. That’s not a slam on Phil or the other coaches. It just reminds us all how great of a mind Winter is.

    Some questions, though. Radmanovic is no back-up power forward. He was the starter at small forward, backed up by Walton. Odom was the starter at power forward, backed up by the eccentricities of Phil’s rotation.

    Your breakdown is great because it exposes even greater weaknesses than the Finals did. First, the Lakers faced issues at small forward (no good match for Paul Pierce); at point guard (Rondo’s quickness and ability to help defend and recover really troubled Fisher’s shot); at center (Gasol was too thin); at power forward (Garnett over Odom).

    If Andrew Bynum remains healthy and continues to develop at center, that moves Gasol to the 4, which will bring a new look.
    Odom at the 3 has been tried before with mixed results.
    The Lakers need a good backup for Bryant and a younger player to develop. That explains their interest in Dwane Mitchell; they need a defensive tough guy, who can guard a 2 or a 3; that explains their hope in Ariza and their interest perhaps in Crawford.
    Owner Jerry Buss has soured on Farmar, but Jackson still prizes the young guard, who is frustrated as he adjusts to the triangle.
    The question is, given a season together and the boost from a heathier Bynum and Mihm, will this Lakers team come together this season? Was it merely too green, to mentally weak, last year?

    Those are the hard questions the front office and coaching must try to answer.

    Love your site.

    Roland Lazenby
    author of The Show

  2. Tom7Tom708-03-2008

    Roland, thank you for your insightful comments.

    I agree completely with your assessment of Phil (and Tex). For all those critical of Phil for winning with Michael and Scottie, then Shaq and Kobe, they should have been envying Phil’s relationship with Tex.

    As for the Lakers’ small forward situation, in the Finals, their best small forward was Kobe Bryant. All this activity at shooting guard, even after signing Sasha, tempts me to wonder if they might start Sasha at the 2 and Kobe at the 3, (and Lamar off the bench), or at least play Kobe at 3 more and bring Sasha in as the 6th man.

    As for Odom at the 3, I think he guards bigger guys better than he does quicker. And offensively, he doesn’t care if his defender is a power or a small forward, Odom’s going to score or pass according to what the defense gives him.

    The Lakers greatest failing in the Finals may have been vanishing role players, but defense and rebounding were lacking as well. If the Lakers as a team can show that they take defense and rebounding seriously now, during the regular season, then I think we’ll see a team serious about June. If they play business as usual, relying on Bynum to be the difference maker, then the Lakers may not make it out of the west. Portland could up end them, as well as the Hornets (with Posey and a year’s more experience).

    Thanks again for your comments, Roland.

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