Remember in 2008, where the bench (then known as the “Minute Men” per Phil Jackson) carried the team to the NBA Finals. They packed the punch of our starting 5, they hustled for rebounds, diving for loose balls because every possession mattered. Sadly, the Lakers didn’t end up making it far in the Finals, falling short to the Boston Celtics in Game 6.
As the new season began, there were high expectations that the team would be much better than the previous year because of the return of a healthy Andrew Bynum, whom was a missing piece in the 2008 Finals, and a hungry Kobe, ready to win his first without Shaq. But something was missing. Everything was there… but the bench.
The bench had lost its energy, its hunger to win. Farmar broke down, “The Machine” was out of batteries, and the rest of the bench just didn’t seem to care. The Lakers went through the season with no bench, as they would tend to blow every lead the starting 5 would have, the most irritating being the double-digit “we got this” lead. The starting 5 would pack on more minutes to right the wrongs the bench did.
The bench didn’t play a factor in the season but surprisingly, the Lakers still managed to win the Championship. The happiness of winning the championship trumped the fact that they had no bench, thinking we had time to fix the problem ensuing the Finals. But the only addition was signing free agent Ron Artest, after letting go of Trevor Ariza.
Then the 2009-2010 season came, where the expectations of a better bench were higher than ever, thinking that they finally got the ‘chip, then the taste would get them hungry for more. However, those expectations fell flat too as the bench was (probably) worse than the previous season. It seemed like nothing was going right for them. The duo of Jordan Farmar and Shannon Brown would have lapses of great games but mostly games where they couldn’t get anything going. Sasha wasn’t be able to hit a shot. Lamar was the only player off the bench contributing and Luke was missing with back problems.
However, the hunger of the starting 5 made up for the lackluster play from the bench as the Lakers would go on to repeat as champions, no thanks to the bench (except in Game 6 of the Finals. Thanks, bench!)
It was then time for the NBA Draft to kick in. The Lakers would draft defensive specialist Devin Ebanks with the 43rd pick in the 2010 NBA draft, out of West Virginia. The 58th pick in the NBA draft would be used to draft Derrick Caracter out of UTEP. These two rookies looked like they were going to be traded away for cash considerations until the Lakers ended up keeping them. They would play basketball to the best of their ability in the Summer League, impressing scouts and fans. These players turned out to be two of the biggest steals in the Draft, if not, the biggest steals. They would be great contributors off the bench.
Now, we’re in the off-season, with five of our bench members now free agents, the Lakers were looking to bring neither of them back and instead bring in other pieces in an attempt to bring back the days of the Bench Mob. Day 1 of free agency, and the Lakers immediately called point guard, Steve Blake, to offer him a contract which he ended up accepting. Our backup point guard role looked great with Steve Blake being a definite upgrade over the inconsistent Jordan Farmar.
The Lakers would then wait almost 3 weeks before signing another bench player. The next backup issue that needed to be addressed was the center position, just in case ‘Drew once again goes down with an injury. The signing of Theo Ratliff looked good. A 6-10 center, whom has a reputation for being a notorious shot blocker, leading the league in blocks for a few years.
Then came the crop (of the remaining free agents) Matt Barnes. His decision was thought to be focused on money, as he decided to accept a $10 million/2 year deal with the Raptors before negotiations fell apart. At the last minute, Mitch Kupchak called up Matt Barnes to offer him the remainder of the Mid-Level Exception ($1.7 million) over 2 years which he accepted over the Cleveland Cavaliers’ $7 million/2 year deal. Looking for championships over money (the Ron Artest method).
The bench looks scarier now. It is definitely an upgrade over what we had for the past 2 years, better defensively and offensively, looking for their (Blake, Barnes and Ratliff) first ring. The hunger will surely fuel their play, willing to scratch and claw their way to it. That is the intensity the Lakers need. This is the mentality that will put this Laker bench as one of the best.
With the signings of Steve Blake, Matt Barnes, Theo Ratliff (and possibly the rookies), does this solidify the bench? Is this the long awaited return of the Bench Mob?