From Mike Miller, to Tracy McGrady, to Raja Bell, to Jeremy Lin, to Jeremy Lin’s mother, Nancy (I don’t know if this is her name, but it sounds right, Nancy Lin), never has Laker Land quite experienced such a frenetic, all-over-the-place kind of summer regarding free agency speculation as it has in this one — particularly after just winning another NBA championship.
It almost feels as if we didn’t win one, but that’s the beauty about being part of a legendary, winning Laker organization — you naturally become greedy; never content with settling for ‘good’. Chalk the craziness up to it being the much hyped Summer of Super Star Orgies. Or the fact that there were about 100-odd free agents out there looking for work — 100 players who were all Lakers at some point this summer… in Photoshop. Or simply chalk it up to the fact that the Lakers had 4 roster spots available for upgrades due to the expiring contracts of several of their inconsistent bench players (Farmar, Mbenga, Powell, and Morrison) — the point of the matter is, this summer definitely left (and still leaves) A LOT of room for speculation.
Probably too much speculation, given the limited amount of resources we realistically had at our disposal this summer (a mid-level exception and a slew of minimum contracts). But if Laker fans have learned anything from the past, it’s that Mitch Kupchak certainly knows how to turn ‘limited resources’ into ‘unlimited possibilities’, using the skillful art of inception on other General Managers and forcing them to collude with the Laker State of Mind (see Kwame Brown for Pau Gasol). And while he wasn’t anywhere near as desperate to resorting to such an over-the-top tactic this off-season, he still definitely made the most out of what he had to work with.
I know everybody’s read a billion opinions already about our off-season acquisitions (and probably from more credible sources than myself), but, regardless, here is my opinionated breakdown of our very productive new additions…
Note: The great importance of keeping both Phil and Fisher will not be discussed here because…those should be undeniable givens!
Our surprising rookies, Derrick Caracter and Devin Ebanks –
I’ve always been envious of how the Golden State Warriors scouts have continually managed to find such a wide variety of steals from out of nowehere (from drafting Gilbert Arenas and Monta Ellis in the second round, to signing very solid, undrafted players such as Anthony Morrow, Anthony Tolliver, and Reggie Williams).
Outside of drafting Bynum (and Marc Gasol in the 2nd round), I’ve long wished for the Lakers organization to be as skilled in their drafting game as the Warriors were — as skilled as they were in every other successful facet of the Lakers franchise as a whole. Well, that time may have finally come with the surprisingly effective showings of both Devin Ebanks and Derrick Caracter (most especially Caracter) in Summer League. Mitch Kupchak really did his homework and found some great value-picks at the 43rd and 58th spots respectively, possibly getting two of the biggest steals in the entire draft.
While Ebanks further showed his freakish similarity to Trevor Ariza with his athletic finishing skills and great body-control at the rim, he also showed a very work-able outside-shot that already looks much better mechanically than that of Ariza’s. He’s also proven to be quite crafty at making his face look exactly like Trevor’s as well.
Caracter, on the other hand, impressed just about everyone (he was ranked the 3rd best rookie overall on NBA.com) with his polished offensive game, ability to rebound, and deceptive adeptness at blocking shots — all a bit reminiscent of Elton Brand. He rebounded, blocked shots, showed a very silky-smooth mid-range jump-shot, proved he could finish effectively with his left-hand, and displayed some Glen-Davis-like athleticism at the rim by using his quickness against bigger, stronger players like Greg Monroe and DeMarcus Cousins.
While we can’t read too much into how well they performed in Summer League (especially because they probably won’t play much, if it all), the Lakers have a solid foundation of youth that they can at least begin to groom and cultivate. And with how ‘old’ the Lakers are starting to look (remember when our average age was only like 27?), having a tinge of youth to reinvigorate our team is exactly what will help the Lakers more smoothly transition into the (gasp) post-Kobe Bryant days of glory.
Steve Blake –
As our good friend, Eric Pincus once tweeted, Blake is like Kirk Hinrich, minus the ability to guard bigger small-forwards (which Hinrich is apparently just other-worldly at being able to do). And frankly, I’m perfectly fine with him simply being solid at guarding the players at his position, because we have more than enough help at the 3 and 4 spots to guard wing-players and bruising power-forwards (which not a lot come to mind at the moment).
In the past, I was always impressed (although probably more annoyed at the time) at how Steve Blake would burn the Lakers with his savvy play-making skills and adept shooting-ability — to the point where I would joke to my friends about how ‘Steve Blake is owning Kobe again’. But Kobe even admitted himself that every time he’s played Blake in the past, he’s always been impressed by Blake’s strong work-ethic, grinding hustle, and overall energy on both ends of the floor.
What Blake lacks in athleticism, he more than makes up for in effort and fundamentally sound decision-making — which is what the Lakers sorely lacked from Jordan Farmar almost every year (thanks for the K.G. poster, though).
Matt Barnes –
From ball-fake intimidator to brotherly Laker-conspirator, Matt Barnes has become another enemy-turned-ally to Kobe Bryant. No, he can’t stop LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony all by himself, but he sure as hell can annoy the heaven out of them. Being that he’ll be coming off the bench to spell Ron Artest and add some spark, hustle, and grit to the second-unit, the Lakers aren’t even expecting him to be a shut-down defender anyway.
Matt Barnes is the overqualified back-up small forward that will help anchor the second-unit well and provide much of the same versatility and more that Ron Artest does. He may not see the court as well as Luke Walton, but he’s pretty much an upgrade in every other area — including length, with his lanky, Ariza-like frame. Most importantly, he can shoot way better than Luke. I know people have been saying that his shot is shaky and that he’s only a career 30% shooter from beyond the arc, but… this guy can definitely shoot (See his performances as a Warrior against the 76ers and the Kings where he drained 7 and 6 three-pointers respectively). As an especially superior PER rebounder, you can expect Barnes to never let-up and bring that extra dose of hustle and passion off the pine that the Lakers were, at times, lacking from the bench last year (even (especially?) from Lamar Odom).
Theo Ratliff –
Theo ‘freaking’ Ratliff. If anyone saw his Lakers press-conference interview, he talked in detail about the power of minerals (and stuff) like a very like-able, wisdom-filled, Mr.-Miyagi-like, grandfather figure. Here’s him losing some minerals from staring at a woman’s rack… with some catchy, throw-back Backsteet Boys in the background.
It’s crazy to think that while he’s already 37, he was only drafted one year before Kobe Bryant. As such, his veteran experience and savvy will prove to be invaluable for the Lakers this season, especially for Andrew Bynum. While Mbenga’s humor and innocently awkward personality will surely be missed, his perpetual tendency to always jack up fade-away jump shots whenever he feels like it will not. Regardless, Theo should provide extra length (I know, like the Lakers need anymore right?) off the bench with his freakishly long 7’2 wingspan and make guards wary of happily prancing down the lane with ease.
His contented understanding of his role as a 5-10 minute back-up who’s simply there to rebound, block/alter shots, and get points solely off of put-backs and feed-me dunks is exactly the type of poise and leadership the Lakers will benefit from.
Tracy McGrady/Larry Hughes/Shannon Brown (?) –
With Luke Walton’s injured back severely depleting his already very-limited reservoir of NBA skill and talent, word is, the Lakers may not be done. And hey, if you can stock up on more talent (even if that player may only get 10 min. or less), why not? At this point, I’d still love to have Tracy McGrady on-board (if he’s content to simply come along for the ride, which is highly unlikely), for the simple fact that seeing him celebrate with his old buddy, Kobe Bryant, on the bench is almost too perfect a scene. But, I’m definitely not as desperate for his services as I was before the summer began. For that matter, I’ve never been desperate for anything Larry Hughes-related either.
The best case scenario for the Lakers is probably bringing back Shannon Brown, who is not only a fan-favorite, but an absolute game-changer when he’s able to break-free for one of his alley-oop finishes, ridiculous blocks, and gravity-defying finishes. Those plays for Shannon not only energize the crowd and shift the momentum of the game to the Lakers’ side, but they energize Shannon’s overall game as well — turning him into a better slasher, better ball-handler, and better shooter all of a sudden. Regardless of whether we sign another guard/wing, I’m fully on-board for whatever Mitch decides to do. I’m done playing fantasy-fan GM.
Concluding Thoughts –
I, for one, will admit that, at the beginning, I too was clamoring for the splashy, sexier moves (be-it signing Mike Miller or obsessively clamoring for the services of Scottie Pippen Lite aka Mac-T) that would steal some thunder away from the newly revamped Charlie’s Angels down in Miami. I wanted to feel the same excitement I felt last off-season when we took the league by storm and signed Ron Artest. And frankly, re-signing Fisher and signing Steve Blake was not cutting it for me in terms of the hype factor. I was even willing to settle (actually I was ecstatic) for the potential signing of Asian-American cult-figure Jeremy Lin so that I could finally be able to vicariously live-out my dreams of playing in the NBA as a short Asian-American through this greatly overlooked and racialized man’s skilled, 6’3 frame.
But that was all before Mitch capped-off the summer by somehow snagging the very gritty Matt Barnes and signing the very serviceable and long Theo Ratliff with only $3 million spent between the two. Armed with only the mid-level and minimum contracts, Mitch Kupchak addressed more than enough of our needs (with maybe the exception of an adept driver) with steady and sound point guard leadership and defense, a legit and competitive workhorse, wing-defender to back-up Ron Artest, and a little bit of length insurance in case… that thing with that one 7-foot guy happens again.
As currently stands, Mitch has been the brilliant architect (to add one more Inception reference) to one of the deepest Laker-units in recent memory (from sixth man to 13th or 14th man down). Just think about this — the Lakers essentially have 3 guys in Lamar Odom, Steve Blake, and Matt Barnes (4 if you want to over-hype Derrick Caracter’s great show of skill in summer-league even further) who could start for more than half of the teams in this league
The biggest problem for Phil Jackson will, of course, be trying to find minutes and roles for everyone on the bench and making sure that everyone is satisfied, content, and fully committed to the program (this issue will undoubtedlyrear its ugly-head sometime down the road… though I hope I’m wrong). But that’s a problem I’m willing to take every and any day – not to mention, a problem Phil has effectively managed many times before.
In conclusion, this summer has definitely taught me how to more fully appreciate the art of ‘solid’ and ‘best-fit’ over ‘flashy’ and ‘over-hyped-reputation’. Most of all, however, I’ve learned to appreciate how truly privileged we are to be living smack-dab in the middle of some truly historic glory days for not only the Lakers, but for the entire NBA as a whole. That is, until the lock-out happens. Then we can all start crying like Adam Morrison.
But, at least for Laker fans, we’ll hopefully be doing so as three-time champions entering into the new decade.
The Fridge is satisfactorily ready to close the door on a very productive Laker off-season,
Jonathan Hernandez (Follow @ Jhun88)
To read more randomness from Jonathan Hernandez, visit his novelty blog at The K.I.T Yearbook…where middle-school lameness, immature gossip, and awkward over-dramatic antics all come alive in the form of compiled yearbook notes and letters. It’s the new Post Secret! Or not.