Laker Throwback’s Are Keepers?

 —  April 12, 2005

With all the nostalgia around last night’s Laker game and the great 1985 team (something I may touch on more in a future post, I enjoyed the trip down memory lane), it reminded me of what a great passing team that was.

Obviously, any team with Magic Johnson at the point is going to move the ball well, but that team had other guys — Michael Cooper, Byron Scott, James Worthy, Kareem out of the post — who knew how to pass the ball. Even Ronnie Lester in garbage time could hit the open man (he averaged 13.8 assists per 48 minutes, thing is he only played 278 minutes total that year). The open guy got the shot.

That kind of ball movement is just one of the many things lacking this season. Kobe leads the team averaging 5.8 assists per 40 minutes, but that can be deceiving. The game against the Suns Monday was a perfect example: Kobe had 10 assists but there were multiple times when he took on three defenders as well, ignoring the open man.

This year’s Lakers have two guys who are throwbacks, two guys who can move the ball. Unfortunately, they both have had limited playing time — Vlade Divac and Luke Walton. Both have skills might have blended well with that ’85 squad. And both may not be back next season.

Vlade has played only 12 games this season and the problem is he is due $5.4 million next season. Yet in the last five games (when he has played regularly) we have seen what he can bring to the offense — he’s averaging 14.8 points, 7.1 assists and 10.1 rebounds (5.3 of them offensive) per 48 minutes. He’s only averaging 16.2 minutes per game in that span, so that’s a small statistical sample we’re going off of, but with him at the pinch post the triangle has looked much smoother. He’s hit more guys with passes for backdoor layups in the last five games than I remember all season.

But is he worth keeping next year, or should he be bought out at $2 million? Or another way of looking at it is: Can you find another good backup center for $3.4 million next season?

I’d say the key question here — as with all the Laker off-season moves — is who the next coach is and what style of play the Lakers choose to go with. If it is a triangle-style offense or a slower style of play, Vlade, even at 38, would be a good fit. If the Lakers go young and want to run, Vlade may make a better consultant to the team.

That same key question is going to be a part of the determining factor with Walton — does the new coach want him? But the other question is at what price. Other teams will definitely covet his game, but what is the going price for Luke, likely a backup three? What’s more, the Lakers are already are committed to paying Lamar Odom, Caron Butler, Jumaine Jones, Devean George, Brian Cook — all of whom basically play the three and won’t all be traded despite how much some of us would like that. The Lakers are overloaded at forward, and while I’d miss Luke he may have to be allowed to walk.