Beating Dancers Into Plow Horses

Kurt —  June 16, 2005

Update: If you’re looking for more of what’s next with the Lakers, Eric Pincus has his latest story up at Hoopsworld. Among the things he’s reporting is that the rumored trade of Devean George, Slava and a second round pick to Indiana for the #17 pick and Jonathan Bender will happen before the draft. Now, back to my origional post…

“This roster has too many dancers and not enough plow horses.”

That was Phil Jackson’s comment about the Laker roster while being interviewed on 1540 The Ticket Wednesday by Jennie Buss and Kurt Rambis (Jackson had to face Larry King-quality softballs from that pair). While he did not get pressed for details, he did lay out some vision for the future.

He talked several times about the need for defense and toughness, the need for plow horses to guard and get rebounds and not just score. Also, this will not be your year-2000 triangle offense, Jackson said that without Shaq there will be a lot more flexibility, diversity and new wrinkles in the Laker game plan. (As a side note, he said the triangle with Shaq was effective but predictable, the ball went into Shaq in the low block and what happened out of that was simplistic but hard to guard. The wide ranging potential of the offense will be explored now, he said.) Phil envisions a team with a number of interchangeable parts — a host of players between 6-5 and 6-10 — who can fill various roles on the team. As I said before, that sounds a lot like the early 90s Bulls to me.

In that light, below is a list of players — some Lakers, some free agents and some potential draft picks — with a little speculation as to what the return of Phil and his new look triangle could mean.

Kobe Bryant: One interesting thing Phil said about the much-discussed relationship between the two — in addition to the usual “there is a lot of trust built up” and that he and Kobe will be fine. What is important to the success of the team is how the rest of the teammates perceive the relationship between the two. Kobe is the leader on this team and if the other players see Kobe and Phil getting along and Kobe following Phil’s direction, they will fall right in line.

Brian Grant: It took only a couple of minutes into Phil’s welcome back press conference to call him out. The 2002-03 Grant — with his 50.9% shooting percentage, 1.10 points per shot attempt and impressive 18.3% rebound rate — would be the perfect plow horse along the Laker baseline in the triangle. The problem is the Lakers have a $14 million a year contract with the knees of the 04-05 Grant. He may not start, but the Lakers need to get 20 minutes a night from him. My guess is what Phil wants out of Grant is to be a one-year stopgap — give us one more solid year. The following year that enormous last-year contract becomes trade bait. This year Phil needs it not to be dead weight. Grant may be working at it but I’m not sure how much Lakers can expect.

Lamar Odom: He’s the other dancer Phil is going to ask a lot of. He is going to get put in better situations scoring — he’s got to respond. And his defense has got to improve. Phil is going to give Lamar a chance, but if he falls short he’s on the trading block at the end of the year if not earlier.

Vlade Divac: Another potential stop gap if the Lakers can’t find a better and younger defender in free agency or the draft. The last seven games of the year, when the Lakers showcased Divac in the triangle, his passing from the high post made it hum, so having him back is not the worst idea. He may also be trade bait.

Eric Snow: While we’re talking stopgaps, this is a name that has been bandied about. He is a tall (6-3) point who can be a solid defender and passes well (career 9.1 assists per 48 minutes), but is not a great long-range shooter (career 21.7% from three point range) and doesn’t get to the line a lot. Also, he is a 10-year veteran whose numbers dipped last year — was that a result of situation or age?

Sasha Vujacic: He’s tall and an interchangeable part that can play back up for either guard position and his passing will fit the triangle. I’d love to see him get his chance, starting at about 15-20 minutes a game, but he’s got to learn to defend (that means getting stronger, too). If he is a defensive liability his minutes will fade, play well and they likely go up. Sasha, if you’re reading this, stop right now, go eat a steak and then head to the gym.

Deron Williams: My guess is the point guard out of Illinois is the point guard Phil most wants out of the draft, but it’s only going to happen if the Lakers trade up. He’s 6-3, 200, can shoot and runs a team well, and played well in the NCAA Tournament. There are questions about his quickness, and with that ability to defend, but he did test well in Chicago, being as quick as Felton (according to ESPN).

Raymond Felton: I think the Tar Heel point guard going to have a good NBA career, I love his quickness and athleticism, but that career will not be as a Laker. 6-0 is not big enough for Phil.

Chucky Atkins: I think Phil might be willing to trade him for a rack of basketballs. I know I am.

Earl Watson: Fast, fun, fan-friendly point guard. Also very short. Not going to happen in Phil’s world.

Luke Walton: This may be an interesting dilemma. Phil obviously loves Walton’s hoops IQ and the way he fit in the triangle — when was the last time Jackson have that much playing time to a rookie? But, Walton is a free agent at a position the Lakers are already overloaded in. Also, Walton’s defense has never been spectacular, solid but nothing special. If they resign him he’s going to get a fair amount of playing time which means other guys (Devean George, Jumaine Jones, Slava) may be out the door in trades, or at least spend a lot more time in the Paul Shirley role (without the blog).

Brian Cook: Maybe the best example of a dancer and not a plow horse, a 6-9 power forward who took 47.2% of his shots from beyond the three point arc. Now defense and rebounding matter most, so expect his minutes to drop. He’s also trade bait.

Sean May: While some mock drafts have the Lakers looking at May, he is a low-post only guy who isn’t going to block a lot of shots in the NBA. I think he can have a decent NBA career, but doesn’t fit the mold of what (I think) Jackson wants to build.

Kurt

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