Archives For July 2010

Jan. 13, 2010: Los Angeles Lakers forward Luke Walton during an NBA game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Dallas Mavericks at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, TX Los Angeles defeated Dallas 100-95.

FB&G continues is player reviews for this past season with Luke Walton.  For a link to Luke’s exit interview, check out Phillip’s post from right after the season concluded.


By any measure, Luke Walton had a disappointing season.  He suffered through a campaign marred by injuries and – when healthy – inconsistent minutes that saw his effectiveness drop from useful to nearly inconsequential on many nights.  For many fans of Walton’s game (like myself) this was a disconcerting year and I’m sure a very frustrating one for Walton himself.  Every player wants to be on the court and for a player like Luke – one that has basketball in his blood – it must of been tortuous to be relegated to spectator status as often as he was this past season.  And Luke was mostly a spectator this season.  He only played in 29 games and saw the court for an average of 9.4 minutes (the lowest of his career and down from 17.9 just last season) in those games that he did play in.

But by all statistical measures (and I’m sure the injuries played a part in this), Luke really didn’t deserve to play many minutes this past season.  He posted career lows in nearly every statistical category.  And while it’d be easy to equate his statistical lows with his reduced minutes, his stats across the board fell in his per 36 minutes averages as well.  Basically, Luke just wasn’t that effective when he saw the court.  Sure, his innate feel for the game and his passing ability were still on display.  And there were many times throughout the season (especially when Ron or the back up guards struggled to run the offense) that fans called for a return of Walton to help facilitate a better flow to the Triangle.  But, as an individual threat, Walton just wasn’t the same guy.  Gone were the effective post ups while operating from the hub of the Triangle.  And his knack for finding creases in the defense for easy buckets underneath also diminished.  This led to his career low in FG% and in his FT rate, and ultimately made his game even more one dimensional (a passer/set up man) than what it’s been in the past.  In order to be a real threat on the floor, every player has to show enough of a well rounded game where he can be a threat from both an individual standpoint and within the team concept.  This past season, Luke just couldn’t do enough as an individual threat to earn floor time.

However, this isn’t to say that Luke didn’t contribute this past season.  As I mentioned, he still did have his moments as a facilitator of the Lakers’ offense.  There were several games this season when Walton’s passing and knowledge of the Triangle helped stimulate the stagnant sets the Lakers were running.  Also, and maybe even more of a help, were Walton’s contributions on the sideline.  While Luke rehabbed his bad back, he often sat in on the coaches meetings and charted plays during the games.  This allowed him to be a part of the team and aid the coaches by giving them insight on some of things that he was seeing from the sideline.  And while some may scoff at how important this role is, Tex Winter often filled this same role for Phil Jackson and gave his honest opinion on what the Lakers were doing on the court and what could be done to improve.  And given Luke’s familiarity with the Triangle, filling this role really was an aid to the team while also giving Walton a sense of worth with this group (something that is quite familiar to Phil if you’ve read Sacred Hoops).


For a guy that only averaged 9 minutes a game, it’s tough to find a stand out performance.  However, if I had to choose one game where I think Luke really made an impact, I would choose game 3 of the Finals against the Celtics.  In this game, Walton played a playoff high 13 minutes and was second on the team (behind Odom) with a +13 on the night.  And while his stat line was modest (2 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist), Luke played a very good all around game on both sides of the ball.  In typical fashion he ran the offense flawlessly by moving the ball around the court and consistently hitting the open man helping the Lakers break down the Boston D.  And on the other end of the court he played spirited defense on Paul Pierce by bodying him up and forcing him out of his sweet spots and to where his help was waiting.  Luke may not have been the difference maker in this game (that honor goes to Derek Fisher), but in a crucial contest where the Lakers were looking to take back home court advantage Luke played very well and helped secure a much needed win.  And with Ron Artest struggling mightily in this game (23 minutes, 2 points, 3 rebounds, 1 assist, -13 on the night), Luke’s timing in having a good game was also quite important.


Going into next season, there are more questions than answers about what role Walton will play with the team.  By all accounts, his injured back is a real issue and there may be tough decisions ahead on whether or not Walton can even suit up for the team next season.  But don’t take my word for it, take Lakers’ GM Mitch Kupchak’s:

It’s not your run of the mill type back problem. We don’t know where it’s going to end up. He’s a gamer and he loves to play. He wants to be a part of the team, and he’ll do whatever it takes to get back on the court. That’s a positive, to have the kind of player that’s motivated to get well. That’s not always the case…The most important thing is that Luke make the correct decision for his life, not for basketball.  The aging process of a healthy athlete is difficult enough as it is. So we counsel Luke, and our trainers do, to try to keep the big picture in the forefront of any decision. But like most young players they want to play. Sometimes they don’t [listen.]

And based off some of the moves that the the Lakers have made this off-season, you can see that contingencies are in place in case Luke can not play.  The Lakers have inked Matt Barnes to be the primary back up to Ron Artest – the role that we’re accustomed to seeing Luke filling.  The team is also in negotiations to bring back Shannon Brown who, while not a SF, is a guy that often plays SG with Kobe sliding up to play small forward.  Lamar Odom also made comments in his exit interview that he’d like to play more SF next season.  And the Lakers drafted Devin Ebanks, a promising prospect that will primarily play SF.  So, realistically, the Lakers may have 5 players capable of playing SF on next season’s roster not counting Walton.  And if all 5 of those players do see minutes at the position (which while not likely, is still possible), that’s quite the log jam of players at a position that Walton sees all of his minutes at.

Whatever next season brings for Luke, I think we can all agree that we wish him the best and hope he has a full recovery.  Yes, his contract is one that is easy to complain about.  And sure, Walton’s limited offensive aresenal (outside of his passing/play making), questionable defense, and injury history make him a whipping boy of sorts for many fans.  However, I’ve always viewed Walton as a player that helps more than he hurts when he’s healthy enough to play.  His feel for the game and his ability to run the Lakers sets give him a value to this team that he likely wouldn’t have with another outfit.  And while that may not appease those that dislike Luke’s game or question his ability as a player, it doesn’t change the fact that Walton is a player that is quite useful when he’s right.  And while I’m not sure we’ll see that player next season, I’m hopeful that he makes a decision that is best for him and his long term health.  If that’s on the court, great.  If it’s not, then I can say that I was a fan of his game and hope things work out for him in whatever is next for him.

Fast Break Thoughts

Phillip Barnett —  July 30, 2010

June 10, 2010 - Boston, MASSACHUSETTS, UNITED STATES - epa02195866 Boston Celtics player Tony Allen (R) tries to stop a drive against Los Angeles Lakers player Shannon Brown (L) during the first half of game four of the NBA Finals at TD Gardens in Boston, Massachusetts, USA, 10 June 2010. The Lakers lead the series over the Celtics 2-1.

*It’s Friday and there still isn’t any word on whether or not the Lakers are going to bring back Shannon Brown, however, Land O’ Lakers have taken the liberty of breaking down all of Brown’s possible options along with the pros and cons of each one. As Chibi mentioned in the last thread, “[it] seems like there’ll be a bit of a minutes crunch at the swing position. If you’re an agent, that could significantly impact a client’s value the next time they become free agents.” Shannon Brown will have these kind of arguments presented in front of him, and he’ll definitely get more minutes with the Cavs or Knicks, but that also comes at a costly price: the opportunity to continue winning. We should know Brown’s decision within a week.

*I really enjoyed this piece, which is also from Land O’ Lakers, on the way the Lakers have slowly changed the image of the franchise from 2008 through this offseason. This shows just how committed the Lakers are to winning championships. Even after winning a title, the Lakers don’t remain content with their basketball team, and just like we’ve been hearing about Kobe for the past 14 years, the Lakers off season has been doing what they can to make the team better. Last season, the Lakers addressed their toughness issue by bringing in Ron Artest. This off-season, they’ve addressed their need for a steady handed back up point guard and more consistency off of the bench. With the signings of Steve Blake and Matt Barnes, the Lakers have addressed those issues and more. It’s all about who can improve in the NBA, and even as two-time defending champions, the Lakers have improved once again.

*Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Times has a piece about how the attitudes of Lakers fans on Ron Artest and Matt Barnes. Media features comments from readers before and after the signing of each ball player. It’s a pretty interesting post and we really get to see how much putting on the Forum Blue and Gold changes the perception of players.

*Lastly, I ran across this piece on Magic Johnson’s business success after basketball from The piece is featured in Success Magazine’s August issue and really highlights Johnson’s business mind. Here’s a small piece of the feature:

Armed with that anecdotal information as well as statistics about the demo- graphic he believed he could open for Starbucks, Johnson requested a meeting with Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz. He showed Schultz that the minority population in America is growing at a rate seven times as fast as the majority population and that African-Americans now spend almost $1 trillion annually. Latinos, America’s largest minority at 15.1 percent of the population, have a spending power in excess of $980 million.

“I asked him if he wanted to leave all that on the table or if he wanted to reach those populations with a partner who under- stood them,” Johnson recalls. “He went to his board and we joined forces.”

Now Johnson’s company owns 125 Starbucks franchises, “and our per capita spending at our stores is outstanding. We proved everyone who said that minorities wouldn’t spend $3 for a cup of coffee wrong.”

June 15, 2010 - Los Angeles, CALIFORNIA, UNITED STATES - epa02204195 Los Angeles Lakers' Andrew Bynum wraps up his leg before his game against the Boston Celtics at the NBA Finals at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California, USA, 15 June 2010. The Celtics lead the series 3-2.

On Wednesday, Andrew Bynum had surgery on his right knee to repair a tear of the lateral meniscus. Dr. David Altchek, who is the Medical Director for the New York Mets and a medical consultant for the NBA, completed the surgery. Andrew Bynum is expected to make a full recovery by the start of the season and is expected to be available on a “limited basis” for the Lakers training camp in late September.

Bynum hurt tore his meniscus in the first round of the playoffs against the Thunder and worked through the pain for the remainder of the post season earning the respect of his teammates and fans alike. He had the knee drained three times since the injury (twice during the post season and once more after the Lakers championship parade). After his exit interviews, Bynum said that “he planned to work out with a Lakers trainer in L.A. and Vancouver following the surgery to rehab his knee and improve his core strength as a preventative measure against injuries in the future.”

This news comes only days after the Lakers released a statement saying that Kobe Bryant underwent arthroscopic surgery on a knee that he also had to have drained during the post season. Kobe is expected to be fully recovered by the start of training camp and has already began his rehab.

Health will be one of the biggest obstacles that the Lakers will have to overcome next season. Getting both Kobe and Drew to take care of their respective knees months before training camp is just one of many huge steps the Lakers have taken this off-season to begin their two-time title defense journey. Taking care of these injuries were every bit as important as brining back Derek Fisher and the signings of Steve Blake, Theo Ratliff and Matt Barnes. It’s hard to be satisfied with every way the Lakers have handled this off-season. If they’re able to bring back Shannon Brown, the Lakers will have essentially done everything they set out to do. Lets just hope for full, timely recoveries.

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By most fans’ standards, LeBron James’ much-ballyhooed departure from the Cavaliers earlier this month not only tarnished his carefully crafted image, but also any notion of loyalty. In fact, if there is one overarching theme to this topsy-turvy NBA offseason, it is probably just that—loyalty. At what point though, are players released from the burden placed by fans and media and allowed to move on to a better opportunity? If a superstar like Chris Paul officially demands a trade from the mediocre Hornets—a team and city he has almost single-handedly revived over the past few years—is he automatically deemed disloyal? To that end, what happens when a less known role player switches teams? Are they spared the wrath of fans’ since they didn’t mean as much to their teams? Were the Lakers virtually obligated to give in to Derek Fisher’s contract demands this offseason out of loyalty to the wily veteran?

While L.A. hasn’t participated in this offseason’s flurry of superstar moves, the acquisition of Matt Barnes, on the heels of last season’s pick-up of Ron Artest—two players that drew the ire of Lakers fans prior to them donning the forum blue and gold—calls into light the nature by which we judge free agents and trades. A little over one year ago, STAPLES Center roared as a belligerent Artest was thrown out of Game 2 of the Western Conference Semifinals. This past season, Lamar Odom and Matt Barnes engaged in a good ol’ fashioned no-holds barred Twitter war after a contentious road game in Orlando. Flash forward one year later and crazy Ron Ron has cemented a [positive] place in Lakers lore and Barnes just wrapped up a two-week romance with Kobe that eventually led to him signing with the Lake Show.

Former foe Raja Bell nearly joined the team in similar fashion this offseason before signing with the Jazz. Laker circles across the nation even raised the possibility of signing hated Celtic Ray Allen with the mid-level exception—the same Ray Allen who almost single-handedly won Game 2 of this year’s NBA Finals and was an invaluable part of the 2008 championship team that bloodied up Kobe and Co.

In 2003-2004, the Lakers signed two of the franchise’s longtime rivals—Karl Malone and Gary Payton—effectively creating one of the first “super teams” of the decade. For years, Malone was public enemy number one in L.A. for his alleged dirty play, yet all it took was a few months for the Lakers faithful to embrace the Hall-of-Fame forward. One of Karl’s former Lakers teammates, Shaquille O’Neal, finds himself in a somewhat similar position this offseason—clearly aging, but still longing to become a part of a championship team. That state of mind has apparently led to the center’s rumored interest in playing for the Celtics—a potentially traitorous development that has angered many Lakers fans. If there aren’t any other viable title contenders who desire his services though, is Shaq a little less disloyal if he winds up in Boston?

Loyalty is undoubtedly an important quality in life and in a lot of ways, sports acts as a microcosm for the world we live in. However, the truth of the matter is that sports isn’t completely reflective of real life, as much as fans want to believe. NBA players and front offices play by different rules and can’t always be held to the same standards. While outsiders may claim the Lakers are hypocritical by signing or trading for players with whom their fans and current roster have expressed wide-spread discontent, the team’s brain trust consistently bases its basketball decisions on whether or not they will improve the team on-the-floor. In that sense, the Lakers straddle the line between allegiance and disloyalty as well as any team, with Bryant taking the lead.

At the end of the day, Kobe respects players like Artest and Barnes for their gritty play, going so far as to tell Barnes via text that if the forward was crazy enough to mess with him, he was crazy enough to play with him. Instead of professing his animosity toward the Lakers, Barnes excitedly told the world just a few weeks later that playing for L.A. was a lifelong dream. Such is the current state of loyalty in the NBA—both for individual players, fans and teams. At times, it is understandably maddening for fans, while others are more forgiving. Ultimately though, it is a subjective business for all parties involved.

Fast Break Thoughts

Phillip Barnett —  July 27, 2010

Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant celebrates after defeating the Boston Celtics in Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals basketball series in Los Angeles, California June 17, 2010.    REUTERS/Alex Gallardo (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

If there is something that never gets old it’s reliving championship seasons. Thanks to Alex Klenert, who worked with Bombo Sports & Entertainment and NBA Entertainment, the Lakers Championship DVD is now available at the or on iTunes. Alex was kind enough to release a couple of previews to the DVD, the first showing the first two minutes of the DVD followed by a clip highlighting the Lakers/Celtics rivalry. Be sure to check out these two previews and grab your copy.

When talking about Ron Artest, I believe that we’ve reached a point to where any conceivable story reported is instantly believable just because of his recent history. He has a remix to his song “Champions with T-Pain”? Where can I download it? He threw a parade in his Queens Bridge hood? I wish I could have gone. He plays dodge ball? How can I watch? The Los Angeles times has a collection of videos that show Ron Artest playing dodge ball. Just watching his entrance, red headband included, is quite possibly one of the funniest moments of my summer. Ron Ron isn’t the greatest dodgeball player I’ve ever seen, but it’s definitely worth the watch if you have the time.

Hoopsworld’s Eric Pincus has put together a nice column about how the Lakers look better on paper than they during their previous two championship ending seasons. With what Mitch Kupchak and the Lakers have done this off season, the Lakers are in prime position to compete for a third straight title. Pincus begins the column by pointing out Kupchak’s early GM mistakes and goes on to say that he’s learned from his mistakes before getting into the Lakers offseason moves. It’s a fantastic read.

Here is a nice fluff piece on Kobe’s time in Beijing, China. He participated in a “talk show-style forum dubbed ‘Kobe 24’” where he answered questions about his athletic exploits, mentoring, street basketball, pressure and constant practice. Forums like this is a huge part of the reason why Kobe has been able to take his brand world wide. The people of China have always been a huge supporter of Kobe and this was a huge gesture to show his appreciation to some of his global fans.

Last, but not least, Matt Barnes was introduced as a Laker today. He’ll wear Nick Van Exel’s old number 9. plan on posting his whole press conference on their website later on today. Last Friday, Theo Ratliff was introduced. You can watch his introductory press conference here.

Lakers I Miss: Rick Fox

Jeff Skibiski —  July 26, 2010

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As this latest potential Lakers dynasty rounds into shape, I got to thinking about one of the most beloved players from the team’s last three-peat bid—Rick Fox. The former UNC grad was a critical component of three championship squads and will always be remembered fondly for his seven years of service with the forum blue and gold. While this current Lakers group relies on the likes of Derek Fisher for locker room leadership, the Lakers teams at the beginning of the decade had several savvy veteran leaders with which to rely—and none with a smile brighter than Mr. Cool, Calm and Collected.

In a true testament to his lasting impact during his L.A. tenure, most fans have either forgotten or are willing to dismiss the fact that Fox played the first six years of his career in Celtics green after being drafted by Boston with the 24th pick in the First Round in the 1991 NBA Draft. During his seven years with the Lakers, Foxy averaged nearly 10 points per game in 25 minutes, while also pulling down nearly four rebounds and shooting 35% from beyond the arc. Though his numbers never quite matched his 15 points per game average in his final year with the C’s in 1996-97, Rick unselfishly took a backseat on offense, recognizing his role in the team’s budding title hopes. However, Fox stepped to the forefront on defense and was one of the premier defenders at his position throughout his career.

Relive some of Fox’s greatest moments as a Laker in this fan video (Sorry for the low quality…I don’t think they had HD during Rick’s day).

His impact on and off the court can’t be measured on stat sheets though, as it was often the even-keeled Canadian small forward who served as a voice of reason when inner turmoil between Kobe, Shaq and the like threatened to derail the team’s title dreams. Like Derek Fisher, Robert Horry and Brian Shaw, Fox also had a knack for performing well in the clutch, even if he doesn’t get as much publicity for his late-game heroics as his former teammates. In fact, the Lakers might not have held on to win their first title of the new decade had it not been for Fox’s key buckets down the stretch of the deciding Game 6 of 2000 NBA Finals against the Pacers. At the end of the day, Fox was a player who was trusted by both Coach Jackson and teammates and you’d be hard-pressed to find a more consummate professional during his 13 years in the league.

Maybe even more than his leadership, fans and critics alike revered Rick for his willingness to mix it up against opponents—most notably in a 2002 pre-season game at STAPLES Center against the Sacramento Kings. Only two minutes into an exhibition game between the heated rivals, Fox and Christie jostled with one another, leading to a memorable fight in the alley on the way to the locker room—a battle that foreshadowed the teams’ epic seven-game series in that year’s Western Conference Finals. Aspiring actor or not, Rick’s grit and flare for the dramatic provided a huge spark for a team whose success hinged primarily on the play of Kobe and Shaq.

Recent additions Ron Artest and Matt Barnes undoubtedly embody a lot of Fox’s strengths, but the uncanny poise and class displayed by Rick still stand out to this day. Fox was a true winner at every level—not only leading the 1991 Tar Heels to the NCAA Final Four, but proving himself as an invaluable piece of a back-to-back-to back championship squad. Though he’s still as visible as ever off the basketball floor, his contributions on it will never be forgotten.

Lamar Odom is surrounded by members of the media at a U.S. national basketball team practice in Las Vegas, Nevada July 21, 2010. REUTERS/Laura Rauch (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

Last night, ESPN2 aired the Team USA intra-squad scrimmage. As you would expect from an exhibition game featuring guys who haven’t spent a lot of time together on the court, the game was rather sloppy and I don’t expect the scrimmage to weigh too heavily on the decisions made by Coach K and Brian Colangelo. Recapping the game won’t be necessary (the white squad won 114-96), but there were a few guys who stood out and made a case for a spot on the team.

* Before I get into some of the players who impressed, I’ll take the opportunity to share a few thoughts on Lamar Odom. Odom went into camp out of shape and hadn’t participated in any basketball related activities since helping the Lakers bring home number 16, and it showed in the scrimmage. LO finished with just two points, six rebounds and three assists (which you’ll see in Kevin Garnett and Derrick Rose highlights later). Odom’s poor showing in the intra-squad scrimmage really doesn’t mean much in terms of him making the squad. From everything that I’ve read, Odom is pretty much a lock to make the team as a veteran presence among a slew of youth. His versatility (he started at center in the scrimmage) and the lack of size on Team USA is coveted by the Colangelo/Coach K brain trust and will definitely make the first set of cuts to be happening on Monday.


* As expected, Kevin Durant had the biggest showing of the bunch finishing with 28 points and player of the game honors. Durant began his night with what was arguably the highlight of the night – a nifty crossover that led to a dunk that set the tone for the white squad – and had a four-minute stretch in the third quarter where he scored 10 of his 28. Durant picked his spots nicely, didn’t force anything and was genuinely enjoying himself out there on the floor. He did have seven turnovers, but it was a sloppy game all around. Only Derrick Rose and Chauncey Billups played more than 20 minutes and finished with no turnovers. Below are a few highlights from Durant’s night.

* Derrick Rose played along side of Durant and also had a fantastic night finishing with 15 points, eight assists, five steals and no turnovers. Rose played a lot stronger than his counter parts at the point guard spot and definitely made a case for not only making the team, but also for starting as he impressed more than the other point guards. Rose’s quickness isn’t news to anyone, but watching how fast he changes direction and his ability to change speeds is still awe inspiring every time you get an opportunity to watch him play. You’d be hard pressed to find a more athletic point guard in the NBA right now. Below are some highlights of Rose.

* Also for the white team, Andre Iguodala impressed with 17 points, six rebounds and five assists. His game was stamped all over the first half with athletic moves to the basket, he hit all three of this 3-point attempts and got to the free throw line six times. Eric Gordon hit four of seven from behind the arc and was 50 percent from the field for the night. I don’t think Gordon has done enough in the past week to earn a spot on the roster, but he did some good things while on the floor in the scrimmage.


* Rudy Gay did a lot of the damage for the Blue Team scoring 23 points and going three for four from behind the three point line (both teams shot over 45 percent from behind the arc). No news, Gay is a terrific scorer and was able to get his points in a multitude of different ways: he hit from behind the arc, was able to create shots off the dribble, scored from the block, got the free throw line seven times and was able to grab a few offensive rebounds (4) and convert those to points. Like Durant, Gay finished with seven turnovers but seemed committed to playing defense, finishing with a pair of blocks and steals. Starting Gay and Durant on the wings would make Team USA awfully long, but bringing Gay off the bench to replace Durant would keep a long, athletic scorer on the floor at all times. I don’t think there is anyway Gay doesn’t make this team. I’ve been having problems getting my Rudy Gay clips up, so hopefully I can have them for you guys at a later time.

* Rudy Gay’s Memphis teammate, O.J. Mayo, also had a strong night scoring 18 points while showing off the clean stroke on his jump shot. There was a lot of talent on the floor, and Mayo didn’t let anyone forget that he was on the floor. He was able to get loose on a few fast breaks and excite the Thomas and Mack crowd with some dunks. Mayo has wanted to play point guard since he was a Trojan at USC, but is finding his game translates better as an off guard with his ability to shoot. He hit a few pull up jumpers and knocked down half of his three point attempts. Mayo highlights are shown below.

* Also for the blue team, teammates Russell Westbrook and Jeff Green both did a lot of good things. Westbrook was a hound defensively on the parameter and finished with three steals to go along with his 14 points. Westbrook is one of the most fearless guys in the NBA and attacks the rim relentlessly. Jeff Green finished with 11 points and a very quiet eight rebounds (second only to Tyson Chandler). If you’re going to make this team, grabbing rebounds is a great way to do it considering Team USA’s size issue.

As I mentioned earlier, Coach K and Brian Colangelo will look to make four cuts on Monday and hope to have their roster down to about 15 by the time they play an exhibition game against France in New York at the Madison Square Garden in August 15. From there, the team will travel to Europe to play a few more exhibition games before the FIBA World Championships start on August 28.

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With a roster as top-heavy as the Lakers, it’s easy to knock the bench for not performing at the same level as the starters. Biases aside though, it goes without saying that the Lakers’ bench struggled at times last season, with Lamar Odom serving as the only reliable force on a team that won an NBA title almost in spite of its sub-par reserve corps. This offseason has brought swift, if not expected change to the forum blue and gold’s roster though, as Mitch Kupchak has masterfully found a way to fill six open roster spots with proven NBA players, while also drafting two promising second-round picks, who both stand a good chance of making the team. Darius posted a great write-up yesterday about the additions of Matt Barnes and Theo Ratliff—two players who, along with Steve Blake, Odom, Sasha Vujacic and the possible return of Shannon Brown, should go a long way toward re-creating the bench mob that propelled the team to an unexpected title run in 2007-08. More importantly, they will allow veterans like Kobe, Artest and Fisher to play less minutes, while also providing insurance against injury. Even though some of the pieces are still moving, we take a look at just how deep is this year’s team is compared to other potential contenders around the league.

Barring any major surprise moves, Boston essentially brings back the same bench that helped them pull away from the Lakers in Game 4 of the Finals last season, minus defensive ace Tony Allen. They swapped out the underperforming Rasheed Wallace for another perennial underperformer in Jermaine O’Neal, though the latter’s more consistent production at this stage of his career should represent an upgrade for the C’s. Boston also re-signed Nate Robinson, who played in the post-season for the first time last year with mixed results. Their overall depth chart took a hit though when starting center Kendrick Perkins underwent surgery nearly two weeks ago that will likely keep him out until next January or February. O’Neal and Glen Davis will certainly help fill that void, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Boston picks up another piece before training camp starts.

The constantly evolving Miami Heat roster has rounded into shape quite nicely for Pat Riley, with the organization successfully luring several former veteran difference-makers to play alongside the Superfriends. Depending on whether or not head coach Erik Spoelstra chooses to start the newly re-signed Carlos Arroyo at the point, the team’s bench will likely consist of NBA journeyman Jamaal Magloire, Udonis Haslem, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, James Jones, Mario Chalmers and Juwan Howard. Mike Miller will fit in there somewhere, but again, that depends on what type of lineup the Heat ultimately decide to use. In any case, the team has flanked Dwayne Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh with savvy veteran leaders who only improve Miami’s status as an instant contender.

The Orlando Magic have operated with arguably the league’s best bench unit for a few years running now and will once again bring back a strong second unit in 2010-11. While the Lakers poached Barnes from Dwight Howard and Co., Orlando added some scoring punch with the additions of Chris Duhon to back up Jameer Nelson and Quentin Richardson as another outside shooting threat. Combined with the newly re-signed J.J. Redick, Martin Gortat and Brandon Bass, the Magic boast an explosive, albeit defensively underwhelming bench.

Fresh off of a six-game series against the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals, the Phoenix Suns will bring back a decidedly different roster next season after the departure of Amar’e Stoudemire, the trade for Hedo Turkoglu and free agent signings of Josh Childress and Hakim Warrick. The moves made by Phoenix after losing Stoudemire have fallen under the radar this off-season, but their roster is still loaded with versatility and adept shooting, not to mention Steve Nash. Phoenix could go with a number of different lineups, but assuming that Nash, Jason Richardson, Grant Hill and Robin Lopez all remain starters, that results in a possible bench of Childress, Channing Frye, Warrick, Goran Dragic and Jared Dudley, with one of those players being used to fill the void at starting power forward. Phoenix will miss Leandro Barbosa, who was shipped to Toronto in the trade for Turkoglu, but they have re-tooled in a hurry and will undoubtedly prove to be a matchup nightmare for many teams.

The Mavericks weren’t able to entice Cleveland into a sign-and-trade deal for LeBron, but they have re-tinkered their roster a bit around Dirk Nowitzki by trading for Tyson Chandler and re-signing Brendan Haywood. Super-sub Jason Terry and the under-used Jose Juan Barea form a potent bench for Dallas that will keep them in contention once again next season. Those pesky Oklahoma City Thunder bring back virtually the same bench that took the Lakers to six games in the First Round last season, led by Serge Ibaka, James Harden, Nick Collison and Eric Maynor. The Thunder traded two first round picks to New Orleans for outside shooting specialist Morris Peterson and promising rookie Cole Aldrich, who will provide much-needed size for Oklahoma City’s undersized front line. San Antonio also improved its front line when Brazilian big man Tiago Splitter, selected by the Spurs in the first round of the 2007 NBA Draft, finally agreed to sign with the team to back up an aging Tim Duncan. The same can’t be said for Denver, who wasn’t able to land the free agent big-man they so desperately needed to sign with their mid-level exception, leading them to sign another one-way player in Al Harrington.

One of the primary reasons the Lakers teams were so successful at the beginning of the decade was the front office’s careful management of the roster around Kobe and Shaq. Flash forward 10 years and the front office continues to support Bryant, Gasol, Bynum, Artest and Odom with key role players off the bench. Moreover, these are players in Blake, Barnes and Ratliff who are hungry for an NBA championship and will surely keep the team’s title aspirations moving along in the same way Artest did last season. Sometimes, a small tweak in personnel here and there is all that is needed when molding NBA benches, but I would venture to say that the Lakers have gone a step beyond that by not only directly addressing their greatest need—point guard—but also signing players like Barnes who will potentially play a huge role defensively against other title contenders’ top threats. Further, Blake, Barnes and Ratliff will add much-needed consistency off the pine—something that Jordan Farmar, Josh Powell, D.J. Mbenga and Luke Walton were never able to provide. The end result is a versatile, complete team that is well-prepared to defend its crown.