To be honest, I was never really concerned with Derek Fisher leaving the Lakers. The Lakers were the team that could offer him the best situation – the most money (if needed), the leadership role, the offense that maximizes his skill set, and the coaches/teammates that he was comfortable interacting with. Really, no other team could combine all of these factors and even if the Lakers played hard ball with his salary “demands”, the other factors were sure to provide a pull that other teams just couldn’t match. Plus, Fisher’s relationship with that Kobe guy is pretty strong and in the end it was that relationship that tipped the scales in the Lakers’ favor.
We all know what Fisher provides so I won’t explore that too much here. And though I will say that while Fisher is clearly on the decline, he’s still the exact type of player this specific Lakers team needs. His ability to play crunch time minutes and hit big shots in the clutch is second to only Kobe Bryant on this team. And when you look around the league, there may be other superstar caliber players you’d want with the ball and taking that last second jumper, but I struggle to find another role player that I’d prefer to have taking that big shot to tie or win the game. The trust that his teammates have in him is second to none and his ability to say the right thing to inspire his mates is alone worth the salary the Lakers will pay him over the next three seasons.
And while we can go back and forth on whether or not a three year contract is the most prudent deal for a player that will soon see his 36th birthday, understand that his deal will essentially keep this Lakers championship core together for extended runs with Kobe, Pau, Bynum, Artest, and Odom. The Lakers will have their core 6 players for at least next season and the one beyond that and locking up one of the key leaders for that stretch was imperative. And while the contract details are not official, if the deal is in the 3 year/$10.5 mil as has been reported (with the 3rd year being a player option), I think that’s a fair contract for what Derek provides to this team. Sure it’s a step up from the reported $2.5 million that was originally offered, but it’s not so far above that it can’t be explained by PG still being a position of need and the fact that the Lakers are retaining a player that hasn’t missed a game in 5 seasons while providing some discernible skills and a bunch of intangibles that have directly helped this team succeed to the level that it has in the past three seasons.
But now that Derek is back in the fold, what is next for the Lakers? The team now has 9 players under contract (Fisher, Kobe, Artest, Gasol, Bynum, Odom, Blake, Sasha, and Walton) and has two rookies that are performing well in the Vegas Summer League (more on them in a future post). If both the rookies make the final roster after training camp – which is looking more and more likely by the day – then the Lakers have to add at least two more players to reach the mandated league minimum of 13. As we mentioned this morning, Kobe will meet with Raja Bell tomorrow in hopes of convincing him of joining the Lakers as a reserve wing player. Many have mixed views of adding Bell, but I’m not one of those people. While Bell is older, he’s a defensive player that is a very good three point shooter. He’s tough minded, has the experience of making deep playoff runs, and is has the skill set to play SG and SF for the Lakers and could even play some PG in a pinch. Plus, I think it’s key to note that Bell didn’t play many games last season (6 total) and that means he’s essentially a year younger (in basketball years) than his age. He did not take a pounding last season and missed games not due to a leg injury, but to his non-shooting wrist. I’m quite confident that he can return to the form he showed two seasons ago where he averaged over double digit points, shot over 40% from 3 point range, and still played quality defense.
I know that many are looking for a “slashing” wing that can play off the ball in a manner that exploits the attention that the Lakers’ marquee players demand. However, the Triangle offense is one predicated off spacing combined with movement off the ball. This means that having a better shooter on the floor allows for Pau/Kobe/Bynum to have more space to operate while also allowing all the off-ball movement to flow better because defenses are forced to play tighter on the perimeter. So, guys like Odom, Bell (potentially), Artest, Sasha, etc will be able to move off the ball more freely and still be able to cut off the ball to good results. Slashing doesn’t have to be the strength of someone’s game for them to still take advantage of the extra room generated by dominant players that demand double teams combined with strong shooters on the wing. This is why, I’m more lukewarm on Matt Barnes (though I think he too would be a solid addition) because even though he is a player that moves well off the ball, his career 3 point % is over 8 points lower than Bell’s (Barnes – 32.9%, Bell – 41.1%). The extra spacing that Bell provides helps the offense more overall than the better slashing and ability to finish at the rim than Barnes. Defensively, Barnes can guard bigger players as he’s a natural SF that can effectively guard perimeter PF’s like Rashard Lewis or Dirk. But Bell is just as versatile as a defensive player as he can guard SG’s and SF’s and can even be used on some PG’s (Andre Miller types, for example).
So if Bell or Barnes is signed (or if Shannon is retained) the only position left is a back up big man that can play PF or C (or preferably, both). As for names available, that list primarily looks the same as it did at the start of free agency – at least in the price range the Lakers can pay. Kurt Thomas, Rasho Nesterovich, Joe Smith or the familiar faces of Powell or Mbenga are still out there. Any of these guys would be solid pick-ups (with Thomas likely representing the best option) and I’m sure the Lakers are working the phones behind the scenes now that Fisher is locked up. The roster is now rounding into shape and for a team that just came off winning its second consecutive title, I think things are coming together quite nicely and I have no complaints with the direction that the team has moved in. Remember, every team is trying to catch up to the Lakers and so far this off-season the team that holds the crown has actually gotten better. I know that Miami and Chicago can say the same but how many other teams can? And while it’s difficult to be satisfied with the off-season always offering the next enticing option, things are progressing nicely, Lakers fans.
Lastly, I leave you with the latest video from LD2K, who has once again put together a great piece – this time on the man that decided to come back and go for 6.