We’re in the dog days of Summer and the Lakers roster is not yet full. Rarely will a championship squad have a camp invite make its team, so at some point in the next few weeks we can expect the Lakers to add the additional pieces to fill out the roster that it will take into next season. We’ve been discussing the potential names that the Lakers could potentially pick up ad nauseam so let’s not rehash them now. However, the question still remains – who will be the other guys that make up the Lakers?
Sadly, the answer to that question isn’t an easy one. Recently, there have been many names linked to the Lakers but none have actually decided to latch on to a ready made championship team. Raja Bell. Matt Barnes. Even Jeremy Lin. All of these guys have been discussed as options and all of them are likely to be on another team’s roster next season. But why? I mean, why wouldn’t a player – whether a veteran or a youngster – want to join a team where he could potentially win a championship, play with fantastic teammates, be coached by Phil Jackson, all while living in Los Angeles?
The answer is quite simple, actually.
Money and minutes. These are things that matter to free agents and the Lakers don’t have enough of either to really offer any new addition.
From a money standpoint, the Lakers still have the remaining portion of their mid-level exception – approximately 1.7 million – and still have the ability to sign players for the veteran’s minimum. However, salaries starting at less than 2 million dollars aren’t exactly the most popular thing going right now. We all know that the Lakers are looking for another wing and a big man, but look at what the guys that play these positions (and were essentially some of the last serviceable players on the market) are signing for right now. Matt Barnes – before a salary cap miscalculation – was about to sign with Toronto for 4.5 million a year. Raja Bell signed for 10 million over 3 seasons. Brad Miller signed for 15 million over 3 years (though the 3rd year is only partially guaranteed). CJ Watson just got offered a 2 year, 6.5 million dollar contract by the Bulls and will be signed and traded by the Warriors to Chicago. What do all these guys have in common besides being good fits for the Lakers that will be playing for other teams next year? They’ll all be making double (or more) what the Lakers could offer them after they inked Steve Blake to his 4 year/16 million dollar deal. Essentially, the Lakers were never going to get any of these guys because their price tags were too high.
And what about from a minutes standpoint? Well, it’s not much rosier for players looking at the Lakers from that side of the equation either. When looking at every position, the Lakers just don’t have a lot of minutes available for any new player. At point guard, the Lakers are looking at a combo of Fisher and Blake. Any minutes that they don’t play will likely go to Sasha ( or if Shannon Brown returns, he could play these minutes). At shooting guard, the Lakers are more than set with Kobe playing anywhere between 30-40 minutes in every game that’s not a blowout and the remaining minutes will go to Sasha (or again, if Shannon returns those minutes will be his or we could even see Artest play some minutes at SG). At SF, there’s Artest who will sop up those same 30-40 minutes that Kobe plays at SG with it very likely that Kobe will be the primary back up at SF if Walton isn’t healthy next year. If Walton is healthy enough to play he’ll cut into Ron/Kobe’s minutes at SF and if Ebanks develops at a reasonable rate he may even see some minutes next year. At PF and C, the Lakers will go with their typical rotation of Gasol, Bynum, and Odom. You know, the front court that has helped lead the team to back to back championships. When looking at the Lakers’ rotation, where will the minutes come from? During blowouts? If an injury happens? With the hope that Phil cuts back on the court time of Kobe and/or Artest? While some of these things are possible and others may even be likely, it’s not like there’s a guarantee of firm playing time out there.
So really, who’s going to join the Lakers with no set in stone commitment to minutes and with a starting salary that any team can offer? That’s the real question here. And the answer is one that so far isn’t easy to decipher. I mean, even Jeremy Lin saw the potential squeeze on both the money and minutes side when the Lakers couldn’t guarantee as much of his first year salary should he get cut and the Warriors have an opening at back up point guard. This is why, at least from my perspective, the prospects of Shannon Brown and/or Mbenga/Powell coming back increase by the day. These are guys that have established roles with the team and may eye a return if the market doesn’t warm up for them. In the end though, whoever signs on with the Lakers for the final two or three spots on the roster will have to face the stark reality that they’re sure to be low salaried players that may not see much court time. And when us fans look at the situation that way, we may want to readjust our mindset about who will be joining the team before training camp.