Roster Construction & The Window For A Championship

Darius Soriano —  August 22, 2011

The Lakers remain one of the elite teams in the league. Among the chief reasons for this fact is the wealth of talent they possess at the top of their roster. With a core of Kobe, Pau, Bynum, Odom, and Artest the Lakers possess 5 of the better players in the league at their respective positions (yes, I include Artest here as his defense is still elite level and defense is half the game). And, even though I’m a firm believer in intangibles like chemistry and leadership, talent is still the foundation for every championship roster.

When you look at that list of players, however, you see duplication of skill set and position:

  • Kobe is the starting shooting guard, but his next natural position is small forward.
  • Artest is the starting small forward, but has been used as a small ball power forward in recent seasons.
  • Pau Gasol is the starting power forward but moonlights as the back up (and sometimes starting) center.
  • Lamar Odom is the back up power forward but could lay claim to being one of the best 10 players at that position in the league and has played extremely well whenever he’s asked to start.

When put in these terms, you see 4 of the Lakers best five players and most of their minutes are spent playing 3 positions on the floor (SG, SF, and PF). In terms of allocation of resources and optimization of minutes, this isn’t a formula that is ideal. Sure, the talent level is what you’d want but finding the appropriate number of minutes for these players while maximizing the talent on the floor can be a challenge.

When you throw in Andrew Bynum, the equation gets even muddier. Bynum is, by all accounts, a top 3 player at his position in the entire league. He’s one of the last “true” centers in the game and possesses an already advanced skill set that he’s still improving on. He needs court time to flourish; the Lakers want him on the court to help them win games. However, when he’s on the court, one of the other Lakers’ best players is almost certainly on the bench.

Thus, the question must be asked: are the Lakers properly constructed to maximize their ability to win a title?

This is a complex question that needs to be addressed from several angles.

First off, the Lakers are only one year removed from winning the championship with this exact core of players. This is obviously a formula that works. If you look at the world champion Mavericks, you see that they too built their team around versatile size that could match up with the Lakers and other contenders around the league. (Chandler and Marion were off-season additions and Haywood was re-signed that same off-season. When you add in Dirk, you have a four man big man rotation that was surely put together with beating the Lakers in mind.) It’s irresponsible to ignore these facts if you’re talking about the Lakers’ roster and whether or not they can win with the group they currently have.

However, the fact remains that the Lakers still have an issue with resource allocation. They’re built around the skill set of Kobe Bryant and the presence of 3 versatile, skilled big men. But it’s becoming clearer that those three big men (either by design or through bias) can’t play together and that Kobe’s game is evolving into more of a big man’s game in the body of a shooting guard. This leaves the Lakers few rotation choices and ultimately finds them having to make decisions on who of their best players play, rather than simply making sure their best players take the floor together. When you add in the overlapping skill set issues alluded to above, you have another tangential issue that is inescapable.

What complicates the Lakers’ issues further is the fact that the Lakers often get substandard production from at least one position on the court (point guard) and none of their best players are natural candidates to play this position. The Lakers, then, not only end up without their best 5 players on the court at the same time but also end up playing one of their weaker players due to the positional need of having a point guard on the floor. Essentially, they’re falling short on both sides of this equation.

This brings us back to square one.

The Lakers have a closing window of time to compete for a championship. The age and accumulated minutes of their best player(s) make this an undisputed fact. They have a core of championship quality players that have been to the mountain top before (and are good enough to get there again) but a group of role players that may not be up to the challenge as they have been in years past. Furthermore, that core group of players includes positional and skill overlap that leads to line up inefficiencies and, thus, not as good a team playing at any given moment as is possible. Meanwhile, the group of role players includes guys that bring intangibles to the table that every championship team needs.

If you’re the Lakers, do you ride with this group as it is now to give them another shot at the ring that eluded them this past summer? Or, do you make a trade to balance out the roster; a trade that creates more efficient line up possibilities – even if that trade lessens the overall talent on the team?

I’m on the record as a supporter of approach number one but there is validity in approach number two.

Make no mistake, though, the window is closing. Next season (whenever it starts) and the year after that mark the Lakers best chance of winning with a core built around Kobe Bryant. The answers to these questions of roster construction will play a crucial part in whether or not the Lakers win. And while their may not be a correct answer, we all have an opinion. What’s yours?

Darius Soriano

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18 responses to Roster Construction & The Window For A Championship

  1. Honestly, we have enough “intangibles” to form an all-John Wooden team. The question is, we need some tangible help re: perimeter shooting, point guard position, and a 2 guard back up.

    I agree with you Darius about Kobe getting better suited to play the small forward position. Watch him at the Drew League (granted it’s a pickup game), but he just killed Harden and others from the post position. The question remains, how do we put Kobe in the post more without reducing the efficacy of Gasol and Bynum’s game?

    I think the underrated need on this team is a competent 2 guard who can defend, but most importantly shoot well from the perimeter, especially if Kobe is in the post more.

    I also wonder when the best time to make roster moves will be. As of now, Bynum and Odom are under contract, but will be team options the year after. I really do not foresee (especially with the new CBA), the Lakers keeping Bynum, Odom, Gasol past 2012-13, assuming we pick up Bynum and Odom’s contract. A lot of tough questions, especially since the team is somewhat adrift due to the lockout, new Buss regime, and Mike Brown. Uncertain times.

  2. I personnally believe that our current roster remains competitive, however, with the change of coaching staff and a shortened season, now is the time to retool for the future. Its is true this team has plenty of talent and experience but has lost the athleticism that made us unstoppable. What we could really do would be to make some moves to bring in some youth. Moving LO now that his value is as high as it can be to bring in some new energy.

    (edited for trade speculation)

    And allow the two rookies to develop in the D-Leauge alond with Derek Caracter. This makes us much yonger and more atheletic. Keeps a. Championship worthy core while also providing us with a great deal of versatility and skill for the future as we move away from the Kobe era. All of these trades may not happen but any two would help to make us much younger and improve the longevity of our championship window.

  3. let kobe move to sf, trade gasol for a pg and sg, have odom start at pf.

  4. We have a completely new coaching staff, with a quite different concept of how our offense should run. I say give these people time to work with Mitch and decide how they want to proceed.

    What we fans have to say is just pi*sing upwind.

  5. I had the exact same discussion with a friend a while ago. And my point was exactly your point, Darius. My speech/line-of-thinking was exactly like yours.

    But my friend had a much more simplistic view of the whole thing:

    You see, this team is not exactly build around Kobe. It is build around Bynum. He is the key factor in this topic. The team plays much better with Gasol at the center, with Lamar at PF. But then we loose our secret weapon, Lamar! Gasol is an excelent PF, so makes sense to have Bynum starts at center with Gasol at the PF position, with Lamar coming off the bench.

    Problem is Bynum. He’s so inconsistent, injuries, whatever…It’s been many years since we aquired Bynum and we’re still having these kind of problems. You take Bynum off the equation and voila, problem solved.

    Of course, losing a true center like him is no fun. That’s why we’ve been so supportive. But if you ask me if I’d trade Bynum for Howard, I’d say yes.

    We know what to expect from our players (besides Gasol’s playoffs), even Artest…But Bynum is always a question mark and that’s why we can properly figure this out.

    PG position is a no brainer: just put anybody there. I love Fish, but it’s over.

    Cheers.

  6. We’ve steadily lost perimeter shooting.

    Vlad and Sasha are gone, Trevor was inconsistent but he left when he was hitting 40%, Luke’s 40% is gone, Fisher’s 3pt shooting dropped, Blake and Artest don’t quite shoot as well as they could, and Kobe’s 3pt shooting has always been somewhat streaky.

    We have so much talent but lack one of the biggest weapons in today’s NBA. So that is what I would address. Getting perimeter shooting.

  7. That is how Dallas killed us, perimeter shooting, and also a speedy midget PG, who could not be stopped for anything. Their bigs also seemed to match ours at every turn. Yes, Bynum is a great ‘true’ Center, when healthy. That is a big if, for him to be playing more than 55 games a season, heck, has he ever done that yet?

  8. 5,

    Magic Phil, how are you doing? NBA lockout is entering a no-news event. Every month that passes by without any movements or negotiation, fans are also getting disinterested with prevailing issues. With the tanking of the stock market, many are becoming poorer from stock meltdown whether players or owners and fans in general. Why not get back to the table and compromise like adults and do something worthwhile to create employment? I think Lakers and other elite teams should exert leadership in ending this lockout. Lockouts are similar to people’s egos, they need constant attention and address to the order of their importance as if the basketball world depends on these warring parties. Wake up! times have changed, jobs nowadays are scarce. If you are earning 7 digits per year, you should be grateful for such blessings. Players and owners should unlock that door to narcissism and find ways to make livelihood work or make the team profitable.

    Lakers lost the season because of complacency from the players standpoint that they can always win championship without the need of a good, fast and sharp shooting PG. From the standpoint of the front office, that they managed to win b2b so they don’t really need a veteran PG but just a tweak by getting Blake, unfortunately Blake did not deliver and the killer B’s 3 pt shooting disappeared. Second point, Lakers were terribly slow in transition defense which already manifested in first half of the season. After the ASG, the 17 straight wins buoyed their spirit that they can manage to play with their proverbial switch without any need of filling-in the 14th slot. At early part of the season, they even traded Sasha for Smith not interested of help but to save money. Finally, the contagion of complacency, over confidence, injuries converged when they faced Dallas. End of three peat opportunity and also the cockiness.

  9. Darius,
    That was a great post. I’m not too worried about skill overlap as our five best players have diverse skill sets that are somewhat different. Kobe is a skilleded perimeter player, Artest is a power perimeter player, Odom is a stretch 4, Gasol is a finnesse PF, and Bynum is a true Center. That sounds perfect to me. Because we don’t have a PG it makes it seems like there is more overlap than there really is because of that giant hole. I know it’s strange that I demand a new PG while being one of the biggest supporters of not trading anyone PF our top players. I just think it’s so easy to add an average NBA PG via free agency/the draft/minor trade it does not make sense to give up the sixth man of the year. Having said that, the only guy I would trade Lamar for is Monte Ellis. He is not just an average PG. He is a star player in this league who would add what Kobe used to… A penetrator/athlete. If he was on a good team that could play defense and be able to guard PGs instead of SGs he would be known as a better version of Tony Parker instead of a bad version of Allen Iverson.

  10. Back to the prior thread for a moment. Artis Gilmore. 80-81, 547-816 from the field. Not every year that someone’s FG% is .670. Followed that up the following year with a 546-837 (.652). Ended up with 6 consecutive years with a FG% over .600 and would have had lucky no.7 but for the .597 in the 7th year there. His career FG% by year:

    1971-72 ABA .598 (1)
    1972-73 ABA .559 (1)
    1974-75 ABA .580 (2)
    1975-76 ABA .552 (2)
    1976-77 NBA .522 (10)
    1977-78 NBA .559 (3)
    1978-79 NBA .575 (4)
    1979-80 NBA .595 (3)
    1980-81 NBA .670 (1)
    1981-82 NBA .652 (1)
    1982-83 NBA .626 (1)
    1983-84 NBA .631 (1)
    1984-85 NBA .623 (2)
    1985-86 NBA .618 (2)
    1986-87 NBA .597 (2)
    Career ABA .557 (2)
    Career NBA .599 (1)
    Career .582 (2)

    So I won’t say who I’m drafting in round 1 of the legends fantasy draft, but it won’t be a big man in the middle as you’ll all overlook ole Artis and I’ll take him late in our draft (on that stupid fan poll thing there on Basketball Reference, he ranks in the low 80s, the spot right behind Lamebeer (spelling errors wholly intentional on my part))(what in Deity’s Name are some thinking…must not trust the bitches). Lastly, you can simply call ole Artis the most efficient 18 PPG scorer in the history of the game. For a bonus freebie or two, wasn’t a bad rebounder and shot-blocker either:

    Total boards:
    1971-72 ABA 1491 (1)
    1972-73 ABA 1476 (1)
    1973-74 ABA 1538 (1)
    1974-75 ABA 1361 (1)
    1975-76 ABA 1303 (1)
    1976-77 NBA 1070 (3)
    1977-78 NBA 1071 (4)
    1978-79 NBA 1043 (2)
    1980-81 NBA 828 (7)
    1981-82 NBA 835 (8)
    1982-83 NBA 984 (4)
    1984-85 NBA 846 (9)
    Career ABA 7169 (2)
    Career NBA 9161 (42)
    Career 16330 (5)

    Blocks:
    1971-72 ABA 422 (1)
    1972-73 ABA 259 (1)
    1973-74 ABA 287 (2)
    1974-75 ABA 258 (1)
    1975-76 ABA 205 (3)
    1976-77 NBA 203 (4)
    1977-78 NBA 181 (5)
    1978-79 NBA 156 (10)
    1980-81 NBA 198 (4)
    1981-82 NBA 220 (3)
    1982-83 NBA 192 (4)
    1984-85 NBA 173 (5)
    Career ABA 1431 (1)
    Career NBA 1747 (21)
    Career 3178 (4)

  11. Bon jour from Paris. It’s not my call, but I think this kind of (very fine, btw) post necessitates trade speculation (I’m referring to the editing of #2). Otherwise, the argument is purely theoretical…

    How can one argue for retooling without giving some credible sense of what that might look like?

  12. We have to address the point guard situation and the only way I see that is through a minor trade with Cleveland that involves the trade exception and Caracter (since Cleveland traded away JJ Hickson). All other additions would be through free agent signings. There are enough bigs and back-up two’s that could make us more competitive than we were against Dallas.

  13. #11. Yes, I understand that this thread leads us down the path of *how* to improve the roster. That said, I made a moderation decision based on the ridiculousness of the trades proposed in that comment. If you want to know the essence of the trades (he included four separate deals) they were this:

    Odom/Walton for Varejao/Sessions/Boobie Gibson

    Shannon (signed & traded)/Artest for Beasely/Anthony Randolph/Martell Webster

    Blake/Barnes/2 2nd round picks for Wilson Chandler

    Sasha’s Trade Exception/A 1st round pick for Tayshaun Prince/Austin Daye

    You see why I edited it? These trades don’t even work under the OLD collective bargaining agreement.

    As an aside, I’m all for a discussion on how to improve the team and what players are candidates to be traded/acquired to do so. But trades like the one I edited down do no one any good. They’re fantasy trades. We may be in a lockout, but I’d still like to deal with rational thought (even if the players & owners are not).

  14. I feel that our formerly “decisive” interior advantage is something that our opponents have successfully game planned. However, the team continues to believe that all we need to do is pound it inside (which we did with Gasol to no avail). Dallas packed the interior, and other teams will do so in the future, ergo, the need for outside shooting. However, our only assets are the aforementioned bigs, whom many Lakers fans are reluctant to give up in a trade (i.e. Sasha TPE for Prince, Blake/Barnes for Chandler, the Odom trade proposal is so patently unrealistic, etc.).

    Unless Mike Brown is willing to modify the team’s concept (let Kobe post more since he doesn’t have the elite athleticism to blow by his man every time anymore), we will IMO run into the same problem next season. The question remains, have the Lakers figured out that the better teams have “figured” us out?

  15. It’s time for us to consider moving one of our bigs. I’m not going to get into trade proposals but I’ve been a believer since the 2009-10 season that Kobe needs to be a high post player ala MJ 1996-98. His game is big man efficient from 18 FT and in and we saw that when Gasol was out to start the season.

    We don’t know how the CBA will shake out but the priorities for this team, IMO, is getting a shooter who can hit 38% or so from the PG spot and a slashing guard/wing to relieve Kobe of having to create for others. In short, I think we need to try to structure this team similar to the late 90’s Bulls with a playmaker, defender on the wings (Igoudala?) and shooters. Maybe a trade involving Bynum for a wing and physical backup center and fillers to make it all work?

    C: Gasol
    PF: Odom
    SF: New wing/Artest or Kobe?
    SG: Kobe or new wing
    PG: Blake (who I think will be better in a traditional offense/Three point sniper

    I’d be fine with losing Bynum’s unknown potential (and unreliable health) if it means maximizing the Kobe, Gasol, Odom window.

  16. 15,

    Xodus, nice to hear from you again, unless of course you’re the different Xodus I used to blog with.

    Well, moving Bynum is like moving El Capitan at Yosemite Park. He is embedded with the Lakers as long as Jimbo is alive. Some fans are dreaming that he will replace Kobe as the Lakers franchise player. I wish he can meet those expectation with those weak knees.

    I hope Goudelock and the other new PG which I already forgot due to long lockout will pan out. Perhaps, that is the blessings of PJ’s departure, the rookies may play meaningful minutes. You bet they will make rookie mistakes but at least there is new vibrant energy on the court not the same slow oldies.

  17. Hey, Edwin,

    I’m definitely the same Xodus from the old K-Bros-run Lakers blog. Good to hear from you too. I think the most likely scenario is that Blake starts. I think playing in a traditional offense will help him. He’s a better player than he showed last season and I do expect him to hit a good % of threes.

  18. I suppose it’s debatable whether or not this roster has too much overlapping skill sets, they clearly have not figured out to integrate them optimally.

    But I don’t think it’s debatable that the areas on the court in which they operate the best have too much overlap.

    If Kobe is going to post up more, they really need at least one of Gasol and Odom to be a consistent three point threat to stretch out the defenses. Otherwise it’s going to get even more crowded inside. While I think that both of them are capable of that (Lamar did do fairly well at that last season), I think it’s unlikely at this stage of their careers that they will put in the effort to develop that. Assuming that isn’t going to happen, I agree with Xodus’ suggestion. (Hi, Xodus and Edwin.)