The Lakers’ roster, for all intents and purposes, is nearly set. The point guard position is settled between the Steves and the big man rotation is set in stone with the addition of Antawn Jamison and the return of Jordan Hill to team with mainstays Gasol and Bynum. Add in Kobe and Ron and the Lakers already have an eight man rotation that, on paper, look to be better than last year’s.
However, when scanning that list of players, you’ll notice that the Lakers are still light on the wing. Kobe and Ron can’t be expected to play 48 minutes a night and will need capable back ups to give them the rest they need. Devin Ebanks is expected to return on a one year deal but is not yet signed. (Side note: one reason that Ebanks may not yet be signed is the fact that it frees up a roster spot for the team to make a trade. There are other reasons as well, but having that roster flexibility gives the Lakers options while also allowing Ebanks to continue to work the market to find a higher bidder. While that’s not likely to happen, it’s a win-win for both sides to remain patient here.)
But, even with Ebanks’ anticipated return, the Lakers still find themselves wanting a wing. Devin has shown promise but is still mostly a small forward that lacks polished guard skills to be a full time back up to Kobe. Finding a player that can spell #24 for fifteen minutes a game is imperative; the Lakers simply can’t have Kobe logging heavy minutes next season as he did this past one.
Over the last several weeks, however, the wing market has started to dwindle. The better options – OJ Mayo, Courtney Lee, Brandon Rush – were all signed for more money than the Lakers could spend. Delonte West signed for a reasonable price, but stayed with the Mavs where he’s found a comfortable environment. Ronnie Brewer also signed for a reasonable price but did so with the Knicks where his defense will be needed. The market wasn’t incredibly stacked to begin with, so what remains is a list of flawed players that the Lakers are combing through to try and find a good fit at what they’re willing to spend (reportedly, only the minimum).
So, who’s left? I’m glad you asked…
- Jodie Meeks, SG. Meeks has been linked to the Lakers in recent weeks. He’s a shooting guard only, can hit the three point shot with relative consistency, and is a respectable defender. He offers little positional versatility, but is very familiar with playing SG both as a starter and as a reserve so he could slide right into his role with the Lakers without missing a beat. He’d have value simply as a floor spacer who can play off a penetrating guard or strong post up threats.
- C.J. Miles, SF/SG. Miles’ name has also been linked to the Lakers lately. Miles offers a good all around game and the potential for strong defense, which is where his upside may actually lie. Per My Synergy Sports, Miles’ defense in isolation and in guarding spot up shooters is on par with Ron Artest. And while I’m not putting Miles in Ron’s class on D (Ron guards the opposition’s best wing nightly and plays heavy minutes as a starter), Miles’ size and solid athleticism gives him a solid foundation on that side of the floor. His offense has been in decline for the past several years, however, and one has to wonder if he really did peak in his 3rd and 4th seasons or if his dip in numbers have come with him being asked to do more than he could handle and then, last year, with the emergence of younger players in Utah that disrupted his role.
- Leandro Barbosa, SG/PG. Barbosa is another player the Lakers are reportedly chatting with. He’s still a very good scorer that can create his own shot in both open and half court situations. He can come off picks and shoot jumpers when working off the ball and can still handle the ball in P&R situations to get into the paint. His offense would be a nice boost to the bench. However, what he doesn’t bring is defense. Anyone that watched the Pacers play the Heat in the playoffs this past season saw Barbosa struggle on that end of the floor with his coaches often making offense/defense subs late in the game to keep him off the floor when his team needed stops.
- Carlos Delfino, SF/SG. If you’ve been watching the Olympics, you’ve likely seen Delfino playing well for his native Argentina. He’s flashed the ability to knock down outside jumpers and has used his size well on defense. As a combo wing, Delfino could back up both SG and SF and he has enough skill with the ball to play in a two guard front or on the wing. Defensively, he’s average but, statistically at least, looks to be a better option at SG where his size lends itself better to taking away driving lanes while still being able to contest shots.
- Mickael Pietrus, SG/SF. Pietrus remains on the market, with whispers that he’s looking for more than a minimum level contract. He could still return to Boston but the additions of Courtney Lee and Jason Terry (to go along with Avery Bradley) soak up a lot of the SG minutes, making Pietrus more of a back up SF to Paul Pierce. What he offers on the court is good defense, streaky shooting, and good competitiveness. He’s been battle tested through hard fought playoff series over the years and has shown not to be afraid of the big moment. He can play behind Kobe or next to him and, like Delfino, would provide a nice option if seeking lineup versatility.
- The remaining list of available guys includes Michael Redd, Tracy McGrady, Gilbert Arenas, and Matt Barnes. I’d scratch Matt off the list right away as it seems he and the Lakers are both ready to move on from their two years together. As for the other three, they all offer various skills but in older, worn down bodies that really can’t be relied on to remain healthy. They offer more wattage on the marquee than they do on the big stage and at this point in their careers are only part time contributors, not the major part of a rotation that the Lakers need.
The top three guys are all ones the Lakers are linked to, but to be honest, any of them would be a fine get. If I had to rank them in order of my preference it would look like: Meeks, Delfino/Pietrus, Miles, then Barbosa last. Meeks’ shooting, youth, and history playing for a defensive coach in Doug Collins gives him the edge for me. As for Delfino, Pietrus, and Miles, they’re all pretty similar prospects and I could live with any of that trio. They all over okay shooting, solid to good defense, and some playoff experience. Leandro simply doesn’t play enough defense for my tastes though I know his shot creation would be useful, but ultimately I’d prefer those other guys ahead of him.
Understand, however, that all of these players are flawed. There’s a reason they’re all still on the market at this stage of free agency and that they’ll all likely sign for the minimum (or a shade more). They’re not complete players by any means and will have bad nights that have fans scratching their heads. That said, the Lakers don’t need a lot from any of them. 15-20 minutes a night of solid play where they stick to their strengths and play within their roles will do just fine. And, sooner or later, the Lakers will likely have one of them in house hoping they do just that.