Bottoms Up: Building The Strongest Roster Possible

Darius Soriano —  October 16, 2012

Even with a roster as top-heavy as the Lakers — and analysis leading us to look at those new additions — I find myself consistently drifting to the bottom of the roster and looking at those bubble players that are fighting to be one of the final fifteen. Maybe it’s that normal preseason obsession with filling out a team. As friend of the site JD Hastings told me, “figuring out who will be the 14th man seems important until the first game of the season”.

Of course, there’s truth in that. The Lakers not only traded for Howard and Nash but signed Antawn Jamison and Jodie Meeks while brining back Jordan Hill and Devin Ebanks. With these new signings and last season’s holdovers they have built a ten man rotation that should be able to compete for a championship right now. The guys beyond those ten spots are, essentially, filler.

That said, the chief goal of roster construction is to put together the strongest team imaginable. Accomplishing that still means looking at the players performing well in training camp and figuring out who should stay and who should go. And, to be honest, the Lakers are still a team that can use some help on their second unit and filling out the roster with the best players currently on their roster (and learning the teams’ schemes) would aid in that goal. The question then becomes: who should those players be?

At this point, I’m gravitating towards three names: Robert Sacre, Chris Douglas-Roberts, and Darius Johnson Odom.

I won’t spend too much time on Sacre since he’s been a staple of our preseason reports up to this point. However, I will say this again: Sacre has shown through the combination of his size, smarts, and ability to play to his strengths that he belongs on the team. He’s shown that he can easily be the Lakers’ 5th big, dress for games, and play spot minutes if absolutely needed. And that’s before Jordan Hill’s injury put big man depth at the top of the needs list.

Douglas-Roberts has shown that he too is a viable candidate to make the team. His scoring is as good as it was before he left for Italy during the lockout. Plus, the other aspects of his game (namely his defense and rebounding) look to be improved from when he last suited up in the association. I won’t bore you with specifics (at least not at this point), but will simply say that CDR understands offensive basketball at an instinctive level. He takes naturally to concepts like spacing, timing, and the ability to move around the floor that other players never do show. Some things just can’t be taught and some of those things are a staple of his game.

As for Johnson-Odom, he’s a guy that, plain and simple, is a hard-nosed basketball player at its most fundamental level. He plays defense, will attack his man on both ends without hesitation, and seems to know how to make the play in front of him even if not always successfully. His fundamentals are good enough to play in the league and his desire is more than enough. How that translates to a career when his plus athleticism doesn’t quite make up for his lack of ideal size at shooting guard remains to be seen. But if you asked me if I see him in the league in five years my answer would be yes.

The issue with pointing to three players I’d like to see make the roster is that the Lakers don’t have three roster spots to hand out. In fact, at the most they have two and depending on how they feel about Andrew Goudelock they may only have one. This puts the team in a (relatively small) dilemma if they want to have the best roster available to them. At least based off what we’ve seen so far this preseason.

Logistically, here are few things worth mentioning:

  • Andrew Goudelock is the only returning player with an non-guaranteed contract.
  • Every other contract on the team counts against the cap and the luxury tax whether the Lakers waive them or not.
  • Of the players outside of the presumed ten man rotation, only Darius Morris ($937K this year) and Earl Clark ($1.24 million this year) have zero guaranteed dollars next season.
  • Chris Duhon’s deal is partially guaranteed next season ($3.68 million this year).

The Lakers already have a $100 million payroll before paying a penny of luxury tax. Cutting a player on a guaranteed deal costs them double (due to the tax) as will any player signed in that released player’s place (again due to the tax). Is any combination of players to cut — Clark and/or Morris, for example — when swapped for a player to potentially keep — CDR and/or DJO — worth that hit?

I’m never one to spend Dr. Buss’ money. He’s shelled out top dollar for a team that has three of the league’s five highest paid players, including the highest paid one (and by a healthy margin). The expectation is that they’ll try to pay Howard the max after this season for several years more while still having Kobe and Gasol on their books and paying Nash nearly ten figures until he’s 41 years old. Asking ownership to shell out more money now — especially on bottom of the roster players — seems like a special type of greed that I don’t want to be associated with in the least.

However, the Lakers are in also in a position where certain players at the bottom of their roster actually look like they should be on the team over guys that have guaranteed contracts. And this isn’t exactly new territory. Last season, the team lacked depth/relied on unreliable players on the wing while Gerald Green put up strong numbers on the D-Fenders. Ultimately, he received a call up to the Nets that he parlayed into a contract with the Pacers this off-season. Hindsight says he should have been a Laker taking some of Kobe’s 38 minutes a night or serving as another wing to challenge for minutes when Barnes got hurt/lost effectiveness.

This season shouldn’t offer those same issues in terms of overall team quality. This roster seems stronger. And filling out the bottom of it at this point in the preseason could just be that thing that we spend time on that won’t matter in three weeks. Still, I find myself looking at these guys and hoping they find a way onto the team. And that gets complicated rather quickly.

*Derek Fisher is player who also fits into this discussion so let’s touch on his status now. With news that he’s eligible to join the Lakers immediately rather than March of 2013, some wonder if he’d be a good option to join the team. I’m not one of those people (though arguments that he could help in some ways aren’t lost on me). Fisher’s past contributions to the Lakers are well documented and greatly appreciated by everyone (especially me). However if you’re of the mind that Fisher could help the team in some capacity as an on floor contributor, the numbers game discussed above is still in play. Do you cut a player with a guaranteed contract to sign Fisher? Do you work on a trade to free a roster spot to sign him? Do you value him more than Sacre or DJO or CDR? The answer to those questions may vary based on how much you value his tangible and intangible contributions but he’s still on the outside looking in as of today and the same complexities apply. At this point, I don’t see adding Fisher as a priority and think there are bigger issues to work out before it should even be considered.

Darius Soriano

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20 responses to Bottoms Up: Building The Strongest Roster Possible

  1. If the Lakers somehow are restricted to only being allowed to take one spot, I think they should consider the idea of maybe placing Sacre/DJO in the D-League to let them both continue their development as a pro.

    Keep CDR despite Sacre being the camp favorite because I feel that the potential contributions of CDR outweigh both Sacre and CDR.

    As a wing with some length, CDR has so much potential to be an effective piece to the Lakers Championship puzzle. I also take CDR because I am not yet sold on the Ebanks/Meeks combination. Lakers have enough bigs, and enough PG’s.

    Let the young guys (Sacre/DJO) develop as I assume they wont be called up by a league team baring some amazing showing in the D-league.

  2. I feel like I’m watching a horror movie with DFish relentlessly stalking the Lakers. He shows up at the Laker facility to practice, than declares he is eligible to join the Lakers. If the Lakers do not sign him, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him sneak into the locker room after Laker games and start acting like he belongs there.

  3. Add Derek as a strength and conditioning coach… but not as a player.

  4. @ 2
    Could you blame him, this maybe the best assembled team in NBA history. Fish is a smart man and loves rings just as much as Bean.

    but NO on him on this team.

  5. I love Fish. As much of his character as I can know from the other side of a TV, I like very much. His past contributions to the Lakers and the game are greatly appreciated. I appreciate the leadership he displayed, both for the Lakers and the union. He seems a good man and is a classic Laker. He is a legendary role player, but that is all in the past. It makes no sense to add payroll on a team of veterans with one more veteran. Nash is a leader. Kobe is a leader. Gasol has been through the championship runs, both in the NBA and in international competition. Dwight was the franchise player for a team in the finals. Ron is Ron. Jamison is trying to figure out which leg to lean on last. Blake has been around. The only team that needs veteran leadership less are the Knicks. So, considering all that, what the hell do the Lakers need a player that will cost them payroll space and only provides what they have plenty of. If we are spending Buss’ money, I would rather spend it on some youth and athleticism.

  6. lil pau (from last thread),

    I thought the same thing myself, that Fisher’s agents were the ‘reliable sources’ in Marc Stein’s article. I just wish these journalists wouldn’t use leverage PR from either team or player to sell their stories. I’ve worked as an editor in print and TV news, so I won’t tell you it doesn’t happen all the time in “real” journalism (because it does); but it still angers me when I see it. As much as possible I try avoiding ESPN because of their lack of journalistic integrity (although truehoop is decent and the network is even better, thanks to FBG:).

  7. @2 – LT gets the comment of the week.

  8. its Buss’s money. but if fisher does no harm to the team, I would love to have him as a player-coach.

  9. The speculation surrounding CDR and DJO lends some credibility to the rumors of the Lakers looking for trade partners for Duhon and Blake. Teams with a blend of experience and an infusion of youthful energy are tough outs. Hungry ballplayers like Sacre and the initial guys (CDR & DJO) can really inject some life into a team. I think if it weren’t for monetary considerations, these three players would make the team at the expense of Duhon and Blake. Not trying to sound cruel, but I hope Mitch K can reach into his bag of tricks and make Chris and Steve disappear.

    As far as Fish is concerned, I’d love to see him retire and begin a coaching career with the Lakers. He doesn’t have enough left in the tank to warrant a roster spot, IMO.

  10. I hope CDR makes the team for his potential scoring and he can get his own shot. Last year the bench was too methodical having to run offense to score points. When the Lakers had a good bench guys like Lamar, Brown (sometimes frustrating because of over dribbling but could get his own shot off the dribble), Farmar, Sasha at times all could score off the dribble from the perimeter off the bench. That was lacking last year. I think CDR would be aggressive and attack the defense.

  11. Love the article – as you point out it’s easy to become concerned with the 11-14th man now but in the regular season they likely won’t play and may not even dress on a regular basis.

    Trades:
    If the Lakers do not want Blake/Duhon, why would anyone else unless they are getting something back in the trade? I cant see the Lakers including a 1st round pick with either Blake or Duhon because they have already given up 3 in acquiring D12 and Nash. I know that Mitch has pulled off crazier trades before but I just don’t see it happening.
    I could see the Lakers trading away Morris for a 2nd round pick. Morris has some upside so I could see a team taking a chance on a PG like Morris if all it costs them is a 2nd round pick. If the Lakers could trade away Morris then they could keep CDR or DJO in his place and be cost neutral.

    Roster:
    Sacre is pretty much a guarantee
    I would like to see them keep CDR (as insurance for Meeks and Ebanks) and DJO (youth, athleticism, PG defense)

  12. DF: Whatever logic was used to completely ignore B Shaw for the head coaching job would certainly be used to NOT put DF in any coaching job. Talk about ties to Phil which are clearly being avoided. Having him back as a player is actually more possible. This is a commentary on both our back up PGs and the FO desire to not associate with PJs coaching in any way.

  13. Way prefer Odom over Morris.
    Have to keep Duhon in case of injury to Blake or Nash.
    Not really a place for Gog if you spent money on Meeks.
    Need Sac as back up to start season.

    As for Fish YES bring him back. As head coach!

    I will taunt Mike b tonight.

  14. Now I’m picturing a young “energy lineup” of DJO, Meeks/Ebanks, CDR, Hill and Sacre. Just let them get out and run for 4 minutes a half. I wouldn’t want them playing anyone’s starters for very long, but against the other team’s bench, I’d be okay with it. Put them in the last two of the first/first two of the second quarter, give the old men a long breather on the bench.

  15. The dream solution would be to trade Blake, Duhon, and Clark for a great backup pg, making room for CDR, DJO, and Sacre–and maybe even Derek Fisher!

  16. No on Fisher.

    If I recall correctly, he was one who balked at MB’s coaching decisions and almost engineered a strike/mutiny.

    I’m sure there are people who would LIKE that, but that would just cause too much mayhem. Kobe, Pau and Nash all understand that their clock is ticking, and that’s partially why (I’d imagine) that they’re giving MB a chance. I seriously don’t want anything jeopardizing this.

    This is independent of what he could contribute on/off the floor.

  17. We, as fans, are again looking only at this year. While players 13-15 on the roster may not add any real depth for this year, we are still working with a 2 year window. After that, we may really require some inexpensive help that we have developed ourselves – that is where most of the less expensive help comes from.

    Mitch has to keep all this in the back of his head, while grabbing the ring the next two years.

    These developmental players may need to be on the roster, because we can’t stash them in the D-league without exposing them to other teams, unless we also keep them on our roster.

    IMO, G-lock is not going to make it this year because he isn’t as valuable as the other young players to our future and he doesn’t look to be able to contribute this year. Maybe the Clark injury can open another spot. And maybe we can trade Duhon for a 2nd round draft choice.

  18. Great post Darius – agree with everything you said. I wish we can find a team out there that will take Duhon and Clark for a trade exception.
    My “third” 5 would be: DJO, CDR, Sacre, Morris and Goude.

  19. Good post. Covered a lot of what I’ve thinking about.

    Craig W – I think that my dream would be dealing Duhon (or one of the other surplus guards… or Clark) for a 2nd rounder.