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.