The Lakers had one of the most eventful off-seasons in the entire NBA. Not only did Dwight Howard walk, but Metta World Peace, Antawn Jamison and Earl Clark will also all wear different uniforms next season. Add in the minor departures of Chris Duhon, Darius Morris, and Andrew Goudelock, and the team’s roster has once again turned over by nearly half.
In seeking to replace the players that have departed, the Lakers did well in grabbing several low cost veterans who not only have something to prove, but can provide various levels of usefulness to a team that needed a lot of every type of skill imaginable to improve the core of the roster.
The major upgrades came on the perimeter where *Metta, Duhon, Morris, and Goudelock have been replaced by Nick Young, Jordan Farmar, and Wesley Johnson. Of the four former Lakers, only MWP was a viable rotation player while the hope is that all three of the new group will see some playing time and contribute to the team’s success. But, while the new trio on the wing look to provide a solution to last season’s quality issues on the wing, they also create a new problem that will need addressing.
In a chat with ESPN LA’s Dave McMenamin, Jodie Meeks touched on it some when discussing his role on the team:
As this upcoming season approaches, all Meeks wants is that opportunity again. “In the exit interview I sat down with Coach [Mike] D’Antoni and [general manager] Mitch [Kupchak] and they just said I need to come into training camp basically hitting the ground running because we’re not sure when Kobe will be back exactly,” Meeks said.
Not that the job is automatically his in Bryant’s absence. In the offseason the Lakers signed Nick Young, a talented wing player who is a natural shooting guard but could be relied on to play more small forward with Metta World Peace now in New York. They also brought in Jordan Farmar, who can play both guard spots. And of course there are still the Steves — Nash and Blake — who will command minutes in the backcourt.
Even though D’Antoni has vowed to play an 11-man rotation next season, Meeks knows that it’s not realistic to think all six guards will get consistent playing time.
It’s that last point that sticks out like a sore thumb. Let’s face it, last season, while they had some tangible use on the floor (Morris was one of the better perimeter defenders on the team, Duhon proved to be a capable shooter), some of the guys who saw minutes on the perimeter should not have been playing. Them being in the lineup at all was due to the rash of injuries that hit the team’s back court, but that doesn’t change the fact that it would have been preferable those guys not see minutes.
Next season, though, the team shouldn’t have that problem. Of the three new signees, only Johnson has yet to prove himself as a viable rotation player, but as a former high lottery pick with physical tools to impact the game (especially defensively) he’ll be given more rope to pan out as a contributor. With Farmar and Young, both of those players are fringe starters and quality backups who, while possessing faults and holes in their games, can soak up minutes when asked.
The question, as Meeks points out, is whether there will be minutes to soak up and, if there are, how many there will be.
As McMenamin points out, the team already has Nash and Blake as key contributors. At some point, Kobe will be back in the fold and take his place as an anchor in multiple lineups. Combined, those three players will likely snatch up anywhere from 60 to 75 of the 96 minutes at the two back court positions. That number can be adjusted by sliding Kobe up to SF, but that then creates a bit of a log jam at that spot since it’s very likely that Young and Johnson will see the majority of their minutes there.
Looking ahead, this has the potential of being a real issue for Mike D’Antoni to work through. It’s easy to see the merits of why most of these guys should see floor time. Nash and Kobe are team stalwarts. Blake is coming off his best season as a Laker and took well to D’Antoni’s schemes. Farmar brings a combination of skill and athleticism that no other point guard brings. Young offers scoring punch and a very valuable skill in shot creation. Johnson has the most defensive potential. Meanwhile, Meeks, while streaky, has the best three point stroke and has shown he can knock down open shots.
Add in the fact that, regardless of what he says about an 11 man rotation next year, D’Antoni has often found ways to keep his rotation short and there’s a strong possibility one or more of these players gets squeezed on minutes and ends up with a string of DNP-CD’s. My guess would be that Johnson and Meeks are the most likely candidates for that distinction, but only time will tell. But, regardless of who its, that’s just one more variable for D’Antoni to manage in a season, even with diminished expectations, will offer plenty of hurdles to clear.
*As I’ve written before, Metta will be missed as a key defensive player who still had some offensive pop to his game. So, it remains to be seen if Young (or Johnson) can really be an upgrade to what he brought to the team. That said, MWP’s transition to more of a small ball PF was already well underway last season and, I believe if he’s not been amnestied he’d likely see more minutes as PF than on the wing. Hence, the point of an “upgrade” may be a moot one anyway.