The Lakers are a team in transition, attempting to rebuild — somewhat on the fly — to try and reclaim their status as a top tiered organization that competes for championships. After two very down years, there is some optimism they have taken some positive steps in the right direction with the hope the on court product will reflect that via an improved record and more competitive play.
In reconstructing the roster, the Lakers have done some purposeful acquisition of specific player types. Yes, they tried to fill positional holes in trading for Roy Hibbert and by adding Brandon Bass and Lou Williams in free agency. But what these players bring in skill is also replicated in what they can provide a locker room via good attitudes and a willingness to help the youngsters on the roster.
That latter piece is important and should not be discounted. Go back through the interview archives of nearly every great player and you will find they had one or more key veterans influence their development via mentoring. Kobe talks about Byron Scott. Kevin Garnett talks about Sam Mitchell. The other day, on NBA TV, I heard Reggie Miller talking about how John Long played this role for him when he was a rookie with the Pacers. The list (surely) goes on and on.
Getting back to the Lakers, then, it’s easy to imagine this has played a role in some of their acquisitions. We often talk about Kobe as a mentor, but he’s also an iconic player and that can complicate things. Young players inherently look up to a player of his stature, so his words do carry extra weight. However, a player like Kobe also brings with him a burden of high expectations which can be difficult to live up to. I want young players learning the game from Kobe, but it’s also often players of a lesser stature who have traveled a different path through a long career whose voices lend a different perspective which has great value.
This brings me back to players like Williams and Bass. These players have carved out long careers — both are 10 year veterans — mostly as role players who didn’t always have the security of knowing they’d stick in the league. Both were 2nd round draft picks who had to scrap to find a role and then continue to perform at a high level to remain rotation players. Having these types of players share their tricks of the trade and impart their knowledge onto young players can have as much (if not more) a lasting impact than when a HOF player teaches you the ropes.
In saying that, however, one has to wonder if there’s a balance that needs to be struck. Said another way, is there a point when you have enough of these mentor-type players? And when a front office is putting together a roster, how much weight should they place on a player’s ability to serve in this role versus what he might provide on the court?
Recently we discussed the Lakers’ continued interest in Metta World Peace through the lens of how he can, potentially, aid in Julius Randle’s development:
I see value in having a player like Ron mentor Randle. The former built a career on being a fantastic two way player who thrived defensively against some of the best players of his generation. If he could impart some of that wisdom via mentoring in practices, on the bench, and through spirited competition, that is worth something. Whether it would be worth more than investing in a young player who may not have that same experience to impart, but could have more game to offer on the floor next year (and, potentially, beyond) also has some value.
As has been reported, MWP and Randle have been working out a lot this summer. How much are these lessons worth? Depending on your answer, enough to continue this relationship into camp (via an invite to Hawaii) and/or into the regular season with a roster spot?
The Lakers are in the unenviable position of being a bad team with high expectations to be good again quickly. One lesson about bad teams is that every roster spot is meaningful towards the goal of no longer being bad. Competition at all spots promotes the concept that the cream will rise, ultimately producing the best roster possible. This should, then, translate to better results on the floor.
This, though, isn’t the only path. Player development isn’t always linear and doesn’t always come from simply playing against the best players in practice every day. Contributing to a player’s success is also how quickly he can adjust to the game mentally and how well he can translate what he’s learning in practice, film sessions, and off-court conversations with more experienced players into repeatable actions in actual games.
Sometimes, then, might it be better to have a veteran player help to impart that knowledge more than it might help to have a hungry young player raising the competition and level of play on a daily basis? If the answer is yes, to what degree is this true? Enough to sign an extra veteran? Two extra ones?
I don’t have the answer to this question, but I imagine it’s one the Lakers are asking themselves right now. Not just with whether or not they should sign MWP, but on the flip side, of whether signing a player like Robert Upshaw is worth the potential trouble.
With camp starting in a little over two weeks, I think we will have some answers to how the Lakers view this pretty soon.