With Andrew Bynum injured, there have been numerous recommendations as to what the Lakers should do to fill the void that seems to have been left in the paint. Although Pau and Lamar are able to really finesse the game, there is a lack of physicality that A-Train was able to provide.
So, with this new realization, what is Phil Jackson left to do?
Let's look at a couple of possibilities:
1) Is it possible to have Pau and/or Lamar play a more physical brand of basketball?
Probably not. If this were to occur, it would severely throw off the games of each player. Both players rely on length and sleek movement to play the game of basketball.
Although each pushes seven feet, they play more like 4's rather than 5's, and against some of the more powerful centers in the league, that is a problem.
2) What about acquiring a new player on a short term contract?
As good as this sounds, it's much more difficult than it sounds. The Lakers do not have a great deal of cap space, so if someone is picked up, they would have to exist under that.
Furthermore, just who are you going to go out and get for a short term contract that can actually play? And, tell me who has ever been able to come into the Lakers' triangle system and pick it up right away?
There is no one available that fits the physicality and mental awareness needs and requires the league minimum.
3) Let's put Josh Powell in at the 5?
At 6'9" and 225, it would be a real problem to have Powell try to cover the 7'0" and 7'1" centers that are in the league. Also, is he really up to the challenge of having to cover the more dominant centers in the NBA? He plays extremely well and should be playing more minutes but isn't the answer that the Lakers need.
4) Leave it all on the shoulders of Chris Mhim?
Probably the best idea yet. Chris has been a starting center for the team and has the height to compete. However, Chris hasn't had the minutes for years now.
Also, he tends to lack the more physical level of basketball that they need. In my own opinion, I think that Chris is actually a great starting center or someone to come in and take over for Pau.
He tends to play the same kind of ball that Pau plays, just not quite at the sophistication level. He also seems to lack the weight and strength to really cover the inside and dominate with physical play.
The Lakers need a guy who is not afraid to throw out a couple of good hard fouls on some of the more dominant players in the league and a guy who will make everyone else think twice when they start driving into the key. As much as I like Mhim's play, he's not the guy.
5) Play DJ Mbenga!
Exactly! He's a 7'0", 255 pounds, eighth degree black-belt! Here's a guy who knows how to be physical. I think that a lot of us write Mbenga off because he lacks the offensive skills that we have now come to expect from our centers in Los Angeles.
We want our center to be a 20 and 10 guy at least.
With Mbenga, you aren't going to get that. But, what you will get is a solid seven rebound night, with a block or two, and a real physical presence.
I'm not saying that Mbenga should be the starting center for the LA Lakers, but I think if you bring him in at strategic points in the game, maybe when the other team is starting to show that they aren't afraid of the Lakers and feel like that are playing soft, he could be quite beneficial.
Tell him to sit in the center and clog up the middle. Make them pay if they are going to drive the lane. Now, I'm not talking about intentionally trying to hurt someone, but if Mbenga has to pick up three hard fouls to make a point, then I say he should make them.
Think of DJ as an enforcer, like in hockey almost. Here is a guy who's job it is to protect the skill players on the team. If a guy throws a hard hit on a star player, that guy knows the enforcer is now gunning for him. The enforcer understands that's his job—extracting revenge and then spending two minutes in the box.
This is what the Lakers need from Mbenga. When the other team feels that they can push the Lakers around and control the game via physical play, DJ comes in and states with his play, "hold on a second there, I'll put you on your ass."
Let me once again reiterate, I'm not talking about dirty basketball, just good, clean, hard-playing, physical basketball. This is what DJ could really do to help the Lakers.
So now, it's up to Phil Jackson. He himself has admitted that the Lakers, at times, need a more physical brand of hoops. It seems to me that if your star center is not in the line-up, it might be time to activate the guy who you have wearing a suit at the end of the bench.
Put him in and give him a good 10-12 minutes a game to really show what he can do. So far this season, he has played in just a handful of games, and quite honestly, has shown some promise.
DJ may never be an all-star center, but he may just be what the Lakers need as they advance further into the second half of the season. Let's hope Phil decides to roll the dice on the experiment.