After manufacturing a blockbuster trade to land Steve Nash this month, the Los Angeles Lakers have one of the strongest starting line-ups in the NBA. Unfortunately, when analyzing the team's players six through twelve, it's a dire situation.
During the 2011-12 campaign, the Lakers bench ranked dead last in scoring and was a constant source of weakness during the compressed 66-game season.
Even Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak plainly acknowledged the need to improve his bench during an NBA TV interview at this year's Summer League in Las Vegas.
So who is returning? Who is leaving? Where do the Lakers need help?
Let's take a look at the Lakers' current bench scenario.
When combined with the starting five, 11 players are under contract for next season.
It's unlikely the six returning bench players will be activated on the twelve-man roster any given night, particularly the three players participating in this year's Summer League (Morris, Goudelock, Eyenga).
But with eleven player commitments, there just isn't much room for management to re-work the team's bench.
Prior year bench players Matt Barnes and Troy Murphy are not expected to be re-signed by the team.
Currently, there are three players that have yet to be signed to deals but are within the Lakers bubble: free agent Jordan Hill and 2012 Draft Picks Darius Johnson-Odom and Robert Sacre.
Lakers management would like to re-sign Jordan Hill after he established himself as a formidable force on the glass for Los Angeles last season, but it's not clear whether Hill wants to pursue a more lucrative contract from another team through free agency.
Should Hill bolt for a better offer, the Lakers will immediately sign Sacre as the team's back-up center.
The Canadian-born seven footer has been one of the few bright spots for the Lakers during their 2012 Summer League campaign with his energy, physical presence, rebounding ability and surprising mid-range game.
Johnson-Odom, on the other hand, has been inconsistent in Summer League but still has the opportunity to impress at Lakers training camp before gaining a contract for next season.
Taking these factors into consideration, the Lakers bench would look disturbingly similar to last year's second unit, save for the absence of Barnes, Murphy and Jason Kapono.
Depending on game match-ups and the team's nightly positional needs, the Lakers' bench will be filled out by any one of the following combinations:
|Back-up PG:||Steve Blake|
|Back-up SG:||Andrew Goudelock/Darius Johnson-Odom|
|Back-up SF:||Devin Ebanks|
|Back-up PF:||Josh McRoberts|
|Back-up C:||Jordan Hill/Robert Sacre|
|Back-up Util:||Darius Morris/Christian Eyenga|
What's troubling with this lineup is the lack of veterans outside of Blake and the lack of scoring production.
The second unit is full of role players without a vital nucleus for whom to support.
Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak is hamstrung by the new CBA in what he can offer free agents given the Lakers' position as a luxury-tax-paying team.
The team can offer a mini-mid level exception of $3.09 million for up to three years or the veteran's minimum of $1 million per year to acquire a player in free agency.
This doesn't rule out the possibility of a trade, but the Lakers would likely have to give up one of their tradable assets (read: a starter) to get a meaningful player to anchor the bench given the unattractive salaries of their current bench players and the tendering of draft picks in the recent Steve Nash, Ramon Sessions, Jordan Hill trades.
With role players aplenty, the Lakers bench needs a playmaker.
Free agents available per NBA.com's tracker that fit the bill are, in no particular order: Grant Hill, Josh Howard, Antawn Jamison, Nate Robinson and Delonte West.
These are players that can produce easy points and make plays for their teammates.
Realistically, the likelihood of these players accepting a deal from the Lakers depends on the quality of offers they receive from under-the-cap teams and their willingness to accept a smaller, shorter contract from the Lakers in the hopes of winning a championship alongside Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and company.
It's clear the Lakers are in "win-now" mode given the moves and non-moves they've made during summer.
The team leveraged four future draft picks to bring in Steve Nash and have kept (for now) the largest money makers on the roster in the face of an escalating luxury tax beginning 2013-14.
Their window is laced with even more urgency after Kobe Bryant recently spoke about retirement during an interview with Yahoo! Sports, saying he may consider hanging up his Nikes after the remaining two years on his contract expire.
In light of these circumstances and his frank admission of needed improvement from his bench, Mitch Kupchak will surely make more moves this offseason to strengthen the bottom half of the team's roster.
If he's able to acquire Grant Hill, Antawn Jamison or another sought-after playmaker, Kupchak will have delicately danced with the NBA's new labor restrictions on his way to one of the more successful offseasons of recent memory.