Projecting L.A. Lakers Starting Lineup, Post-Peak Free Agency & Summer League
With Summer League over and free agency winding down, many teams' rosters have started to take shape for the 2012-2013 season. Among those clubs is the Los Angeles Lakers, who despite persistent rumors of a certain Orlando big man coming to town, look to have made the majority of their moves for next year.
Coming off a disappointing postseason run, L.A. has retooled their roster, adding Steve Nash via sign-and-trade and remaking their bench in order to address their desperate need for production outside of the starting five.
Los Angeles is still one of the league's more veteran teams, featuring a number of experienced players who have dominated during their time in the NBA, but the team's roster could feature some very intriguing youth and project players who may be asked to contribute next season.
Bearing in mind that there is always the potential for an unseen development, let's take a look at what the Lakers' roster should look like when the first tip off occurs at Staples Center.
Point Guard: Steve Nash
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In one of the most shocking moves of free agency, Los Angeles brokered a sign-and-trade that brought Steve Nash to the squad, according to ESPN's Marc Stein. The Lakers were always murmured about as a dark horse for Nash's services, but few thought they seriously had a shot at reeling in the two-time MVP over the Toronto Raptors and New York Knicks due to their lack of financial flexibility.
Despite turning 38 in February, Nash still had an extremely effective year averaging 12.5 points, three rebounds and 10.7 assists, good for second in the league. In addition, he shot 53.2 percent from the field and 39 percent from three-point range, picking his spots extremely wisely.
L.A. has not had an elite point guard during the Kobe Bryant era, but finally the team has a phenomenal facilitator and someone who can maximize the talents of the team's prized big men. Nash is great at running the pick-and-roll and both Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol have shown they can be very dangerous as the roll man going to the basket.
Nash always seems to understand his teammates and where to get them the ball. Hitting Bynum and Gasol on the low block instead of on the perimeter will be instrumental in the team's success next season.
In addition, he gives the team a lethal shooter in their starting lineup. Nash will help to space the floor and get plenty of open looks thanks to the attention his new star teammates create on offense.
However, he is still a tremendous defensive liability, as his quickness has declined and he is not a particularly strong perimeter defender. There are also questions about how he and Bryant will split ballhandling duties, with Nash dominating the rock during his time in Phoenix.
Despite these few concerns, the team managed to bring in an outstanding lead guard that should bring the potency back to Los Angeles' offense and re-establish the team as title contenders.
Shooting Guard: Kobe Bryant
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No matter what changes the Lakers made this offseason, there was no question that Kobe Bryant would be back in purple-and-gold. Even at 33 and dealing with a litany of injuries, Bryant still averaged 27.9 points, 5.4 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game, narrowly losing the scoring title to Kevin Durant.
Bryant will remain the team's first option on offense, even with Nash coming to town and the continued improvement of Bynum. His ability to score in isolation is unmatched by anyone in the league and his bevy of moves off the dribble make him a nightmare to cover.
Over the past few years he has developed a killer post-game and has worked on his fadeaway in order to preserve his legs. Despite issues about shot selection and calling his own number too often, but he is still an electric scorer capable of going for 40 on any given night.
Playing alongside Nash, Bryant will have to spend less time with the ball in his hands. Bryant is excellent at cutting and finding space, so while it may take some time he will certainly be able to make the adjustment.
He is still a very good three-point shooter and will be able to spot-up on the perimeter and help to open the floor along with Nash, giving L.A. tremendous outside shooting in the backcourt.
Defensively, Bryant is still one of the best perimeter defenders in the league. He has great discipline and strength, not allowing drives and forcing contested shots.
Though he may have to rely less on isolation scoring and defer a bit more than usual, Kobe will again be a phenomenal two-way player and one of the league's best.
Small Forward: Metta World Peace
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If there is a positional Achilles heel for this Lakers team, it is the small forward spot. In all likelihood, Metta World Peace should be the starter when the season tips off. Despite not being the same player he used to be, MWP is still a capable contributor.
He averaged 7.7 points, 3.4 rebounds and 2.2 assists last season while shooting just 29.6 percent from three and 39.4 percent from the field. He spent some time playing off the bench in 2011-2012, but ultimately his defense is too valuable to use off the bench.
World Peace, even at 32, is still a very solid, versatile defender. He can guard the 2, 3 and 4 positions because of his strength and ability to force turnovers. Though he is not particularly long, he is extremely physical and can also guard the post at times.
He had a down shooting year, but MWP is usually a capable three-point shooter, which is all he will be asked to do. Los Angeles is a dangerous team when he is stretching the floor effectively, as defenders cannot cheat off of him for double teams.
Of all the starters, World Peace will likely play the least minutes, especially with Antawn Jamison coming aboard. He is not the athlete he once was and often struggles to put points on the board because he cannot create his own offense.
However, the need for a perimeter stopper will keep Metta World Peace as the starting 3 at least for the time being.
Power Forward: Pau Gasol
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Though his name was mentioned in a slew of trade rumors, it appears that Pau Gasol will start the season at the 4 for the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Spanish big man is one of the NBA's most versatile frontcourt players with his ability to score in the post or on the perimeter, pass the ball and attack the glass.
Last year, Gasol averaged 17.4 points, 3.7 assists, 10.4 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game and connected on 50.1 percent of his attempts from the floor.
During his time with the Lakers, Gasol has never played with a passer of Steve Nash's caliber, but now he and Nash can run high screens and a deadly pick-and-roll/pick-and-pop play thanks to Gasol's ability to finish at the rim and hit jump shots.
He is not a tremendous athlete, but Gasol runs the floor well and is quick enough to play both forward and center depending on what kind of lineup Mike Brown wants to use.
He is a solid shooter, but last season spent too much time away from the basket given his abilities on the block. He has a number of moves in the post and is a difficult cover thanks to his length. He is also an aggressive rebounder that can make an impact on both the offensive and defensive glass.
Coming off of a disappointing postseason run, many believed he had played his final game in a Los Angeles jersey, but he is still a top power forward in the NBA, an All-Star caliber player and should have another strong season for the Lakers.
Center: Andrew Bynum
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One of last season's most improved players, Andrew Bynum had a breakout campaign as he was fully healthy for the first time in years.
Standing over seven feet tall, Bynum is one of the most physical big men in the league and can simply overpower opponents with his strength and length.
Last year, his first as an All-Star, Bynum averaged 18.7 points, 11.8 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per contest while shooting a blistering 55.8 percent from the floor. He became the Lakers ' second option on offense and was able to stay out of foul trouble and maximize his time on the court.
Like Gasol, Bynum is not an outstanding athlete but he is a handful to contain around the basket. He has improved his post offense, even hitting the occasional midrange jumper, and does not rely as heavily on pure muscle as he has in the past.
Defensively, his timing and size make him an excellent shot-blocker and he anchored a formidable L.A. defense last season. Bynum is able to cover teammates and protect the rim well throughout the course of a game.
He needs to work on reacting to double and even triple teams by seeing the floor and making the proper pass, but Bynum should benefit greatly from Steve Nash's presence as he can get him the ball in his spots on the court.
Obviously it's possible that the Lakers do pull off a trade that nets them Dwight Howard, but Bynum is not that far away from Howard's level and is actually a more skilled player than Howard.
Whether they have Howard or Bynum, the Lakers will have a tremendous advantage on the inside, and with Howard's health issues Bynum may actually take over as the league's best center next season.
Sixth Man: Antawn Jamison
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In desperate need of a bench scorer, the Lakers netted the perfect player (as they always seem to do) when veteran Antawn Jamison agreed to a one-year, veteran's minimum deal, according to ESPN Los Angeles. Despite turning 36 in June, Jamison is still a valuable contributor who should be able to immediately help solve one of the huge problems for L.A. last season; manufacturing points outside of the starting lineup.
He averaged 17.2 points, 6.3 rebounds and two assists per game last season while missing just one contest. Though he shot a career-low 40.3 percent from the field, Jamison did manage to connect on a decent 34.1 percent of his attempted three-pointers.
Though those numbers will obviously decrease, he will still be asked to play heavy minutes and take on a featured role in the second unit. Jamison thrived in that role with the Dallas Mavericks, winning the league's Sixth Man of the Year award in 2004.
Jamison is unique because of his deft shooting touch, which is uncommon for a player of his size. He can play small forward, but is utilized best as a stretch-4 drawing opposing bigs out to the perimeter. He'll make a great compliment with Bynum because he can force defenses to not clog the paint.
Los Angeles sorely lacked a player that they could run their offense through off the pine, which resulted in Bryant playing absurd minutes. Though Jamison is an average rebounder and mediocre defender, his scoring abilities cannot be diminished.
He can react to closeouts and attack the basket, play in transition and is a decent passer to boot. Jamison does not need the ball in his hands and should thrive spotting up on the perimeter waiting for passes from Bryant and Nash.
He may not be an injection of youth, but Antawn Jamison is a tremendously talented basketball player whose presence will give L.A.'s offense a dimension similar to the one they lost when Lamar Odom was sent to Dallas.
In need of affordable frontcourt depth and scoring, there were few better options than Jamison for the Lakers to turn to.
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PG: Steve Blake
Blake will serve next season as the primary backup for Steve Nash. While not a starting caliber point guard, Blake's three-point shooting and solid handle allow him to be effective in limited minutes on the court.
He is not a great athlete or defender, but he can make plays for his teammates—and with Nash needing a restriction on his minutes, Blake should see the floor for roughly 16-20 minutes per night.
SG: Andrew Goudelock
A second round pick in 2011, Goudelock averaged 4.4 points per game last year, but actually had some very solid moments on the court. He's athletic and can get into the lane well off the dribble. He also is a solid shooter who can help space the floor in limited minutes.
Goudelock is really more of a combo guard, having handled the ball for much of his time at Charleston, but without a proper backup for Kobe Bryant Goudelock will likely spend most of his time as an undersized two at 6'3".
SF: Devin Ebanks
According to Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Times, the Lakers have come to an agreement to resign small forward Devin Ebanks to a deal worth just over $1 million.
In 24 games last season, Ebanks averaged four points and 2.3 rebounds, but made 12 starts and showed that he could be a valuable rotation player down the road—similar to former Laker Trevor Ariza. Ebanks is a good slasher, plays solid perimeter defense and can play both the two and the three thanks to his size and quickness.
With the decline of Metta World Peace, expect Ebanks to see some extended minutes and even make starts in the event of injury.
PF: Jordan Hill
The decision came down to Los Angeles or Minnesota, but young big man Jordan Hill has reportedly agreed to a two-year deal worth a hair under $8 million, per Dave McMenamin of ESPN Los Angeles. After being acquired from Houston, Hill played some strong basketball off the bench and became the team's go-to frontcourt reserve.
He averaged 4.7 points and 4.4 boards, but what really mattered was his energy. On a team that needed athleticism, Hill was active on both ends, did the dirty work and ran the floor well. He should be more of an offensive threat with Nash and continue to see his minutes increase.
PF/C: Josh McRoberts
Added during last year's free agency to help bolster the bench after Lamar Odom's departure, Josh McRoberts never quite found his stride while playing with the Lakers.
He is not a particularly polished offensive big man and is prone to some lapses on defense, but with his minutes likely down due to Hill's return, all he will be asked to do is finish at the rim and hit the glass consistently.
G: Darius Johnson-Odom
A late second-round pick in the 2012 draft, Darius Johnson-Odom was acquired from the Dallas Mavericks and should be a part of the Lakers' roster when the season begins. He averaged 18.3 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.7 assists in his last season as a Marquette Golden Eagle.
He does not have the highest upside, but Johnson-Odom is an NBA-ready player who can shoot the three, handle the rock and is physical and gritty on defense despite being undersized at just 6'2". He brings hustle and some much needed athleticism to Los Angeles, but still should primarily be playing during garbage time.
G: Darius Morris
Another second-round guard selected in 2011, Darius Morris did not have a great rookie season, but will remain with the Lakers, per the L.A. Times' Mark Medina. Last season Morris averaged 2.4 points and 1.1 assists while barely seeing the court.
Still, at under $1 million and still brimming with potential, Morris is worth bringing back. He's capable of penetrating and attacking the basket, is a good passer and will provide some nice insurance behind Nash and Blake.
G/F: Christian Eyenga
Acquired in last year's trade for Ramon Sessions, Christian Eyenga appeared in just one game for the Lakers, scoring eight points, and has had to prove his worth in the Summer League.
Still, Eyenga is just 23 years old, played well in Las Vegas and is a tremendous athlete to boot. He had some good moments on the 2011 Cavaliers, including a few staggering dunks. He is capable of playing the two and three spot like Ebanks and should be kept and developed as a project for the future.
C: Robert Sacre/Jermaine O'Neal
This year's "Mr. Irrelevant," the 60th pick in the draft, Sacre's size and maturity should ultimately earn him a shot in Los Angeles.
He had a solid, if unspectacular career at Gonzaga, rebounding decently, blocking a few shots and scoring in the post. However, at 7'0" needs to work on his aggression. The Lakers' roster needs another true center behind Bynum and Sacre—a big man with a high basketball IQ, Sacre should be able to find his way to the end of the L.A. bench.
Should the team decide Sacre isn't cut out for the NBA, they could possibly go with veteran and former All-Star Jermaine O'Neal. O'Neal has struggled with injuries, but he would be asked to play a very limited role with L.A. and could be a nice addition if healthy.
Dave McMenamin of ESPN L.A. reported that the team was interested in O'Neal earlier in the month.