LA Lakers: Amid Howard-Nash Hysteria, Lakers Upgraded Bench in a Big, Big Way

William Van NollFeatured ColumnistAugust 14, 2012

EL SEGUNDO, CA - AUGUST 10:  Dwight Howard (L) walks with General Manager Mitch Kupchak of the Los Angeles Lakers being introduced as the newest member of the Lakers at a news conference at the Toyota Sports Center on August 10, 2012 in El Segundo, California. The Lakers aquired Howard from Orlando Magic in a four-team trade. In addition Lakers wil receive Chris Duhon and Earl Clark from the Magic.  (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

With the basketball world still reeling from the Los Angeles Lakers' blockbuster signings of Dwight Howard and Steve Nash, more credit must be given to Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak for executing peripheral moves that addressed the Lakers' most critical depth issues. 

Ranked dead last in scoring during the 2011-12 season, the Lakers' bench was in store for a huge overhaul if they wanted to compete on a championship level.

The team's vaunted starting five was backed up by a mish-mash group of misfits—hastily pieced together in the wake of the Chris Paul trade fiasco.

Backing up the legendary Kobe Bryant at SG was a first-year rookie from the College of Charleston.

Relieving SF Metta World Peace was the wildly inconsistent Matt Barnes—a shell of his former self after never quite recovering from a torn meniscus suffered in January 2011.

Playing third fiddle in the league's weakest PG rotation was a 21-year-old rookie from Michigan.

My, my how things have suddenly changed in Hollywood.

Orchestrating perhaps the greatest offseason haul of them all, Mitch Kupchak delivered not only two superstars to breathe life back into the Lakers organization, but acquired a collection of veterans and young talent to fill the glaring holes of a Lakers' bench previously on life support.

A side-by-side comparison of old versus new illustrates Kupchak's masterful piece of management:

Reserve Players Out Reserve Players In
Troy Murphy Antawn Jamison
Matt Barnes Jodie Meeks
Luke Walton Chris Duhon
Josh McRoberts Earl Clark


The new-look bench will further be bolstered by the returns of SF Devin Ebanks, PF/C Jordan Hill and PG Steve Blake.

It's your classic night-and-day scenario.

The Lakers' once exploitable weakness has suddenly transformed into a veritable source of strength.

Much has already been written about Antawn Jamison's scoring and Jodie Meeks' long-range shooting—aspects this Lakers team sorely needed given the bench's lack of production.

But it goes beyond the scoring.

The Lakers have acquired the kind of roster depth not seen in years.

Now, questions facing the Lakers' starting unit finally have clear answers.

"Dwight Howard will not be ready for the start of the season?" A frontline of Pau Gasol, Jordan Hill, Antawn Jamison, Earl Clark and seven-foot rookie Robert Sacre can hold down the fort.

"A 38-year-old Steve Nash will be limited to 30 minutes a game?" The veteran ACC tandem of Steve Blake and Chris Duhon can provide an assorted 18 minutes of productive basketball.

"Kobe Bryant has no backup at SG?" Sharpshooting Jodie Meeks ensures there is no let up when the Mamba takes brief respites during the game.

"Pau Gasol is having a sluggish night?" Jordan Hill, Antawn Jamison and Earl Clark are one substitution away from delivering much-needed energy to boost the team.

Naturally, with so many pieces transitioning in and out of El Segundo, it's no guarantee that the newly acquired artillery can form real chemistry with the existing core of Lakers players.

But in taking a Moneyball approach, and strictly analyzing these names on paper, it's hard not to consider the Lakers title favorites with arguably the best starting five in basketball and a newly discovered bench depth missing from their last two failed playoff campaigns.

Not only was the Lakers' starting lineup revived from its doldrums with the arrival of Dwight Howard and Steve Nash, the team's second unit received a new life of its own.

All in a summer's worth of work.

Back in 1996, former Lakers player and then-GM Jerry West brought two superstars—Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal—to Los Angeles for one of the most epic offseasons in team history.

Kupchak not only matched this precedent, he may have done the unthinkable and one-upped his legendary mentor.

Signing Howard and Nash was a smashing success. But it's even more impressive when realizing Kupchak's bounty came with simultaneous upgrades to the equally important bench, all while the rest of the league wasn't looking.

The NBA should be expecting yet another Dan Gilbert literary opus for the creation of a super-team in L.A. This time, with league approval already granted to every one of the Lakers' 2012 roster moves, Gilbert's small-market outrage will be kindly returned to sender.

Atonement has resoundingly been achieved, and, boy, is it sweet.