L.A. Lakers: Revamped Bench Will Be Critical to 2013 NBA Title Dreams

Stephen Babb@@StephenBabbFeatured ColumnistSeptember 12, 2012

MIAMI, FL - DECEMBER 15: Antawn Jamison #4  of the Cleveland Cavaliers talks with a referee during a game against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena on December 15, 2010 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Mention of the Los Angeles Lakers is more likely to conjure images of Dwight Howard and Steve Nash than Jodie Meeks and Jordan Hill.

You might not even know what Jodie Meeks looks like.

And that's okay–you will soon enough. The real genius of GM Mitch Kupchak's offseason was what he was able to accomplish under a radar transfixed by the superstar additions to the starting lineup. Los Angeles needed an improved bench going into this season, and it got one.

The most obvious addition was Antawn Jamison, a former All-Star who is looking to play a reduced role for a winner after spending his last few seasons playing prominent roles for losing teams. The 36-year-old still has something left in the tank, and he's going to make the most of it.

Jamison provides a scoring punch that was sorely lacking on the Los Angeles bench last season, and he'll be all the more effective when given the opportunity to play alongside big men like Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol.

Howard's ability to draw extra defensive attention created all sorts of opportunities for spread-4 Ryan Anderson during the last couple of years, and it will do the same for Jamison.

Meeks will help on the scoring front as well, giving the Lakers another perimeter shooter who can spread the floor along with Jamison and back-up point guard Steve Blake.

Whether Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant are breaking the defense down or the Lakers' post-scorers are getting double-teamed, having second-unit guys who can hit the open three will make this team a far more consistent offensive threat.

L.A. won't have to rely on superstars quite so much, even though it now has plenty of them.

It also won't have to worry if one of those stars is sidelined for a period of time.

A catastrophic season-ending injury never does favors for anyone's title chances, but run-of-the-mill injuries won't doom the Lakers to the kind of losing streaks that might seriously impact the standings.

The Lakers' oldest starter (Nash at 38) is probably the one they can least afford to lose, but acquiring Chris Duhon in the Dwight Howard trade means Blake and Andrew Goudelock will have some help should Nash be unavailable for whatever reason.

Los Angeles also has some questions behind Metta World Peace at small forward, but Earl Clark (also acquired in the Howard trade) will give the emerging Devin Ebanks some competition for the job. He also gives Head Coach Mike Brown an extra body on the wing in case something happens to World Peace (or should World Peace happen to someone else, in the elbow-to-head kind of way).

In other words, even where the Lakers' bench is weakest, there are more options than there were last season.

This kind of depth goes a long way in a world where the starting lineup's talent is matched only by its age.

If Coach Brown wants to give Nash or Kobe some rest (or even a game off here and there), he'll have the luxury of doing so.

If Dwight Howard's back experiences any pain and the team doctors recommend caution, Brown will have the tools to make things work at least for a little while.

Going into the postseason, those kind of options may be the difference between a team that has enough gas for the whole ride and one that flames out again in the conference semifinals. No one is wrong to attribute improved title odds to a star foursome, but it is important to acknowledge how crucial the new bench will be to those stars' effectiveness in April and May.

Finally, the refurbished bench gives Los Angeles the kind of lineup and playbook options it hasn't had recently. 

Having Meeks, for example, makes it easier for L.A. to go to a three-guard lineup and spread the floor with Kobe taking Metta's spot at the 3. Jamison similarly makes small-ball a viable option so that the offense and can run and shoot at a higher tempo against prolific scorers like the Thunder and Spurs.

Brown can now make the most of his elite talent by using his players in novel capacities that weren't possible with a second-rate second unit.

The Lakers will make the most of it too, maybe even enough to win a title. The bench won't get much of the credit, but they'll quietly prove that they should.