During the 2012-13 NBA regular season, the Los Angeles Lakers experienced one of the most disappointing collapses in league history. With a cast of future Hall of Famers, the Lakers struggled to hold onto a record above .500, and needed a victory on the final day of the season to reach the playoffs.
While Dwight Howard may be gone, the Lakers have done what no one is giving them credit for—they've created a stronger team by improving their abysmal second unit.
The Lakers have been as active as any team in the NBA this offseason, addressing voids all along their bench. From finally adding athletes to creating depth at every position, the Lakers have gone against their traditional approach and avoided the star pursuit.
Instead, they've done what every title contender does—surrounded their superstars with capable role players.
During the 2012-13 regular season, the Lakers' bench ranked 28th in scoring, 26th in efficiency and 28th in defensive efficiency. Here's what the NBA pundits who put down the Lakers' vaunted starting lineup didn't want you to know:
Los Angeles' starters ranked second in scoring, first in rebounding, sixth in assists, fourth in efficiency and sixth in defensive efficiency.
Not only does that disprove the theory that L.A.'s stars were to blame, but it shows just how careless the Lakers were in assembling a bench. The absence of quality role players to play filler minutes was detrimental to team success and is the true reason for the Lakers' underwhelming season.
That's exactly why the improvements they've made are so significant—they make Los Angeles a better team in 2013-14 than they were in 2012-13.
During the 2012-13 NBA regular season, the Los Angeles Lakers ran a second unit led by Steve Blake, Chris Duhon, Darius Morris, Jodie Meeks, Earl Clark, Jordan Hill and Antawn Jamison. Clark stepped up during the middle of the season and Jamison has name value, but anyone who watched L.A. play will tell you one thing—the Lakers' second unit was dreadful.
Blake was a revelation, but he only played in 45 regular-season games as he battled injuries. With Steve Nash equally as banged up, that created a point guard rotation of Duhon and Morris.
You can guess how that worked out.
Hill went down with what was believed to be a season-ending hip injury, and the Lakers never found a replacement. Jamison is an offensive-minded player, Clark was moved to small forward and the pressure on Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard became insurmountable.
The Lakers' activity during the offseason should help to prevent any further collapses.
With Blake, Hill and Meeks—Los Angeles' most reliable reserves—returning, there is a foundation to build on. The Lakers did just that, signing backcourt players and two athletic wings as well as drafting a floor-spacing shooter, to complement them.
For the first time in what feels like ages, the Lakers have built a strong bench.
To address their thin point guard position, the Lakers signed point guard Jordan Farmar. Farmar won two NBA championships with the Lakers in 2009 and 2010, respectively, and should provide the boost in morale and chemistry that Los Angeles lacked in 2012-13.
After the Lakers ranked 28th in second-unit scoring during the previous regular season, the Lakers picked up Nick Young on a one-year deal. Young may be inconsistent, but he's also a Los Angeles native, with a career mark of 37.4 percent from three-point range, is the explosive athlete the Lakers have long needed.
L.A. continued to improve from an athletic perspective, signing Wesley Johnson and adding Shawne Williams to its training camp roster. Both players are strong-to-explosive athletes, with Johnson, the No. 4 overall draft choice in 2010, calling the upcoming season the "most important of his life."
If you're noticing a trend, it's that the Lakers have gone from the aging organization with no sign of athleticism to a team with explosive depth at every perimeter position.
They may not be the most high-profile of bench players, but the Lakers have dug themselves out of the past. They've extended one-year deals to players with promise, become significantly more athletic defensively and have created a better basketball team as a result.
Chris Kaman, Ryan Kelly and Robert Sacre aren't a dream team, leading to the undeniable void left by Howard's departure, but L.A.'s primary need was adding athletes. The Lakers have done just that.
Furthermore, losing Howard is a damaging blow to their title odds, but let's be real—any team with Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol as their core will be a force. Bringing in athletic wings simply confirms the most important notion of all.
The Lakers are acknowledging their weaknesses.