Why LA Lakers Should Consider Bringing Steve Blake Back

David Murphy@@davem234Featured ColumnistApril 15, 2014

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 27: Steve Blake #5 of the Los Angeles Lakers goes up with the ball during a game against the Brooklyn Nets  at Barclays Center on November 27, 2013 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  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. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2013 NBAE (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)
Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Lakers lost the conscience of their team when they traded Steve Blake away in February.

They can do something about it, however, and they should.

The 34 year-old guard will be a free agent at the end of the season, and the Lakers have a roster that’s not really a roster, with just Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Robert Sacre and Kendall Marshall signed to contracts for the fall.

They can also make qualified offers to Ryan Kelly and Kent Bazemore. Nick Young holds a player’s option and will likely test the free-agency waters.

Blake, one of the Lakers’ scrappiest competitors over the course of three-and-a-half seasons, would bring a welcome second helping of leadership skills, solid defense, the ability to make big shots and a straight-ahead no-drama attitude that has always been refreshing.

And, it would definitely make Bryant happy.

Blake was in town with his current team, the Golden State Warriors, last Friday. The Staples crowd gave him a genuine and warm welcome. Now in his 11th season, the workhorse guard was business as usual, notching 12 points, five rebounds, five assists and two steals off the bench.

In an ESPN LA article, Dave McMenamin wrote about the appreciation of former teammates, plus glowing praise from Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni:

When he’s on a team, he’s kind of your grittiness factor. He will play every possession. He’ll get upset with guys that don’t play hard. So, he’s sorely missed. He’s defense. He’ll make big shots. You just know he’s going to give everything. He’s a good player and he’s going to give everything he’s got every night on every play.

And if that wasn’t enough, D’Antoni also singled out what his team lost when Blake was sent packing:

When he left, it kind of all caved in. And there’s a reason for it and the reason is, he’s good. And he’s gritty and he’s tough. And he’s a locker room presence and he’s a practice presence. He just oozes what you need to do to win and when you lose that, it makes it tough. It’s hard to make up.

Of course, the Lakers didn’t come away empty-handed in February. They got the expiring contracts of young guards Bazemore and MarShon Brooks. Bazemore has been an especially pleasant surprise, averaging 13.1 points per game during his time in L.A., which eclipses his 2.1 average over 105 games with the Warriors.

There was also a financial component to the swap.

Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times reported on the February deadline trade, observing that Lakers ownership saved almost $1 million in salary the rest of the season and about $3 million in luxury taxes in the transaction. As Bresnahan further pointed out, Blake didn’t rule out the possibility of returning to the Lakers next season:

Absolutely. I've loved my time here. When you spend someplace this long, you start to get comfortable and we loved where we lived and loved the schools my kids were in, always loved the support of the fans and ownership. This is one of the best places I've ever played at and in the future if they wanted me back, I absolutely, definitely would consider it.

Blake was a high school standout, leading Oak Hill Academy in Virginia to a perfect 31-0 championship season and also helping the U.S. win a gold medal in the 1998 Junior Worlds. And as the starting point guard for the University of Maryland, he led the Terps to the NCAA title in 2002.

He entered the draft the following year—the famed Class of 2003 that saw LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh go Nos. 1, 3, 4 and 5.

Who was No. 2? Darko Milicic.

Meanwhile, Blake, the Eminem look-alike with an NCAA title, was drafted No. 38, behind such luminaries as Szymon Szewczyk, Mario Austin and Travis Hansen. If those names don’t immediately ring a bell, Hansen averaged three points in 41 games in his rookie (and only) NBA season. Austin and Szewcsyk never made it that far.

The Terrapin point guard hasn’t done badly for himself—seven NBA teams and counting, including two separate stints with the Portland Trailblazers. He’s never been a star in the league, but he’s worked hard, earned solid minutes with every team and will no doubt get a contract someplace next season.

Despite his elbow injury, Blake averaged 9.5 points and 7.6 assists, starting in all 27 of his appearances for Los Angeles this season. It was his most productive period since joining the team—until it all went away.

As for the Lakers themselves, they’ve gone 8-19 since shipping their starting point guard off to Warriorville.

Blake’s season will continue into the playoffs while his former teammates will clean out their lockers.

On Monday night the Purple and Gold annihilated the Utah Jazz—a fun, freewheeling victory that nonetheless pounded a nail into the chances of landing dream point guard Dante Exum in the upcoming draft.

With this win, Los Angeles has the sixth-worst record in the league with just one game left to play. 

But at least they can still correct the mistake of exiling Blake by signing him to a modest salary and reuniting him with Bryant for the superstar’s two-year farewell tour.

The Black Mamba and the Psycho Competitor. It’s a start.