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Will the Los Angeles Lakers Add to Their Frontcourt Before the Playoffs?

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Will the Los Angeles Lakers Add to Their Frontcourt Before the Playoffs?
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One of the greatest misconceptions about this Lakers team is that they have incredible depth.

I don't know if it's because people forget that they made two-for-ones trades like Maurice Evans and Brian Cook for Trevor Ariza or Kwame Brown and Javaris Crittenton for Pau Gasol or that they traded Chris Mihm to the Grizzlies last February for just a conditional second-round pick.

The Lakers did add to their bench last season when they made a one-for-two trademoving Vladimir Radmanovic to the Charlotte Bobacts for Shannon Brown and Adam Morrison.

But because Morrison probably won't factor into the Lakers rotation without an unforeseen injury, you can consider that one a one-for-one trade.

Since the Ariza trade back in Nov. 2007, the Lakers have increased the quality of their starting lineup at the expense of their bench.

Sure they have a Sixth Man of the Year candidate in Lamar Odom, but the rest of their bench is a bit suspect.

Sasha Vujacic is not the same player who scored 20 points in Game Three of the 2008 NBA Finals against Boston.

Luke Walton is a great system guy who did an admirable job guarding Carmelo Anthony in last season's Western Conference Finals, but he's still commits way too many turnovers and can't really be counted on offensively.

Jordan Farmar hasn't really been the same player for the past year and it's becoming more and more obvious that his game would be much better suited for an up-tempo style of offense (preferably on a team that doesn't care too much about defense).

While the Lakers starting frontcourt is the best in the league (along with the Celtics), Tuesday's opener against the Clippers exposed its lack of depth. With Pau Gasol nursing a sore hamstring, Phil Jackson had to turn to DJ Mbenga and Josh Powell who combined for four points and five rebounds in 18 minutes.

The Lakers currently have the minimum of 13 players on their roster. With two available roster spots nobody should be surprised if the team decides to add another big man to their roster before the playoffs next April.

While the pickings are rather slim on the free agent front, there are a few names they could acquire either in free agency or via trade that would better equip them to withstand the loss of one of their big men to an unfortunate injury.

 

Kurt Thomas

No doubt Thomas might be the prize of available free agents who could get bought out in time to sign on with a contender.

Thomas, who the Milwaukee Bucks acquired in the Richard Jefferson trade, is on a team that is so bad that the NBA tried to hide them by not scheduling their first regular season game until the fourth day of the season.

Thomas is in his 15th season and has yet to win a ring despite having played on the Knicks team that made the NBA Finals in 1999 and on talented Suns and Spurs teams this decade.

Thomas is in the final year of a contract that pays him $3.8 million. If the Lakers hope to acquire Thomas in a trade it will be a lot more complicated than their fans hope since they don't really have a salary that matches up evenly. As a result, they'd have to make a two-for-one trade with the Bucks to get Thomasthus further depleting their depth.

Even a two-for-one trade is complex because the Bucks are trying to trim their payroll for a potential sale so they would have no interest in acquiring Adam Morrison's $5.25 million contract without the Lakers taking back another player's salary in return.

If the Lakers were willing to take on two more years of Charlie Bell's contract they could move Morrison and Farmar (both restricted free agents at season's end) for Bell and Thomas.

Bell makes close to $4 million a year for each of the next two seasons but would cost the Lakers double with the luxury tax. But Bell would provide insurance in case Shannon Brown decides to exercise his option for next season and become a free agent in the summer.

Bell can play both guard positions even though he's more of a shooting guardjust like Brown.

With the additions of Carlos Delfino, Roko Ukic, and Brandon Jennings the Bucks cannot only afford to move Bell but might jump at the chance to do it.

The Lakers could always cross their fingers and hope that the Bucks just buy Thomas out so he can sign on with a contender. The problem is that they would have to compete with all the other playoff teamswhereas trading for him would eliminate the risk of missing out on him and watching him sign on with the Spurs, Nuggets, Celtics, or Cavs.

 

Francisco Elson

Thomas isn't the only big man on the Bucks who is on an expiring contract. His teammate, Francisco Elson, is another.

While Elson isn't much more talented than Mbenga or Powell, he wouldn't require nearly as much in a trade as Thomas. Elson is making $1.7 million in the final season of a two-year deal he signed with Milwaukee in the summer of 2008.

Elson is a veteran and a hard workertraits that would endear him to Phil Jackson. He's also a former Denver Nugget who could provide a little intel as to how to best stop their offense should the two teams meet again in the playoffs.

The Lakers could easily swap Farmar for Elson but that's only if the Bucks hope to re-sign Farmar next summer. Otherwise the Bucks would have no use for him and a trade for him would make little sense.

The Lakers could always sweeten the deal by including a draft pick.

The Lakers don't have a first-round pick in next June's draft because it was sent to Memphis in the Gasol trade. What they do have, though, is Memphis' second-round pickwhich could end up being just four or five picks later than the pick they traded away to Memphis.

 

Jeff Foster

Yes, he's still in the league. It's hard to believe that Foster was a member of the Pacers team that played the Lakers in the 2000 NBA Finals.

Foster has one more year after this one on a contract that pays him $6 million this year and about $6.65 million next season.

The Lakers could swap Adam Morrison for Foster straight up. This would clear his salary off of the Pacers cap for next season when Morrison's contract expires.

The Lakers might not be so opposed to taking on Foster's salary for next season when you consider that Mbenga and Powell will both be free agents next season.

But there is a more appealing deal for the Lakers and that would be swapping Vujacic for Foster. Both Vujacic and Foster have one season left on their deals after this one but Vujacic makes $1.65 million less next season.

Should TJ Ford decide to opt out of the final year of his contract next summer, that $1.65 million could give the Pacers a little more money to spend on the open market to either retain Ford or bring in someone else.

With recent draft picks Roy Hibbert and Tyler Hansbrough in the fold, Foster has never been more expendable.

While Foster's contract does seem a bit rich, with Morrison's contract expiring he wouldn't add much to next season's payroll at all.

 

Tony Battie

Battie is a lot like Foster in that he also makes over $6 million. The Nets aren't willing to take on anything in salary beyond this season because they want to maximize their available cap space.

So Vujacic is out of the question, but Morrison is definitely an option.

But, as is the case with the Bucks, where's the incentive for the Nets to make that deal unless the Lakers can include a draft pick?

I fully expect the Nets to buy out Battie so he can latch on with a contender and save them some money in the process.

If that were the case, the Lakers would probably have to battle it out with Orlando, Cleveland, and Boston for his services—three teams that Battie has already played for in his 13-year NBA career.

 

Free Agents

There are a number of veteran free agents that have yet to sign with teams that the Lakers could probably sign whenever they want. But unless there's an injury they will most likely wait until after the trade deadline so they can save some money.

While the names aren't going to impress anybody there are some players that bring their own individual intangibles to the table.

Chris Mihm is familiar with the triangle offense and would probably jump at the chance to rejoin the Lakers.

Raef LaFrentz, Lorenzen Wright, Stromile Swift, Rob Kurz, and Melvin Ely are also sitting around waiting for the phone to ring.

Regardless, it's not a question of whether or not the Lakers should sign another big man to their roster but when and who it will be.

After an offseason in which the Cavs upgraded it's frontcourt depth by replacing Ben Wallace with Shaq and moving Zydrunas Ilgauskas to the bench, and the Celtics bench upgraded from Mikki Moore to Rasheed Wallace, the Lakers might have to act quickly to protect themselves in case Gasol's hamstring becomes an ongoing issue or Bynum's knees become annual malady.

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