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Big Fish in the Pond: Why the LA Lakers Are Still the Team To Beat

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Big Fish in the Pond: Why the LA Lakers Are Still the Team To Beat
Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images

The Miami Heat have been the clear winners of this offseason (they're further ahead in the free agent frenzy that Usain Bolt at the 90 meter mark), landing LeBron James Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem.

But rejoice Lakers and pure basketball fans alike, the Miami Heat have finally been told no by a free agent.

Derek Fisher entertained the idea of playing for the now most hyped team in basketball, but the five-time champ will stay true to his colors next season...and those colors are purple and gold.

He said he wanted to return to the defending champs for a chance at a sixth ring, and sources say he'll get a multi-year deal (three years with a player option on the last season).

For the last decade it's become an omnipresent fact and an over-used cliche in the NBA, but again the Lakers are the team to beat.

Kobe said the Lakers needed Fish and that he personally didn't think it was an option to let his long-time teammate go.

The soon to be 36-year-old showed that he could still perform in key moments of games and that he was imperative to the team as a leader.

By getting Fisher back, the Lakers essentially have all the key pieces that led them to their franchise's 17th title about a month ago.

The starting five of Bynum, Gasol, Artest, Bryant and D-Fish are all back.

Ron Ron should have a better grasp of the triangle offense and the team should have a greater feel for one another next season.

And while they should still be considered the favorites, the Lakers need to find a way to bolster up their bench.

The Bench

Steve Blake will be a big improvement at the point guard position, whether as a starter or as a back-up for Fisher. He's a smart guard who shoots the ball with great range and efficiency. Plus Blake has the added incentive of this is being his best chance to win a championship.

Lamar Odom is still a good option coming off the bench because of his length and skill. He seemed to disappear during some big games in the playoffs, but the first half of the Queens Connection still has the ability to play an important role as he'll be trying for his first three-peat.

Sasha Vujacic was the unlikely hero when he put the icing on the repeat cake with two free-throws for the Lakers last season in Game 7. The guy can't knock down a jumper and is paid more than any refurbished machine is worth, but he's a physical and pesky defender.  

It's hard to consider Luke Walton gets paid as much as he does for how little he delivers, but the guy is still on the team. He's got an incredibly high basketball IQ and used to connect on some highlight passes.  But his health has continued to deteriorate and his role will probably continue to diminish.

The Needs - big guys and offense

Craig Smith: He's undersized, but very gifted around the rim.  Smith is an instant spark of offense every time he's in the game and would give the Lakers a nice scoring spark inside.  He's a liability on the defensive end of the floor, but that's offset by his efficiency on offense.  Plus, he's from the city and could replace Farmar's local appeal.

Joe Smith: The journeymen is at the point in his career where if he wants to win a title, it has to be now.  Smith is a good defender, he's long and he's even learned to be effective in the paint during his 15-year career.  Smith would be a needed addition inside with the Lakers likely parting ways with Mbenga and Powell.

Josh Howard: Before I get anybody's hopes up, he's probably going to want more many than the Lakers have to offer.  Howard is a dynamic player when given the opportunity and he has the skill set to fit in well in LA.  He is a good scorer who can create his own shot and spot up.  He's also a very solid defender with tremendous length.

Allen Iverson: He said he'd play for any team that could use him.  It's clear that AI is no longer the ankle breaking unstoppable single man force that he was for the Sixers and he hasn't played in quite some time.  But if AI can conjure up any of the magic that made him so good he could be a very good scoring option off the bench.  

First he'd have to accept that role and embrace it, then he'd have to prove that he still has some juice in his legs.  But if he does, he wouldn't look bad in the uniform of the team that turned him away in his only NBA Finals.

For now the Heat are an exciting team to think about, but they've never even played a game together.

Despite any false bulls-eyes placed on the backs of the players in Miami, the Lakers are still the golden standard and the team on the pedestal looking down.

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