Mitch Kupchak has had a busy summer so far.
The Lakers went from wrapping up their 16th title on June 17th, to hopping aboard their parade floats four days later, to picking Devin Ebanks and Derrick Caracter three days after that in the draft, only to face six of their players becoming free agents just a week after that.
Whew, barely time for Mitch to catch his breath.
Free agent point guard Steve Blake has signed a contract and will be joining the Lakers. Essentially, the Lakers have swapped him for point guard Jordan Farmar, who has signed with the Nets after no qualifying offer from the Lakers was made, something he implied the Lakers should do.
Derek Fisher, though, is returning to L.A. after getting wooed by the Miami Heat and LeBron James.
As of today, with the Blake and Fisher signings, the Lakers have nine players under contract, a restricted free agent in Adam Morrison, and their two draft choices. It is a very safe assumption that Adam Morrison is almost certain to not return.
The Lakers being over the salary cap means that they would most likely keep their draft picks on the roster at the relatively low rookie minimum salary of under $500,000. These contracts would replace the approximately $1 million each that they paid to DJ Mbenga and Josh Powell. Within the dollar-to-dollar luxury tax, the Lakers will actually save about $2 million by replacing Mbenga and Powell with Ebanks and Caracter.
Assuming the Lakers do keep both of their draftees and don't bring Mbenga or Powell back, this would make 11 players. Notwithstanding poor games from Ebanks and Caracter yesterday, the overall play that both draftees have shown through three games in the summer league makes this scenario even more likely.
Last season, the Lakers carried 13 players on the roster. I think because of injuries, they would probably be carrying the same number, especially given Andrew Bynum's recurring knee problems, and the possibility that Luke Walton will be gone for a portion of next season due to back problems. This means, the Lakers will need to sign two more players in order to complete their 2010-2011 roster.
At this point, including their draftees, the Lakers roster looks like this—
PG: Derek Fisher, Steve Blake
SG: Kobe Bryant, Sasha Vujacic
SF: Ron Artest, Luke Walton, Devin Ebanks
PF: Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, Derrick Caracter
C: Andrew Bynum
A quick look at the lineup reveals that the Lakers need to get another center in order to backup Bynum and allow Gasol to stay at his favored power forward position, in case of a Bynum injury. I think that there is a chance that the Lakers bring back Mbenga, but if they look at a veteran free agent, there are names on the market such as—
Kwame Brown (age 28, Detroit Pistons) '09-10 Stats: 3.3 ppg, 50.0 percent FG, 3.7 rpg
Etan Thomas (32, Oklahoma City Thunder) '09-10 Stats: 3.3 ppg, 45.6 percent FG, 2.8 rpg
Anthony Tolliver (25, Golden State Warriors) '09-10 Stats: 11.7 ppg, 43.0 percent FG, 7.0 rpg
Kurt Thomas (37, Milwaukee Bucks) '09-10 Stats: 3.0 ppg, 47.6 percent FG, 4.2 rpg
Brian Skinner (34, L.A. Clippers) '09-10 Stats: 1.6 ppg, 40.0 percent FG, 1.7 rpg
Patrick O'Bryant (24, Toronto Raptors) '09-10 Stats: 1.7 ppg, 53.3 percent FG, 1.0 rpg
Theo Ratliff (37, Charlotte Bobcats) '09-10 Stats: 3.6 ppg, 46.1 percent FG, 3.2 rpg, 1.2 bpg
Fabricio Oberto (35, Washington Wizards) '09-10 Stats: 1.5 ppg, 62.5 percent FG, 1.8 rpg
Not a very impressive list, to be sure, but probably any one of those players would be more than happy to accept a contract at the veteran minimum from the Lakers, in order to try and win a ring. The most familiar name from the list to Laker fans, Kwame Brown, may just be the best choice from a defensive standpoint.
Anthony Tolliver played well for the Warriors after they called him up from the NBDL, yet he wasn't tendered a qualifying offer from them, making him an unrestricted free agent. However, with their rookie power forward and sixth overall draft pick in this year's draft, Ekpe Udoh, lost for up to six months, the Warriors may pay him enough to keep him around, despite their trade for David Lee.
Of course, there is always Shaquille O'Neal. It is thought, though, that Shaq is looking to get paid, since this most likely will be the last contract he signs. The maximum the Lakers can offer to him is the rest of the mid-level exception that is unused after the Steve Blake signing, or approximately $2 million.
This is, of course, if Kobe Bryant would sign off on it—not as unlikely as people may think, as Kobe would continue ring-domination over Shaq if they were to both win in L.A. I'd give this about a two percent chance of happening though.
I think the best move the Lakers make is bringing back Mbenga as backup center.
Now, assuming this happens, the Lakers would have 12 players under contract, and a lone slot to fill. Here, now it becomes interesting.
Shannon Brown can likely return at a contract near what he made last year. But, if Shannon does not come back, the Lakers have been rumored to be interested in such free agents as Raja Bell, Matt Barnes, and Tracy McGrady.
I think that Raja isn't quite as interested in the Lakers as other destinations, though. Also his recent comments to ESPN radio indicate L.A. isn't on his destination list, as he stated his preference to play in Florida (the Heat or Magic), New York (Knicks or Nets), or Dallas. Furthermore, given his age, 34, I think it's pretty clear this would be a free agent from whom Mitch Kupchak steers clear.
Matt Barnes is also likely to look for more money than what the Lakers can offer him, although he has stated that he would like to play for the Lakers.
Between Bell and Barnes, I think Barnes would be a much better pickup, if only because he is four years younger. Funny though how the Lakers are rumored to be looking at two of Kobe's biggest villains. It is likely that Barnes returns to Orlando, though, since no other teams have made him an offer yet.
This leaves the intriguing idea of Tracy McGrady. Why might this be not so far-fetched as some may think?
Firstly, McGrady is one of Kobe's closest friends in the league. Secondly, Tracy is coming off the heels of a monster contract—he was making the most money in the entire league—and therefore can accept playing for much less to play for a ring.
Moreover, McGrady has been frustrated for the last several years—from numerous injuries, to clashes with Rick Adelman in Houston, to his fizzle-out with the Knicks. He is eager to show everyone that he still is a good player.
With the Lakers, he obviously would have less pressure than on other teams, acting as a backup to Ron Artest and Kobe Bryant. He would be on a winner, and also get to be in L.A.
Finally, I will throw an outside shot of the Lakers offering a final roster slot to one of their summer camp roster players.
D.J. Strawberry, the son of Major Leaguer Darryl Strawberry, could provide some needed defensive play at point guard, although his offensive game is still something that needs work. Forward Gerald Green has bounced around the league and even won the Slam Dunk Contest in '07, but has gained a reputation of having a bad attitude.
If I were GM, I'd talk to Kobe about Shaq, and if he gave the OK, I'd contact Shaq, try to get him to come to L.A., and finish out his career. Having seen Mitch Kupchak work over the years, I can't see that happening. I think that mostly rules out Tracy McGrady too, unless the player seeks out L.A. and meets with Kupchak on his own accord.
It should be interesting to see what happens, but no matter what, the Lakers have solidified their roster for the next several years with the Derek Fisher and Steve Blake signings. The only question left is which combination of players will be on the court during garbage time in the upcoming season?
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