Los Angeles Lakers: Time to Rebuild
By halftime of Game 4 against the Dallas Mavericks, legendary head coach Phil Jackson knew his career was at the end of the ropes. Thanks to incredibly hot shooting from not only the Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki but the reserves as well. Not to mention a rare inability to close in the fourth quarter from the back-to-back defending champs.
Early on it was easy to see that Laker star Kobe Bryant was the only player that wanted to keep Jackson from going out in such a horrific fashion. But one versus five isn't easy, especially for an aging Bryant, who in his youth could score at will.
The disappearance from perennial All Star Pau Gasol devastated the Lakers offense as well as the inability to knockdown an outside shot.
The one positive that can be taken from this postseason is the progress of center Andrew Bynum. When healthy Bynum has the talent to be an offensive and defensive force, but healthy is the key word.
There is also the lack of chemistry that seemed evident for most of the season. Players having putting agenda's off the court ahead of playing together. Odom for example, being the star of his own TV show making his life more public then it already is.
The following are just a few ideas on what Lakers management could do to fix their collective issues.
1: Development of Trey Johnson and Devin Ebanks
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Laker fans may know little about 6'5" shooting guard Trey Johnson, but he 6'9" small forward Devin Ebanks have the potential to be the future of the franchise.
Johnson was a star in D-League (I realize it is the D-League but still) averaging just over 25 points a game throughout the regular season which pushed his career average to 20. Also in the one playoff game he appeared in for Bakersfield he dropped 29 points.
With development and teaching from Bryant, Johnson has the potential to become a solid contributor for the Lakers. Unlike Shannon Brown, Johnson has the basketball IQ to actually become consistent for the Lakers off the bench and should he want to leave this offseason Lakers management should allow him too.
Last summer, Laker fans saw a reflection of Trevor Ariza in Ebanks. Ebanks resembles Ariza in many ways, especially in length and defensive talent.
But Ebanks has something that Ariza doesn't thanks to his time at the University of West Virginia, a jump shot.
In 20 games in a Laker uniform, Ebanks shot 40 percent from three, 41 percent from the field, and 78 percent from the line.
Ebanks development hinges on his work ethic, with his size and skill set he has an ability to become a lock-down defender in the league with an offensive arsenal that would make him a solid contributor on both ends of the floor.
2: Trading Either Pau Gasol or Andrew Bynum
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The inside duo's chemistry died this postseason and it seemed to appear that the rekindling of the pair will be unlikely.
Gasol has been an All Star for the Lakers since being traded for to be Bryant's right hand man and has been a large reason to why the Lakers won back-to-back titles.
However, after a regular season where he scored almost at will, Gasol's confidence evaporated quickly in the playoffs. After failing to be effective on either side of the floor against an undersized New Orleans team and against Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki many have begun to question Gasol.
Gasol however would be a hard piece to trade. His contract owes him a little more than 19 million next season and the clear fact that he's no longer a number one option while questions surround him even being the number 2 option rise.
Bynum however became intriguing this postseason thanks to the recovery of his knees, offensive array of post moves, and defensive aggressiveness. Bynum's play has done two things for him, made him a weapon should he remain in a Laker uniform and made him trade bait.
And with rumors a float that Orlando's Dwight Howard would like to play with Bryant out in LA, it makes moving Bynum even more interesting. Sending Bynum and perhaps another player depending on Orlando's demands for Howard has a lot of potential if Orlando GM Otis Smith determines he won't be able to resign the three time Defensive Player of the Year.
Should moving Bynum become unlikely, Gasol could be sent to a team that is desperately in need of size for a point guard and perhaps a back up post. New Orleans provides an interesting prospect, though pulling Chris Paul away from the Hornets is unlikely reaching out for Jarrett Jack is not.
Reaching out for Jack and perhaps Okafor or even the man that destroyed Gasol in the first round Carl Landry his interesting. Jack could start for almost any time in the NBA and would be an ideal replacement for Derek Fisher. Then asking for Landry as well wouldn't hurt the Hornets because they'd gain size with Gasol who is still arguably one of the smartest post players in the league.
Both players bring interesting trade scenario's that the Lakers must consider to help repair the roster for next season with youth and chemistry.
3: Sign or Trade for a Young Point Guard.
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Last season we thought the Lakers pick and roll defense was bad, but little did we know that it would only get worse. Derek Fisher has slowed dramatically with age and though he still can provide late game heroics and locker room leadership what he can't provide is steady defense against the leagues elite point guards.
The acquisition of Steve Blake during the last offseason was supposed to help fill that defensive void while he provided consistent outside shooting. However he failed to do both and was mistaken prone as he was constantly burned in the post season by Dallas's JJ Barea and New Orlean's Chris Paul.
Now there isn't a whole lot of interesting free agent prospects at point in this years class, but the Lakers need young legs at point on both ends of the floor.
Trades are the only real way the Lakers can acquire young legs. Like in the previous slide I mentioned a trade with the Hornets for Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry for Pau Gasol.
However another interesting scenario could occur with Gasol being sent to Houston for Goran Dragic and Jordan Hill or another back up post player.
This provides Houston with a replace for Yao Ming who still has some years left in the tank to be a second or third option to Kevin Martin.
Either way the Lakers choose to go, they need to get younger. After constantly being shown just how slow they are by teams with highly athletic back courts.
4: Bringing in Brian Shaw or Rick Adelman.
The real tragedy from the Lakers sweep was the ending of the legendary Phil Jackson's coaching career. Jackson helped lead the Lakers to winning five NBA Championships bringing their total to 16 just one shy of the Boston Celtics.
Jackson's eleven championships as a coach and locker room professionalism made him virtually untouchable on the sideline while it made players who quarreled with him almost certainly gone.
But as the end of Jackson era is upon us, it's time for Lakers management to search for a new locker room leader.
Top assistant Brian Shaw has been known as a candidate favorite and has publicly been praised by Kobe Bryant and would continue the use of the triangle and hold together locker room consistence from the coaching staff.
However an interesting prospect is former Houston Rockets coach Rick Adelman. Adelman has won 60.5 percent of his regular seasons game with a record of 945-616. Aldeman, may not have the best postseason success but you can credit some of that to the Lakers as he's won 79 games but lost 78 to have only a 50 percent win record.
However, Adelman finds ways to bring the best out of his players with an active offense. Adelman would also get the best out of Bryant because he would garner Bryant's respect because of how professional he shows himself.
5: Bring in Outside Shooters.
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The Lakers shot a pathetic 19 percent from three against the Mavericks which helped lead to the sweep. With lack of production from the perimeter it took away lanes from Bryant to create his shot and made scoring for both Gasol and Bynum even more difficult which was actually where the Lakers had the advantage.
Bynum scored 21 in game three but only had 3 in the fourth quarter and was virtually ineffective in Game 4 because Dallas sank into the lane because they knew the Lakers were struggling from the perimeter.
Bryant was the only consistently Laker throughout the series even though after Game 1 he scored less and less, but that's because of the defensive strategy to crowd the paint and force Bryant into constantly shooting 18 to 21 foot shots.
Without spacing, the Lakers offense was strangled and they are desperately in need of outside gunners. Luckily this offseason's free agent class is full of them.
Denver's J.R. Smith is one of them, sure he's a high volume shooter and erratic personality but he brings to the table an explosive arsenal of tools that the Lakers are in desperate need of. He'll provide another quality reserve for the Lakers and challenge Lamar Odom for 6th man minutes as they could be paired together.
Also savvy veteran Derek Fisher can help contain Smith's personality while Bryant helps him elevate his game further.
Obviously Williams hot shooting is obviously questionable as he's only had real success with the Knicks from behind the line. Richardson is a more likely target, bringing the highly athletic guard to a proven winner to help provide offense would be key, but he'd obviously have to accept a role off the bench since he'd be behind Bryant.
Redd is an intriguing piece though, because of his ability to score. Before his knee injuries severely knocked his career off course (sound like Bynum or Oden much?), Redd was one of the leagues most prolific scorers and outside shooters. Should he show that he still has gas left in the tank, he could be ideal for the Lakers because he has something to prove and would come back as a highly active and motivated player off the bench.
Either way, without range the Lakers have no game.
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Kobe Bryant is desperate to win his 6th ring and with the overhaul of the roster ahead might just get that chance next season. Here is the most likely line-up that I have come up with:
Center: Andrew Bynum, Jordan Hill
Power forward: Lamar Odom, Devin Ebanks, Derrick Character
Small forward: Ron Artest, Matt Barnes
Shooting guard: Kobe Bryant, J.R. Smith, Trey Johnson
Point guard: Goran Dragic, Derek Fisher, Steve Blake.
Though the results are quite drastic it still provides the Lakers with a new look and an arsenal of weapons.
Lamar Odom being moved to the starting line up will put a lot of pressure on the development of Ebanks and Character. But Lakers management isn't looking for them to become superstars, just solid contributions which Ebanks should be able to provide.
The Ron Artest situation at small forward needs to change but with Artest's age and offensive inability it makes him hard to move even though he can still cause elite forwards Kevin Durant and LeBron James fits defensively with his physical and pestering player.
Barnes however, at the same age is a more capable replacement for Artest. Offensively before he got hurt earlier the season the Lakers were more balanced with on the floor and he shares a similar mindset with Bryant, all he wants to do is win. Barnes will earn more time next season and could possibly replace Artest in the starting line up.
Smith and Johnson are the potential temporary replacements for Bryant whenever he decides to hang up the laces permanently. Both can provide high volume scoring and are energetic off the bench for the remainder of Bryant's career.
Dragic is just a start for the Lakers, he's not the prototypical Laker point guard which is a step in the right direction. Dragic can score in spurts and is solid defender who is quick enough to help contain teams running the pick and roll.
Overall this would keep the Lakers competitive next season while management continues to reload the roster with youth so they can continue to be competitive in the future. Though this provides no star power alongside Bryant what it does do is spread the floor and give Bryant more lanes to penetrate.
This is just a start to the extensive remodeled the Lakers will have to do to recover from Jackson leaving and the closing years of Bryant's career. Patience, Los Angeles, patience; this is just the beginning.