L.A. Lakers: Signing J.R. Smith in Free Agency Would Solve Their Issues
Time after time this past NBA season and postseason, we saw the Lakers get out-hustled, out-run and simply out-played by hungrier, more athletic teams. The constant gaps and defensive lapses were bolstered by weak offensive output, primarily at the point guard position. With a team that had been to the Finals three straight years, and an already mature backcourt with Derek Fisher and an injury plagued Kobe Bryant.
After being ousted by the Dallas Mavericks, the eventual NBA Finals champions, in a four-game sweep, the Lakers need to look at ways to improve their backcourt weaknesses. They were repeatedly exploited as the Mavericks were able to get penetration and kick out to their outside shooters.
Many speculated trade ideas are being thrown toward the Lakers for players such as Orlando's Dwight Howard, New Orleans' Chris Paul, Golden State's Monta Ellis and Minnesota's Kevin Love. However, once one looks past all of these largely unlikely transactions, there are very few solid options for the Lakers. One of these may be in the athletic yet enigmatic J.R. Smith of the Denver Nuggets.
In a crucial juncture for the Lakers, there are various skill sets and intangibles could Smith provide them, either starting or coming off the bench, assuming that they are able to acquire him.
4. Emotion: Be a Spark Plug for the Lakers Bench
In a team whose emotional leader is none other than one of the league's largest personalities, it sometimes becomes difficult for other members of the Lakers to be outspoken. This past season we saw complacency set in and take away the passion and emotion that Lakers fans are so used to seeing. Other than Bryant and the leadership of veteran Derek Fisher, the Lakers did not really vocalize much on the court or during practices (during which Bryant was absent to help heal his knee)—this can affect the overall team chemistry.
However, there have been some sparks flying on the Lakers with the emotional outbursts of Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum in Game 4 of the 2011 conference semifinals against the eventual NBA champion Dallas Mavericks. Before this indecent, Bynum had spoken out, and was becoming more demanding on the court, which is a positive sign.
On the other hand, there were passive players like Pau Gasol and Steve Blake, who showed very little emotion on the court, a far cry from the Gasol that was screaming as he ran down the court one year ago in a pivotal Game 7 against the Celtics.
A player like J.R. Smith, who is a proverbial time bomb on the court and can go off at any moment in a burst of athleticism and scoring, could be the perfect spark to an aging Lakers team that seems to be at a loss for passion. His attitude and ability to take players off the dribble could really bolster the Lakers bench attack. Running with smart players like Matt Barnes, Lamar Odom and Steve Blake could give someone like Smith, and possibly Shannon Brown (player option), many opportunities to score.
3. Crowd-Pleaser: Swinging Momentum and Generating Excitement with Dunks
We saw it this past NBA Finals with Miami, as every alley-oop and every dunk seemed to shift the momentum and energy toward the Heat. After all, the Lakers do have a Showtime legacy to uphold.
The fast break was a place that the Lakers had only two real threats who could pound down a thunderous dunk to swing momentum and create buzz in the crowd. Those two players were Shannon Brown and Kobe Bryant. By adding J.R. Smith to the mix, you add another player who can fly high with the rest of them.
Smith can flat-out dunk, and adding him to the Lakers would make them a legitimate fast-break threat with three powerful dunkers.
2. Infuse Youth on an Aging and Fatigued Squad
The fatigue and age barriers that were going against the Los Angeles Lakers this past season were evident in the sweep they faced at the hands of the Mavs. Three straight years of playing deep into June had taken a toll on the legs of the older team.
Smith, at only 25 years old, can be a player that acts as an infusion of youth, particularly on the defensive end, where he will be asked to keep up with the younger point guards in the league like Chris Paul, Rajon Rondo and Derrick Rose. Furthermore, acting as a backup for Kobe Bryant, Smith can be the secondary punch that keeps the Lakers in the game while Bryant takes his customary rest during the second and fourth quarters.
A look at his past stats shows that Smith has scoring ability and an all-around game averaging nearly 13 points, two assists and four rebounds, and also contributes defensively by grabbing just over 1.4 steals a game. This energy that he brings could be key to another Lakers title run.
1. Outside Shooting
Perhaps the biggest need for the Lakers is good outside shooting, an area completely exposed by a hot-shooting Dallas team. The few threats that the Lakers have from three-point land were not dialed in, and the Mavericks took advantage in grandiose fashion shooting brilliantly from beyond the arc.
Smith is a 39 percent shooter from three-point range, and would be a welcome addition to a team where shooters are in dire need. J.R. has the ability to hit outside shots with regularity, and he even finished the 2009-10 season with the second-most three-pointers in the league off the bench.
This aspect of the game is key for new coach Mike Brown and a team that will be looking to lay a tough inside-outside game with Gasol, Odom and Bynum down low. A shooter like Smith could help spread the floor and give a new Lakers offense the space it needs to flourish.
What Do You Think Smith Can Bring to the Table?
You decide, what are the qualities that J.R. Smith brings to the table if he is signed with the Los Angeles Lakers. Comment below and describe the things that he offers to a team looking to return to championship form.
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