5 Players the LA Lakers Should Pursue To Help Transition to Next Generation
Make no mistake: There still exists a boatload of talent on the Lakers roster. They are capable of another championship run as long as they remain healthy and, more importantly, motivated. A roster featuring Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum will strike fear into most teams for another couple of years at the very least.
But if you are sitting in Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak’s oversized office chair, you must be contemplating what the future will look like. Transitioning from an old, established winning franchise to a young one without losing a step is one of the most difficult balancing acts in professional sports.
Just take a look at the post-“Showtime” era of 1989-99. These Lakers, now old and retiring, struggled. Over the ensuing decade, the team failed to win a division championship, not to mention a world title. After getting blown out of the 1991 NBA Finals in five games by Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, the Lakers lost their legs.
L.A. lost in the first round of the playoffs the next two years and the following season (1993-94) did not even make the postseason, finishing with a dismal 33-49 record. It wasn’t until Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal arrived together in 1996 that the Lakers found their legs and started to jell again as a major contender for the championship.
It’s nearly impossible not to miss a beat in the NBA when your team begins to age and has a number of its players on long-term contracts.
Thus, the Lakers have a roster that can compete for a title this year and next, but after that they’ll need to retool.
The question then becomes how do you do that, and who are the five players the team should pursue now in order to prevent a five-year meltdown when the big stars can no longer fill it up and are on their last legs?
Monta Ellis: Golden State Warriors Point Guard
Please don't ask me how the Lakers will obtain these players. That's the work of the GM and his staff.
All I know is that Monta Ellis would be an ideal fit for a team that has long been in search of a young, outstanding shooting point guard who drives to the basket and makes plays.
Ellis is probably known more for his scoring than playmaking. He's averaged 24.1 and 25.5 points per game the past two seasons respectively and is a career 47 percent shooter from the field.
Ellis did improve his assists average to 5.6 per game last season, the best of his six-year career with the Warriors. He also is durable, having started 80 games last season and averaged 40.3 minutes of playing time.
At just 26 years of age (his birthday is actually this Wednesday), Monta Ellis has tremendous upside. His name was bandied about this summer as trade bait to a number of NBA teams.
Ellis in a Lakers uniform would be a fixture for the next five to seven years.
Chris Paul: New Orleans Hornets Point Guard Extraordinaire
Chris Paul is one of just a few superstar players who would make the transition from the Kobe era to the next era a relatively painless one.
At 6'0", 175 pounds, the 26-year-old CP3 is without question the quintessential point guard in the NBA today. He has toiled in New Orleans with David West and a weak supporting cast, and it is widely assumed Paul is ready to move on to a team that knows how to win championships.
Imagine for a moment the speedy, pass-happy Chris Paul finding the open man in the Lakers triangle light offensive scheme. This guy is Steve Nash in a different body—he averages 10 assists per game for his career, which translates to an additional 20 to 30 points from his teammates.
In addition, Paul can put the ball in the hole himself. He averages 47 percent shooting and 36 percent from three-point range. His 15.8 scoring average last season was the lowest of his six-year career, though much of that can be attributed to a depleted New Orleans team that was without David West, its big presence inside.
Aaron Brooks: Phoenix Suns Point Guard
The former Oregon Duck will be 27 in January and is just coming into his own as one of the league's leading point guards.
Aaron Brooks would work well in the Lakers lineup. He has certainly given L.A. fits during the playoffs and in regular season confrontations. Brooks is a tremendous slasher, able to draw fouls and create opportunities where none existed.
In 2009-10, Brooks started all 82 games for Houston and averaged 19.6 points and 5.3 assists per game, both career highs. Last year he was traded to the Phoenix Suns midseason, where he played more of a backup role to All-Universe point guard Steve Nash. Brooks averaged just 18.9 minutes per contest with the Suns.
Brooks said he liked the idea of staying in Phoenix indefinitely. Thus far, the Suns are being mum about whether this often hot-and-cold player will stick with them long-term.
Brooks is the type of point guard who can energize an offense, and it would be easy to picture him dropping passes down low to center Andrew Bynum or dishing off to a slashing Kobe Bryant or second-year forward Devin Ebanks, a potential star in his own right.
Russell Westbrook: Oklahoma City Thunder Point Guard
There's obviously a lot of wishful thinking at play here. But why not? Russell Westbrook SHOULD be wearing a Los Angeles Lakers uniform.
Ever since he took the court at Pauley Pavilion in Westwood as a freshman point guard for UCLA, Westbrook has impressed scouts, coaches and other players with his sheer physical skills as a basketball player. He established a fanbase in L.A. with his athleticism, court awareness and passion for the game.
Actually, getting Westbrook to Los Angeles is not as far-fetched as some of the other potential "transition" superstars. There's been much written about Westbrook not getting along with his coach, Scott Brooks, at Oklahoma City.
The 22-year-old Westbrook averaged 8.2 assists per game last year for the Thunder, his best season since entering the NBA in 2008. Westbrook also averaged a career-high 21.9 points and shot 44 percent from the field.
As with any of the moves mentioned here, getting Russell Westbrook means the Lakers would have to give up a lot—a first-round draft pick, one or two front-line players (Lamar Odom, Devin Ebanks?) and cash.
But this is a guy who could anchor the team's backcourt for the next decade. He's already considered by many observers to be one of the top five guards in the game.
Dwight Howard: Orlando Magic Center, The Franchise
Howard is making noise about possibly leaving Orlando when he becomes a free agent next summer. After his team was upset by the Atlanta Hawks in the first round of last season's playoffs, Howard decided not to sign an extension and told ownership he would become a free agent.
In a June 13 article on NBA.com (via The Huffington Post), Howard said, "I want to win a championship. I think the owners have to really know that. That's been my goal and my mission since I've been in the NBA—to win a championship. I don't have side goals or agendas. My main goal is to win a championship. I want to have 14 other guys who feel the same way."
To many Lakers fans, Dwight Howard represents the future of the team. Even though Andrew Bynum has come on strong and may be the league's second-best center, Howard is still considered "Superman" at the position. My guess is that Mitch Kupchak and the Buss family would leap at the chance to sign Howard to a long-term deal and give up on the talented Bynum in the process.
Howard averaged a career-best 22.9 points per game last season, shooting 60 percent from the floor. He also hauled down 14.1 rebounds per contest. As a dominant center who can score consistently in the paint, Dwight Howard has few peers.
Bynum continues to improve, but Howard can do more things, stays out of foul trouble and is consistent with his teammates and fans.
The Lakers must be thinking about moving into a new phase over the next two or three years. Whatever the cost, the 6'11" Howard meets the criteria and job description of a franchise player who will keep fans happy and on their collective toes.