If you’re a Lakers fan, the past few weeks have felt like being stuck sitting at a really long, really bad movie. You just want it to end already so you can get up, stretch your legs and get out of the theatre as quickly as possible.
After seeing what’s transpired in Laker Land the last 10 days, I am starting to actually reminisce about the lockout. The Lakers still had Lamar Odom on their roster, and the Clippers and Chris Paul had absolutely nothing in common.
Back to reality. The Lakers open the regular, strike-shortened season on Sunday at home against the Chicago Bulls, and if Monday night’s first of two preseason games is any indication, this team is going to have a tough go of it and may not even make the playoffs.
The last week and a half for the Lakers has been like the miserable part of It’s A Wonderful Life, when George Bailey’s (Jimmy Stewart) life falls apart.
First, they trade for Chris Paul, only to have the league veto the deal at the 11th hour (does David Stern think he’s a member of Congress?). Then, L.A. traded Lamar Odom to Dallas for a few nickels and a piece of cheese from Mark Cuban. And high-stepping Shannon Brown decided to finally get a decent paycheck and took his talents to Phoenix.
Had enough? The preseason Lakers were blown out of the building Monday night against Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Chauncey Billups and the suddenly sublime Clippers. So now what?
What’s your next move, Mike Brown? What will the Lakers starting lineup look like when they welcome Derrick Rose and the Bulls to Staples Center on Christmas Day?
It’s anyone’s guess, including mine. Read on for five possible starting units for your new look Los Angeles Lakers. May the force be with them.
Matt Barnes has to hope his first-string status will last longer than his stint on Dancing With The Stars.
The eighth-year pro from UCLA has earned a place alongside Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum based on two things: his defensive abilities and the frightening deterioration of Metta World Peace, AKA Ron Artest.
Barnes actually played better than Artest a year ago and was eating into MWP's minutes when he blew out a knee in early January and was lost to the team for close to three months. Barnes averaged 4.3 rebounds last season in just 19 minutes of play per game. He's scrappy, tenacious and will give the team some spark it sorely lacked at the end of its dismal playoff run.
The rest of this first lineup would also include Derek Fisher and Kobe Bryant. If the team gets any points for being veterans and having championship rings, this group looks pretty good.
Unfortunately, this group is also a bit on the older side. Barnes is 31, Gasol 31, Bryant 33 and Fisher 37. Bynum is just 24 and in the best shape of his life; we're just not sure how old his knees are.
If Barnes can grab about eight to 10 rebounds, score six to 10 points and play 25-28 minutes, Coach Mike Brown will be happy. It's a big opportunity for the former Bruin; let's see if he seizes the moment.
As much as Matt Barnes deserves an opportunity to start on Sunday, an equally interesting scenerio would have second year small forward Devin Ebanks jump into the first team for the opening tip off against the Bulls.
Ebanks has the physical tools to succeed in the league: He's quick off the ball, is athletic and loves to go after loose balls. Sound familiar (think Trevor Ariza, only a few years younger and less expensive)?
Following their open scrimmage last weekend, coach Brown told Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Times that Ebanks may be ready:
"It's great to see him not be afraid, step up and take the right shots," said Brown. "I don't think [Ebanks] forced anything. I thought he let it come to him. If he's out there with his starting group, that's what he's going to have to do because I won't call a play for him ... It was evident by his play, you can see why Kobe's excited about Devin."
Ebanks, at 6'9", 215 pounds, can play small forward or shooting guard for the Lakers. Last season, he saw limited action, averaging 3.1 points in just 5.9 minutes per contest. He was even demoted to the Bakersfield Jam a few times during the year so that he could get on the court
With Odom gone and MWP fading, Ebanks has a golden opportunity to move to the front of the class. A starting lineup with Ebanks, Gasol, Bynum, Bryant and Fisher might be a bit quicker than with Barnes in the game. Ebanks worked on his shot over the long offseason and was consistently tutored by No. 24, something he will never forget.
"He's (Bryant) been very helpful," Ebanks told Medina of the L.A. Times.
"If he sees something, he'll let me know."
Give the kid a shot. What does the team have to lose?
Josh McRoberts most likely will spell Pau Gasol off the bench, but it wouldn't be a surprise to see him in a huge starting front line consisting of Gasol and Bynum.
McRoberts, or McBob as he's come to be known, is already a fan favorite because of his energy and scrappiness, two things not associated with the Lakers of last year.
McRoberts has steadily increased his playing time and productivity since being drafted four years ago by Indiana after his sophomore season at Duke. The 6'10", 240-pound power forward averaged career bests of 22 minutes, 7.4 points and 5.3 rebounds last year for the Pacers in 72 games.
McRoberts may not have the versatility of Odom, but then again, who does? At 24, he is young and ready to play a lot of minutes. And he will provide some much needed bulk at the forward position for a team that's been looking awfully thin of late.
Steve Blake was a disappearing act last year, and his confidence became an afterthought.
The 6'3" ninth-year pro from Maryland shot just 36 percent from the field last season, his lowest mark of his career when playing more than 50 games.
With the Lakers in a desperate hunt for a point guard, Blake was thought to either be on his way out or on his way to the very end of the bench. But since the Paul deal fell through and because Derek Fisher is 37 and just starting to get back into basketball shape after wearing himself out representing the players during the lockout, Blake now has an opportunity to play a lot of minutes and maybe even start Sunday's game against Chicago.
Blake was originally signed by the team because he could shoot the ball from long range (43 and 44 percent with Portland and the Clippers just three and four years ago) and run an offense.
He's lost a step or two but is still quicker than Fisher and more experienced than the two rookie guards (Darius Morris and Andrew Goudelock) the team drafted this year. So while Mitch Kupchak keeps looking for the point guard of the future, guys like Blake will get an opportunity to prove they can help the club.
So who wouldn't want Superman for Christmas?
This is the ultimate dream lineup for the Lakers, and the chances of that happening appear to be less than slim at this point, but try to imagine it anyway.
The Lakers would have to part with Andrew Bynum but in their perfect world they keep Gasol in the trade with Orlando.
Your starting lineup for Sunday: Gasol, Bryant, Fisher, Barnes and Dwight Howard. Now that's a lineup all of L.A. (excluding Clipper fans) could live with. Howard would bring his 23 points and 14 rebounds to Staples Center, and the Lakers would suddenly be the favorite out of the Western Conference.
Howard may even be worth trading Bynum and Gasol, though that would leave a gaping hole in the Lakers front line and force guys like McRoberts, Ebanks and recently signed Troy Murphy into leading roles. Is it worth the risk?
Christmas is for wishful thinking. Some will wish for a 60-inch flat screen TV or a new car. The Lakers dream of having Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant on a team together, battling Blake Griffin and Chris Paul for supremacy in L.A. and dismantling the Miami Heat in the Finals.
A nice dream to have...even if that's all it will be.