The summer is winding down, and after an active free agency period, the roster for the Los Angeles Lakers is beginning to have the feel of a real team instead of an assortment of players.
The ultimate goal for the Lakers is a third consecutive NBA championship, and general manager Mitch Kupchak has addressed concerns which should bolster the odds for reaching that plateau.
Steve Blake, Matt Barnes, and Theo Ratliff give the Lakers additional point guard help, defensive length on the perimeter, and a physical presence in the paint, but more importantly each player strengthens the Lakers reserve unit.
The inconsistency of the Lakers bench last season was an area of concern, but the franchise may enter the 2010-11 season with one of the deepest reserve units of the Phil Jackson era.
It's hard to remember the last time the Lakers could substitute for the entire starting five and still field a team capable of holding down the fort for a few minutes.
The chances of this happening are slim, but theoretically the Lakers could play Blake, Shannon Brown, Barnes, Lamar Odom, and Ratliff, while giving the entire first team a rest.
The Lakers have always had a talented bench, but this season they are versatile as well, and Jackson has a variety of potential lineups at his disposal.
Last season, the Lakers bench was seen as a weakness when compared to other elite teams in the West and throughout the NBA, but this year the Lakers reserves will be able to hold their own against anyone.
The Dallas Mavericks, Portland Trail Blazers, and San Antonio Spurs are arguably the deepest teams in the Western Conference, with Portland and Dallas holding an edge over the Spurs.
Dallas has size in the newly acquired Tyson Chandler, strong point guard play in Roddy Beaubois and Jose Barea, and an accomplished scorer in Jason Terry.
Terry may represent the only element the Lakers bench is lacking, because there is no player on the reserve unit who can create their own offense in the same manner as Terry.
That's the main reason Jackson would be hesitant to field an all-reserve unit, because even though Odom has the potential to be the offensive focus of the second team, he has yet to display the consistency needed to claim that mantle.
The Portland Trail Blazers could also have a strong reserve unit, and if Greg Oden can make a successful return from yet another injury, they could be even deeper.
The Blazers have size and shot-blocking in Marcus Camby and Joel Przybilla, and an impressive group of perimeter players which includes Jerryd Bayless, Rudy Fernandez, and the newly acquired Wesley Matthews.
San Antonio may not have the same depth in their reserve unit as Dallas and Portland, but they can call on talent in players such as Manu Ginobili, George Hill, and Dejuan Blair.
Ginobili is like the Mavericks' Terry in the sense of providing instant offense, and Blair proved to be a force in the paint during his rookie campaign, while Hill served as a steady back-up to Tony Parker.
In the Eastern Conference, the Boston Celtics can match the Lakers' size up front with Shaquille O'Neal, Jermaine O'Neal, and Glen Davis, but Los Angeles may have a slight edge in the backcourt.
The Orlando Magic are arguably the deepest team in the East, and their reserve unit reflects a nice balance of size, experience, and steady backcourt play.
Chris Duhon and Jason Williams are decent alternatives to Jameer Nelson and Marcin Gortat, Ryan Anderson, and Brandon Bass provide size and muscle in the paint.
All of the aforementioned teams have superior reserve units, but in each instance the Lakers can almost match them position by position.
The Lakers were considered to have the NBA's most talented starting five in 2010, and due to Kupchak's smart offseason moves, the reserve unit can now be considered one of the league's best as well.
Barnes and Ratliff give the Lakers a strong defensive presence, and Blake should prove to be a steadier alternative to the departed Jordan Farmar, with a better jump shot to boot.
In seasons past, Lakers fans would cringe as the second unit blew yet another large lead, but this season brings hope, and a possible re-birth of the famed Lakers "bench mob."
Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and the rest of the Lakers starting five will still be the keys to any hopes of a Lakers three-peat, but this season they should have more than enough help along the way.