Saturday, February 02, 2008

What the Lakers Look Like Now

Los Angeles made a huge splash on Friday, acquiring Pau Gasol from Memphis for Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton, Marc Gasol and two future first-round picks. As far as trades go the most obvious comparison is the Kenyon Martin deal to Denver. At the end of the 2004 season New Jersey dealt the disgruntled power forward in a sign-and-trade for three first-round picks.

In these situations Pau and Kenyon were both:
- good, borderline great power forwards
- not happy with their teams
- signed to bloated contracts (Gasol $63 million/4; Martin $92.5 million/7)

While the Martin experiment hasn't worked in Denver, Lakers fans are looking forward to teaming an inside scoring threat with Kobe. But is LA now a legit title contender?

A quick rundown of the Laker roster:

Starters


Pau Gasol, PF
Huge upgrade over Kwame Brown. Possesses wide range of offensive skills. Plays smart and efficient. Quick for his size. Labeled as soft. Lacks leadership qualities. Not a good defender. Injuries are a concern.

Lamar Odom, SF
Widely considered one of the most underachieving talents in basketball. Mostly operates on the perimeter. Length gives him an advantage over peers. Lacks mean streak and avoids contact. Average defender.

Andrew Bynum, C
Injured and may miss the rest of the season. Made huge strides but still has a long way to go. Aggressive inside the paint, which leads to a lot of dunks. Needs to develop a consistent shot from five feet and beyond.

Kobe Bryant, SG
The premier player in the league. Ideal size, strength and agility. No weaknesses. Can takeover a game at any given moment. Often defers to his teammates early to get them in a rhythm. Excellent at drawing contact, which leads to easy points at the free-throw line. Lives for the big moment. Good defender. Improved 3-point shot. Can be prone to trying to do too much.

Derek Fisher, PG
One of the most cerebral players in the league. Compensates for lack of athleticism with acute sense on the court. Great ball handler. Deadly from three-point range. President of the Player's Association Executive Committee.

Bench

Jordan Farmar, PG
Excellent ball handler. Outside shot developing nicely. Good at finishing at the basket. Needs to improve defensively. Not big enough to post, not fast enough to run. Can get flustered after a mistake, which leads him to press.

Luke Walton, SF
Intelligent team player. Always does the little things that don't appear in the box score. Great passer.

Trevor Ariza, SF
Tremendous athlete. Runs the floor well. Good rebounder. Limited range.

Ronny Turiaf, PF
Energizes team and fans with unrelenting energy and effort. Needs to learn how to control emotion after bad plays.

Sasha Vujacic, SG
Improved jumper. Deceptively quick. Nonexistent inside the paint.

Vladimir Radmanovic, SF
Big man with good range. Spreads out the defense. Lacks inside game. Poor defender.

Coby Karl, SG
Good size and shooting touch. Not athletic. Recovered from thyroid cancer. Son of Denver Nuggets head coach George Karl.

DJ Mbenga
End of the bench emergency big body.

Chris Mihm, C
Out for the season with an injury.

Conclusion
The Lakers are well-constructed from top to bottom. They're good. Really good. Bryant, Fisher and coach Phil Jackson have won multiple championships and are surrounded by a supporting cast that can rise to the occasion.

But can doesn't mean will. Los Angeles needs three things to go right in order to compete for a title.

First and foremost, the health of Andrew Bynum. Without him LA inserts Turiaf into the starting lineup, which greatly diminishes the team's quality and depth. If they play Utah or New Orleans in the playoff the Lakers will need two healthy bigs to counter against Mehmet Okur, Carlos Boozer, Tyson Chandler and David West.

Secondly, none of the Lakers reserves are great scorers. Teams like San Antonio, Dallas and Phoenix have elite talents Manu Ginobli, Jason Terry and Leandro Barbosa coming off the bench. While many teams simply try to stay competitive with their second units, the aforementioned players can put up points in a hurry for their ballclubs. LA needs a spark off the bench. Ariza showed flashes of brilliance during his stint in Orlando and seems like a prime breakout candidate.

And finally, Lamar Odom. If the playoffs started tonight the small forwards playing in the Western Conference would be: Shawn Marion, Peja Stojakovic, Josh Howard, Andrei Kirilenko, Michael Finley, Carmelo Anthony and Stephen Jackson. While Odom wouldn't always be matched up head-to-head with his SF counterparts he would have to equal their production.
An inconsistent Odom equals doom.

All in all, the Lakers probably won't win a title this year. They lack the talent and experience to beat the Spurs or Suns four times in a seven-game series. Against Utah and Dallas, maybe. However, Los Angeles won't be first-round fodder like it has been the past couple years. Phil Jackson has proven he can get results with two stars and good role players.

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