By Jason Wojciechowski on July 8, 2008 at 6:54 AM
Now that the free agency period is underway, and players can start officially signing on Wednesday, I thought I'd take a look at where the Lakers stand and what the roster is shaping up to be next year.
Definitely on the team next year: Kobe, Pau, Bynum, Fisher.
On the team partially because they're useful and partially because they're untradeable: Radmanovic and Walton.
Almost certainly on the team, barring crazy trade that none of us sees coming: Farmar, Mihm, Ariza.
On the bubble: Odom, Vujacic, Turiaf.
Guys on other teams who might end up in LA: Artest, Posey, Maggette.
Scenario 1: Vujacic and Turiaf resign with the Lakers.
Subscenario A: No Odom trade. This is my preferred scenario. The team comes back for year two with a healthy Bynum and Ariza, and has the nice problem of figuring out what to do with too much talent. My favorite lineup: start with Bynum, Pau, Radmanovic, Kobe, and Fisher. Odom comes off the bench sometimes playing the 3 (if you want a huge lineup) and sometimes the 4 (most often the 4, if I have my way), depending on matchups. Pau swaps between the 4 and 5 as needed, and Bynum plays the five. If only one of that group of three is on the floor, you fill the other big spot with Turiaf, who plays the 4 with Pau or Bynum and the 5 with Odom. Vujacic is the backup shooting guard, sometimes with a traditional small forward, sometimes with Kobe at the 3, depending on matchups. Farmar backs up Fisher: one of these two is always on the floor, and they're never there together. Ariza plays the three as the shutdown defender, but only when he can be the fifth option offensively. He should never be on the floor with Turiaf, in other words. Walton plays the three as the facilitator when Kobe is out, getting the ball to the right spot for the bigs and being the fifth shooting option (so again, no overlap with Turiaf). When Turiaf is in the game, either Radmanovic or Kobe should be at the 3. Mihm is an emergency twelfth guy, playing about as much as a twelfth man should. But goodness, isn't that a nice team? Eleven useful players! I like this plan, fitting the rotation together this way.
Subscenario B: Odom traded for Artest and Kenny Thomas. One thing that makes this less likely is that now you've got thirteen players. I guess you just deactivate Chris Mihm, though, and run with a Kobe through Thomas roster. In this case, the starters are Pau, Bynum, Artest, Kobe, and Fisher. Farmar is in the same role as before. Vujacic is probably now a more traditional backup two because you've got Artest as a legitimate three, so why move Kobe over there? (This is another reason not to do the deal: why limit Vujacic's role after a big-ish contract and a breakout year?) Radmanovic is a shooter off the bench behind Artest, and he might nominally play the four if the other team has gone small. Ariza is ... redundant. Artest is your lockdown defender, and Ariza isn't much offensively, so his minutes would likely take a huge hit, down to like eleventh man status. And Walton isn't in any better boat. As I said, this is why Odom for Artest doesn't work: it leaves you down to zero good power forwards (Pau's a center) and four small forwards. The existence of Kobe means you can't shift any of them to shooting guard for very long, so you just get redundancy without those guys being trade chits because their contracts make them untradeable. Anyway, Turiaf and Thomas split minutes at the backup big spots. I'm not enthused by this at all.
Subscenario C: Posey signs. Mihm is again shunted off to the inactive list. I think here, Posey becomes the starting three and matches up against McGrady, Pierce, Kirilenko, Peja, Durant, or whoever right from the start. Radmanovic is a shooter at the 2-4 spots, Ariza plays defense for Posey when he's out, and Walton doesn't get many minutes. Why am I more comfortable with this than the Artest situation? Because Odom is still here, playing the four with either Bynum or Gasol. This lineup actually leaves more room for Sasha because while Posey is a useful offensive player, you can still feel ok putting him on the bench and sliding Kobe to the three in a way you can't with Artest. I like this situation, not least because it gets Posey away from those bastard Celtics, but also because it really looks like a nice team, one where Ariza still has his uses because Posey won't play the minutes that Artest would be expecting.
Subscenario D: Maggette signs. Here, I think Radmanovic is the starter and Maggette comes off the bench as a dynamic offensive player. He's especially useful when Kobe is on the bench, but he's of course not limited to those times. This again limits Sasha's minutes because you don't play him over Maggette if you need offense. Everyone else's roles stay the same as in previous situations.
Scenario 2: Turiaf gone (to the Jazz?), Sasha back.
Subscenario A: No changes. Now LA is short a player and stuck with Mihm as your only backup big, which is problematic because he's not a power forward the way Ronny is. You probably then have to resign Mbenga as the twelfth man or else run with Coby Karl or Joe Crawford in that spot. The back three spots in the rotation play out as above, with Odom off the bench, etc. This is not horrible, although I'd like to have Turiaf's energy and defensive chops playing a few minutes a night for my squad instead of Mihm.
Subscenario B: Trade Lamar. Now you've basically got Pau playing power forward full-time because Lamar isn't around. On top of that, any time either Pau or Bynum sits, you've got Kenny Thomas on the floor. And don't even think about sitting both Pau and Bynum, unless you're turned on by the thought of Mihm at center with Thomas at PF, or Thomas at center with Radmanovic at PF. And you've still got a logjam at small forward, unless you want to Radmanovic or Artest spending significant time at the four.
Subscenario C: Posey. This isn't so bad. You've got to figure that with Bynum, Pau, and Odom, Turiaf wouldn't be logging many minutes anyway, so moving to a smaller lineup for those few minutes, probably with Posey at the four, isn't so bad.
Subscenario D: Maggette. This isn't optimal because you get the worst of both worlds: no reliable backup big and Sasha squeezed our of PT by the fact that Maggette would take some of the floor time he earned last year.
Scenario 3: Sasha leaves (Houston?), Ronny back.
Subscenario A: No change. I think I move Ariza to the starting lineup here so that the knock-down shooter off the bench can be Radmanovic. For the eight minutes or so that Kobe is on the bench, I guess you can run with Ariza at the two, or maybe Vlad. The mechanics of that may be awkward with Ariza starting, so maybe Walton starts instead? Neither is ideal, but as long as Odom is out there with that unit, you've probably got enough ballhandlers to survive. In this lineup, Kobe never leaves the two spot because he's really the only two-guard on the roster.
Subscenario B: Artest. Now you've got Turiaf or Thomas playing whenever Pau or Bynum is out, and occasionally both together. That's not horrible because at least Turiaf can fake being a center for a few minutes. However, one of the major worries about a new small forward, being redundant with Sasha, would be alleviated here. That said, you've still got just one two-guard on the roster, although Artest kind of approximates one in that he's not really an interior presence, so you could go with a big lineup of him, one of the small forwards, Pau, and Bynum, which would be a hellaciously large group.
Subscenario C: Posey. Posey addresses the loss of Sasha's three point shooting the way Artest doesn't. Anything else there is to be said about this is said above.
Subscenario D: Maggette. Again, it's been said before: gain Maggette's dynamism, lose backcourt depth, cause tangle ups for playing time at SF, likely resulting in the burying of Luke Walton.
I refuse to even address the doomsday scenario of both Sasha and Ronny leaving town. When you've got three small forwards, and Lamar Odom might have to play out of position there, and your only real free agent targets are small forwards, you can't really lose a backcourt guy who gives you active, tenacious defense and an energy big at the same time. The replacements for these two just aren't out there, especially since LA only has cap exceptions to pay outside free agents.
Since it's not my money, I prefer the situation where both guys come back and the team lures either Maggette or Posey to LA. Given the unlikeliness if that, I'm a fan of the status quo: nobody new on the roster going into the year. Failing that, the only obviously bad thing to do is trading Odom. Everyone's focused on his ability to play the three, but there are two responses, both of which have been mentioned before, here and elsewhere: first, he doesnt have to start, but could come off the bench to form a potent big-man triad with Pau and Bynum; second, focus on the negatives instead of the positives: he can rebound over nearly any small forward in the league, he can post them up with his size and strength advantages, and his length can help make up for his quickness deficiencies on the defensive end. For instance, maybe Paul Pierce could get by him to the hole, but don't forget that there will be two excellent shot blockers waiting, plus Odom's long arms chasing from behind. And Odom can get in his face in a jumpshot. Also, how many top-flight small forwards are there out there? Pierce isn't typical; Odom's more frequent matchup would be Shane Battier, Jeff Green, or Bruce Bowen. On the other end, can Pierce (or any of these guys) really do anything against Odom if he goes into the block? Or if he grabs a rebound and goes back up? Of course the problem with this is that there's not enough room for Odom in the paint because you've got the Towers down there at the same time.
Regardless, the point is that it'd be a huge mistake to trade a clearly talented player because you're worried about what he can't do instead of asking what he does that helps you.
By the way, the rest of the Laker blogosphere agrees with me on Lamar: here's Andrew Kamenetzky, trying to put together a feasible Artest trade not involving Odom and basically failing; and here's a tremendous analysis of Artest's game vs. Lamar's by Kurt, concluding that Artest's volume-shooting ways on offense aren't what the Lakers need, especially when giving up Odom's rebounding (Artest's is miserable) and passing.