Raja Bell: Wrong Addition or Necessary Move?

It is no secret that the Los Angeles Lakers are a bit strapped in recruiting free agents this year. They really have just three options for signing free agents: using a sign-and-trade, the mini-mid level exception (MLE) valued at $3.09 million or the veteran’s minimum. The Lakers were able to use a sign-and-trade and the traded player exception (TPE) that they received via last year’s Lamar Odom trade to Dallas to acquire two-time MVP Steve Nash.

With the possibility of trading for Dwight Howard changing more and more every day for the Lakers, Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss will turn their full attention to improving the bench and adding more consistent role players to their roster. After all, the bench is the biggest area of concern now that the Lakers have a much improved point guard. Because of the limited financials that the Lakers can offer, they will most likely turn to veterans who are looking for a home for the closing stage of their playing career.

Even with the financial limitations of the Lakers, they still have plenty to offer free agents. First, they are the Lakers, the cream of the crop in the NBA and professional sports. Second, the market and living conditions of the Los Angeles area are highly attractable to players. Third, there is a guy named Kobe Bryant, who dedication and focus is to win. Lastly, the addition of Steve Nash has the ability to tempt free agents to the point that they can’t say no.

One name the recently popped up in the basketball world as a new free agent is Raja Bell. The thirty-five year old spent the last two seasons with the Utah Jazz, where his performance was sub-par. Bell recently agreed to a buyout from the Jazz making him an unrestricted free agent. In addition to the Lakers, the Boston Celtics and the Miami Heat are reportedly interested in the 12-year veteran.

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Laker fans are very familiar with Raja Bell for his on and sometimes off the court battles with Kobe Bryant. During his time with the Phoenix Suns, Bell was unafraid and seemed to enjoy getting in Kobe’s face during the Suns/Lakers matchups. The Suns and Lakers began a trend of meeting each other in the playoffs in 2006, and played against each other quite regularly since they are in the same division, which only allowed for this rivalry to gain traction.

Even though the Bryant vs. Bell rivalry continues to this day, it hit its peak when while driving to the rim, Bryant was clotheslined by Bell during Game 5 of the first round in the 2006 playoffs. For his actions, Bell received a one-game suspension and had the following to say about Bryant: “I have no respect for him. I think he’s a pompous, arrogant individual.” Bell also claimed that Bryant had been hitting him in the face during the entire game, but the referees chose not to call it.

However, let’s remember that despite their past beef with each other, Bryant and Bell have an underlying respect for each other. For example, Bryant played a major role in trying to recruit Bell two years ago to join the Lakers as a free agent in 2010. Kobe scheduled to send his helicopter to pick-up Bell, who was in town for the ESPYs, to discuss going the Lakers. This meeting was cancelled when Bell decided to sign with the Utah Jazz.

Don’t forget about the so-called “feuds” between Kobe and Metta World Peace when World Peace was still Ron Artest and playing in Houston, and the scuffle between Kobe and Matt Barnes when Barnes was in Orlando. Kobe seems to use these “feuds” to analyze a player’s level of intensity and aggressiveness. As Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Times wrote, “They prove to Bryant that if these players won’t back down against him, they won’t back down against anybody else.”

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Of course, many will point out that Bell had one of his worst years statistically last year with the Utah Jazz. During the last two years in Utah, Bell dropped to contributing 7.2 points, 1.4 assists and 2.1 rebounds per game while shooting .372 from the three-point line and .438 from the field. However, last season Bell only played in 34 games due to a knee injury. Bell was also publicly critical of Utah’s head coach Tyrone Corbin for being “unprofessional”, claiming the reason why he wasn’t given playing time during the playoffs was due to Corbin holding a grudge against him.

What needs to be pointed out is that during his three and half seasons with the Phoenix Suns and with Steve Nash, Bell averaged 12.7 points, 2.15 assists, 3.23 rebounds, shot .431 from the three-point line and shot .435 from the field. Steve Nash is Bell’s great friend on and off the court, and a reunion will be a definitive selling point for Bell. He has always be a defense-first minded player, which would fit nicely with Mike Brown’s coaching philosophy. If Bell could return to putting up the averages as he did in Phoenix with Nash, his presence off the bench would be an absolute asset.

I must point out that Bell will be 36 by the time next season rolls around, and his injuries have impacted his game for the past few years and could easily pop up again next season. Acquiring Bell would also go in the opposite direction of the Lakers’ need to get younger and more athletic. In addition, many believe that the Heat are the favorites to acquire Bell because it would be a return to his hometown, and he would be helping a team defend their title.

Therefore, it could come down to a decision between a hometown return (Heat) or a Nash reunion (Lakers) for Bell. With the possibility of adding Bell to the Lakers bench for the veteran’s minimum, can the Lakers afford to say no or is it a step in the wrong direction?

Considering the Lakers financial limitations, it would be worth the risk.

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