When the Lakers entered the off-season this year, the consensus was that Los Angeles needed to make vast improvements to their bench. Of course, signing Steve Nash seemed to appear out of thin air and will be hugely beneficial for the team, and the possibility of trading for Dwight Howard will bump the Lakers to automatic favorites to win next year’s Finals.
However, we are all very familiar with the outright struggles of last season’s bench, who happened to finish ranked as last in the league for offensive production, averaging just 20.5 points, compared to 28.2 points per game in the 2010-11 season. Inconsistency and unreliability was the name of the game for the Laker bench last season, which is why the bench remains as the overall top priority for management this summer.
Not only did the Laker bench fail to contribute offensively on a consistent basis, but their lackluster performance impacted the number of minutes the starters had to be on the court, in particular, Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. In fact, the Laker bench was ranked second to last in the NBA for minutes played this past season with 15.6 minutes per game.
Last season, Bryant averaged 38.5 minutes per game which was ranked fourth in the NBA and was up from 33.9 minutes per game in the 2010-11 season. Gasol averaged 37.4 minutes per game, which was ranked seventh in the league, and although it was only a slight increase from the 2010-11 season (37.0 minutes), we must remember that Gasol was demoted to the third option on the team.
Lakers management was able to pull of quite a steal on Wednesday by signing forward Antawn Jamison for a one-year veteran’s minimum contract. The 6’9″ Jamison will certainly add versatility and much needed scoring to the Laker bench next season. Additionally, the Lakers are hoping to re-sign unrestricted free agent Jordan Hill after he exceeded expectations during his short time last season with the Lakers.
Hill was acquired at the NBA trade deadline last March via trade with the Houston Rockets for Derek Fisher. After an injury sidelined Hill for several weeks in Los Angeles, Mike Brown finally called his name off the bench during the thrilling comeback win in overtime against the Oklahoma City Thunder where Hill earned 14 points and 15 rebounds. Hill brought hustle, energy, rebounding on both sides of the floor and much needed aggressiveness, which rubbed off on the rest of the team.
Hill quickly became a crowd favorite and represented a bright spot on an otherwise gloomy bench. During his seven games with the Lakers last season, Hill averaged 4.7 points and 4.4 rebounds per game in 11.7 minutes. During the Lakers 2012 post-season, Hill increased his averages to 4.8 points and 6.3 rebounds in 18.1 minutes per games. More importantly, he rapidly earned Mike Brown’s trust as a dependable second unit player.
Of course, Hill has much to improve upon in his game. Hill has to work on his inside game on offense as a way to become a more balanced player. He has the youth, athleticism and defensive presence that the Lakers desire, but it is no secret that his game needs to be fine tuned. Development of Jordan Hill, just as it was used with Andrew Bynum, must be utilized again in this case.
Mitch Kupchak has stated that re-signing Jordan Hill is a top priority for the Lakers this summer. Jim Buss reiterated the goal of re-signed Hill during an interview during a recent Lakers Summer League game in Las Vegas. However, Kupchak understands the probability of other teams interested in Hill being able to offer more money than the financially strapped Lakers. The Minnesota Timberwolves have emerged as the team who are in top contention with the Lakers to sign Hill.
Many believe Hill has narrowed down his considerations to the Lakers and the Timberwolves. The Wolves recently lost out on the opportunity to sign Nicolas Batum as the Portland Trail Blazers matched their four-year, $45 million offer. Therefore, the Wolves who have been in talks with Hill since free agency began, may be preparing an offer soon that is higher than the Lakers are able to offer.
The Lakers worked out free agent Jermaine O’Neal on Tuesday in Las Vegas. O’Neal had the same knee treatment in Germany last February as his friend Kobe Bryant did last summer. While those who witness the workout did see an improvement to O’Neal’s footwork and ability to get up and down the floor easier, O’Neal seems like a last resort if the Lakers are unable to re-sign Hill. The Lakers need to focus on signing players that help them become younger and more athletic.
This starts with re-signing Jordan Hill. Hill is just 24 years-old, and for a big can get up and down the court very well. If re-signed, Hill will have a full training camp to learn Mike Brown’s playbook, which he struggled with last season. The Lakers appear to be the right fit for Jordan Hill, now it’s just a matter of presenting him an offer that seals the deal.