Since the summer of 1996 (which brought Kobe, Shaq, Fisher and Rick Fox to Los Angeles), the Lakers have not enjoyed an offseason quite as successful as this year. Despite being insanely over the luxury tax heading into the summer, Lakers owner Jerry Buss displayed the Steinbrenner mentality that winning championships is more important than money. While that didn’t mean Mitch Kupchak was able to sign guys to six year, $80 million contracts, it did allow them to bring in three players who will help make the “Bench Mob” the best collection of reserves in the league (which will ultimately lead to the Lakers three-peat, right?)
The Lakers made their first splash in free agency when they signed Steve Blake to a four year, 16 million dollar contract. He replaces Los Angeles native, Jordan Farmar, who despite possessing a solid amount of talent, just wasn’t the right fit for the role of “Lakers’ Starting Point Guard”. Farmar wanted to be a starter so badly, but it just wasn’t his time in Los Angeles, and he owes it to himself to see how high of a ceiling he has. If he can become that player in New Jersey, I’m sure the Lakers organization and its fans will be extremely happy for him.
With Blake, the Lakers now have a backup point guard who fits the Triangle Offense perfectly and will consistently hit his open shots (something that will come often when playing on a team with 2-3 players who will consistently be double-teamed). After watching him rain three pointer after three pointer on the Lakers in Portland’s Rose Garden over the past couple of years, I’m hoping to see him return the favor, not only the next time the Lakers take on the Blazers, but to every freaking team in the league!
He may not be the most youthful or the most athletic player, but he plays a tough game and hits opens shots as if it were a prerequisite to be on an NBA team. Even though Fisher may be the full-time starter, don’t be surprised to see Blake notch more minutes than Fisher in a fair amount of the team’s regular season games. His presence will not only help the Lakers as a whole, but it will also keep Derek Fisher ready come postseason and possibly extend his career as a starter for an extra year or two.
Kupchak’s next move brought in the enigmatic forward Matt Barnes. Barnes, known by most Laker fans for his infamous ball fake on Kobe Bryant during the Lakers trip to Orlando last season, is a great perimeter defender, capable of guarding shooting guards, small forwards and even a few power forwards. He’s not the greatest shooter, but he will hit his open shots, which is a quality that the Lakers can never get enough of.
Bringing in Barnes also helps Kobe out tremendously. (Wait, Kobe plays guard, not forward–how does this affect him?) Last season, Luke Walton was suppose to be Artest’s backup, unfortunately, he suffered an injury plagued year and missed 53 regular season games, leaving Adam Morrison as the Lakers only other “true” small-forward. Nothing against Morrison, but he was just not the right player to spell Artest for 10-20 minutes a night. Therefore, Kobe had to play extra minutes and play the role of back up small forward while Artest got his rest. That is not something the Lakers wanted another season of, as Kobe is 32-years old and should not be playing for more than 34-35 minutes a night (unless he has to) if he wants to have anything left in the tank for the playoffs. With Barnes in the mix, Kobe no longer has to assume that role and can take a load off of his knees, fingers, ankle, etc., allowing him to be 100% (or somewhere in that vicinity) when April rolls around.
Although the Lakers final free-agent pick up, Theo Ratliff, did not carry with him as high of a profile as Steve Blake or Matt Barnes, he will nonetheless be a beneficial player to the team’s quest for their 17th title.
Entering his 16th year in the league, Ratliff is the epitome of the word “veteran”. He may not be the defensive force that he was during his prime, but he will very much help out inside. Instead of having DJ Mbenga taking 13 foot jumpers every time he touches the ball, the Lakers will have a big man who knows his place in the offense–a big man who will take his shots when the come, but is primarily focused on grabbing rebounds and playing defense–exactly what the Lakers need from their reserve big men.
He probably won’t get a ton of run time throughout the season, but with Bynum out to start the year, he will definitely get valuable minutes early on and his experience will no doubt be a boost to this team. In addition to helping out inside, he will be a great veteran presence in the locker room, and could be a great mentor to the young Andrew Bynum and Derrick Caracter.