|Another very special thanks goes to Phil Bedard who took over for the missing Laker GM (and wrote a very nice report in such a short time IMHO). Phil and the Lakers select:|
I. Team Needs/History:
I don't think that anyone affiliated with the Lakers organization could possibly be satisfied with the anticlimactic end to their season. After smothering the Portland Trailblazers and the Seattle Supersonics in the first two rounds of the playoffs with their unique brand of pressure defense, post-up power, and outside shooting prowess, the Lakers looked like a meager shell of themselves in bowing out to the Utah Jazz in a humiliating four game Western Conference Final sweep. By the end of their four game pasting, the Lakers appeared to be coming apart at the seams --- rumors of GM Jerry West's imminent departure from the organization after a rift with owner Jerry Buss over a promised bonus payment swirled around the club, as did speculation about the future of coach Del Harris, enigmatic point guard Nick Van Exel, and the $50-million question mark, Elden Campbell.
It looks as though it could be a watermark offseason for the franchise. If Jerry West decides to pack up and leave the organization, it would be a serious blow to the credibility and competence of the organization. West is one of the best GMs in the NBA. He is without peer around the league in his ability to recognize and recruit young talent. He deserves all of the accolades he has received for remolding the most storied franchise of 1980's into the most talented young team in the league at the end of the 1980's. If West leaves the club, the managerial reigns would likely fall to longtime assistant and former Laker Mitch Kupchak. Whoever is at the helm will be faced with some difficult offseason questions --- namely, is Del Harris the right man to lead this team to the top of the NBA mountain? Can a reliable half-court scoring complement for Shaquille O'Neal be acquired from without or developed from within? And has Nick Van Exel worn out his welcome with the Laker organization?
It doesn't appear as if the Lakers will be able to find any answers through the draft. Drafting at the bottom of the first round in a thin draft, it's unlikely that they'll be able to unearth anyone would can contribute in any capacity outside of garbage time. However, Jerry West is a pretty solid evaluator of talent, and if anyone can get value from the 26 slot in a weak draft, it's him.
II. Player Analysis
I was really impressed with O'Neal the few times I did see him play this year. He seems have developed much more of a well rounded game from the time of his early days with the Magic when he just used to batter and bruise his way to the basket. Regardless of whether or not Michael Jordan retires, O'Neal has become the most difficult player to guard in the NBA. No one in the league can come close to matching his physical attributes. He is simply to too big, too strong, and too quick for any other center in the NBA to guard single-handedly over an extended period. Like Hakeem Olajuwon, O'Neal has managed to adapt himself to the swarming double teams which plague a dominant post-up player in the NBA. He now has the confidence to maintain his composure when the double comes and kick it out to Jones, Bryant, Fox, or Van Exel for an open J. He is truly a force to be reckoned with on the low block, as he can now stick the turnaround jumper, shoot the baby hook, or finish the drop step for the power dunk. Defensively, I'm amazed that O'Neal doesn't rack up more blocked shots. He's so big, and so quick off of the floor, you'd think that he'd be up with the Mutombos, Cambys, and Mournings of the league in blocked shots. I think he lacks the defensive timing and instinct of the top shot blockers. Irregardless, he still cast an imposing shadow in the paint by virtue of his sheer size and athleticism. Additionally, last year, O'Neal showed a competitive fire that I hadn't seen from him in previous years. In the series against the Jazz, O'Neal single-handedly managed to keep a very sterile and ineffective Laker team close with his play. I think he'll come back very, very hungry to join the ranks of Jordan, Bird, Magic, Olajuwon, et al. as a champion.
Rooks is a serviceable, if unspectacular player. He's the type of guy who can contribute on a winning team, but becomes ineffectual if forced to carry big minutes. Although he's slow-footed and prodding, he can still contribute some solid minutes off of the bench to spell Shaq when called upon.
Like much of the rest of Shaq's supporting cast, Campbell is enigmatic and inconsistent. He's a very talented big man, as evidenced by his numbers when Shaq is out of the lineup. However, he doesn't bring his A game to the floor each and every night. He can be completely invisible when he's not into the game. But when he brings it, he can score on just about anybody on the low blocks and can be a force on the boards. I think the Lakers patience is growing thin with Campbell. He's never really put up the kind of numbers consistently that justify the $8 million plus he's making for each of the next five years. I think the Lakers would be inclined to move him at this point to free up some cap space if there were any willing takers out there.
Blount showed some flashes in the playoffs. He's a guy with some decent skills, he just doesn't really have the physique to bang with the big boys in the paint. He's signed until the end of next year, so I'm sure the Lakers will be curious to see what he brings to the floor if the extend his minutes next year. Mario Bennett: The venerable 12th man. Is a FA who was signed to the league minimum last year. Unlikely to be brought back. Look for him in Europe next year.
His game seems to really have dropped off since championship days with the Rockets. He hasn't really lived up to the promise he demonstrated with the Rockets when he was an integral component of their championship run. I don't think he's benefited from the extension of the NBA three point line. With the Rockets, he was part of the bombing brigade that lined up around the arc and waited for Hakeem to kick it out of the double. You'd think he'd be able to thrive in the same kind of system with Shaq and the Lakers, but he really hasn't panned out. But, he's got some athletic skills --- he can get up and down the court, block some shots, and shoot the basketball -- but he has major problems creating his own offense off of the dribble. The Lakers probably like to upgrade the 3 spot in their lineup, but Horry's unlikely to be moved given his seven year contract and his rep as a head case.
Fox brought a lot to the Lakers this year. He provided leadership, veteran savvy, and a consistent option on the perimeter and off of the dribble. He was signed under the $1-million cap exemption last year, and as a result, he doesn't qualify for the Bird rule. Unless he's willing to play again for a meager 20% hike with Lakers to $1.2-million and try to make a mark in Hollywood with more acting gigs, he's unlikely to come back. The Lakers will have to find someone to replace his skills and savvy if he bolts.
Jones had a terrific season until he disappeared in the conference finals against the Jazz. He's built like an elastic band and is able to use his wiry frame to slash to the basket and smother an opposing defender. He really seemed to step up his game at the beginning of the season when the Mitch Richmond trade rumors swirled around the Lakers. He disappearing act against the Jazz (like much of the rest of the Laker team), demonstrated that he needs to work on his half-court offense and his physical matchup D on the low blocks. Shandon Anderson exploited Jones' lack of bulk in the conference finals and scored on him at will in the conference finals. Irregardless, Jones is unlikely to be moved and cemented his position with the Lakers this season as a vital pillar in the future of the franchise. His contract doesn't expire until the end of '00.
Bryant was anointed by NBC as the heir to Michael Jordan during the NBA All-Star game in February. Although his play has yet to demonstrate that he's worthy of such lofty praise, he certainly showed flashes of prodigal talent this season. Only 19 years of age, Bryant has made a remarkable transition his senior season in high school to his role as a key player on one of the best teams in basketball in less than two years. Bryant has a remarkable feel for the game of basketball for someone at such a young age, much like Kevin Garnett. By virtue of his remarkable athletic talents, Bryant is able to blow by just about anyone off the dribble and is very skilled at finishing around the basket. However, his outside shooting and half-court game lack consistency and his defensive intensity lags at times, as he showed during the playoffs, when he was a virtual non-factor for the Lakers throughout. If Bryant is going to step into the ranks of the elite in the NBA, he'll have to work hard on his game. But, he's blessed with amazing athletic gifts and will likely be a dominant player in the NBA well into the next millennium.
FA this year who was signed to the league minimum. Unlikely to be resigned.
Nick Van Exel:
One of the most frustrating players in the NBA. Although he's one of the quickest guys around and his shooting range extends to the parking lot, he hasn't been able to lead the Lakers to the promised land. He's long been tagged as a point who looks to shoot first and pass second, but I think he's starting to make people forget about that label. The few times that I saw the Lakers play this season, he didn't seem force his offence as much and looked more to feed the ball to Shaq on the blocks. But he's a really hot and cold shooter, and the Lakers success often seems to rest on his streaky shoulders. If he's going well, the rest of the Laker crew often seems to follow in stride. I'm not sure that Lakers feel he's the guy who can take them to success. Toward the end of the year, Harris gave his starting spot to Fisher (a much more limited played) and rumors suggested that the Lakers had actively tried to move him for Stoudamire and others. The Lakers will probably try to move him again this offseason. Although he's a bargain at $2.2-million/year, few teams have shown interest because of his reputation as a problem child. Maybe he'll become a completely different player under a different coach, if the Lakers part ways with Harris. He certainly hasn't shown any affinity for Harris as a coach.
Fisher is a quality backup point. He can handle the basketball, hit the midrange jumper, and move the ball around. But, if he's forced to carry big minutes his weakness become exposed. He's not a very skilled defender and he has problems creating his own offence in the half court. I think the Lakers are a better team if he comes off the bench and pitches in 10-15 minutes a game. He's serviceable and cheap. He's signed on until next year at $600,000/year.
III. My Selection
Drew's a guy who can fill a definite hole on the Lakers bench as a guy who hit the long-range jumper in a half court set. The former high school Mr. Basketball in the state of Indiana showed in the NCAA tournament that he has the ability to put the ball in the basket and hit the key shot under pressure. He won't necessarily fill the Lakers need for a half-court scoring complement to Shaquille O'Neal, but he can probably pitch in spot duty as a Steve Kerr type who can spot up around the perimeter and prevent the defense from collapsing on Shaq in the low post.
IV. Others Considered
There isn't really much to choose from at this point in the draft. I thought about Radoslav Nesterovic, the big center from Slovenia, but seeing as I've never watched the guy play and haven't read much about him, I'm a little leery to pick him. But his size certainly makes him intriguing. The stock of Ruben Patterson of Cincinnati and Ricky Davis of Iowa has been skyrocketing in the pre-draft camps, but both of those guys fit the mold of the athletic, slashing swingman who excel in the open floor, but seeing as the Lakers are stocked with those types of players, I didn't think they'd be able to contribute much. And finally, I looked at Charles Smith from Long Island as a talented PG who could step in and play if Van Exel was moved over the offseason, but decided to pass on him because he seems like a scoring point who might have trouble adjusting to the NBA game.
V. Who the team willing probably take
Who knows? At this point in the draft, it's a complete crapshoot. But, if Jerry West's track record is any indication, the Lakers seem to go after the best athlete available and shy away from the European players. If the Lakers follow the same routine, it's unlikely that they'd draft Bryce Drew, because he's not exactly the athletic type. However, I don't think anyone in the Lakers organization expects this pick to contribute major minutes for the team next year. Given the current labor agreement, they'd probably move the pick for a second rounder, but it's unlikely that they'd find any takers. Late first-round picks tend to be avoided like the plague by NBA GM's, because they're usually guys with little chance of contributing to the team who eat up valuable cap space with guaranteed three-year contracts.
VI. Other moves the team should make
Speculation out of LA suggests that the Lakers are leaning toward bringing Del Harris back and moving Van Exel. If that's the case, I think they'll find it difficult to get fair market value for Van Exel in a deal, given his history of off-court troubles. Ideally, I think the Lakers would love to dump Elden Campbell's fat contract to free up some cap space. They could probably package Van Exel (who comes at a relatively low price of $2.2 million/annum) and Campbell together to free up about $9-10 million under the cap. If they're able to give themselves that much breathing room, I'd look for them to make a big move at signing Scottie Pippen. He'd be the ideal guy to bring in to push the Lakers over the top. He'd give them a guy who fits in with their pressure style of D, while also providing them with a solid complement to O'Neal in the half-court set. The thought of a starting lineup of Pippen, Jones, Bryant, Horry, and O'Neal would enough to make any coach shudder around the league.
Ahh, the beauty of speculation. The likely scenario probably has the Lakers standing pat, watching Rick Fox leave as a free agent, and enticing a second-tier free agent of similar ability to Fox sign on at the end of the summer for a one-year rental under the $1-million cap exemption, while hoping for Kobe to develop into the legitimate supporting star next to Shaq.
|Craig Simpson - Usenet Draft Commissioner|