I. Season Review
For the 3rd consecutive year, the Lakers finished the season holding the championship trophy aloft. The lopsided sweep of the Nets in the Finals left fans with the impression that this Laker team was dramatically superior to the rest of the league. In truth, the 2001-02 season was no cakewalk. After a blazing 16-2 start to the season, the Lakers went 42-22 the rest of the way to finish with a 58-24 mark, tied for 2nd best in the West, 3 games behind Sacramento in the Pacific Division. During the course of the season, the "dynasty" suffered defeats to Memphis, Miami, Atlanta, Denver and Chicago twice. Some would say that the team merely coasted through the regular season, battling boredom until the playoffs rolled around. The playoffs, however, were also no breeze - at least the Western Conference Finals. In a 7 game thriller, the Champs knocked off the Kings with a combination of miracle comebacks, last second shots, questionable officiating, and plenty of poise under pressure in a Game 7 overtime. A realistic assessment of the 2002-03 Lakers is this: a team with two megastars with broad shoulders, a few solid role players with small egos, and a woeful lack of depth and youth. During the doldrums of the regular season, when team energy was lacking, the Lakers had very little in reserve. When Shaq struggled with a variety of injuries, the team lacked a backup center to help carry the load. Despite their deficiencies, the sheer brilliance of Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal was enough to carry the Lakers to their third consecutive ring. As Sacramento, Dallas, and others in the Western Conference make strides to gain on the Champs, improvement will be required to take a shot at the Four-Peat.
The Lakers triangle offense doesn't call for a prototypical point guard to create offense for teammates with dribble penetration. That's a good thing for the Lakers, because they don't have one. In the Lakers' set offense, they look to break down the defense with passes and cuts, which frequently results in inside-out action to spot up shooters.
Derek Fisher has done an admirable job filling the role, improving his shooting dramatically over the past two seasons. He brings a toughness and solid work ethic to the defensive end of the floor. The ultra-quick point guards can exploit his lack of quickness, however, as Allen Iverson in the 2000-2001 Finals, and Tony Parker and Mike Bibby in the 2001-2002 playoffs demonstrated. Tyronn Lue had played this role during 2000-01, but left as a free agent following title #2. Fisher is signed through 2006. Backing up Fisher during 2001-02 were a pair of veterans,
Lindsey Hunter and Brian
Shaw. Hunter was acquired in a trade from the Bucks for Greg Foster during the off-season, in a shrewd move by GM Mitch Kupchak, immediately reacting to Fisher's off-season injury. Hunter was expected to bring spot up outside shooting as well as the ability to defend quick points. He did both only sporadically. Hunter has the option to come back for 2002-03. Shaw is a favorite of Phil Jackson, providing veteran leadership and timely shooting in limited minutes off the bench. He was released early in the season, so that the team could resign him for less money. Neither Hunter nor Shaw is an essential piece of the Lakers puzzle. Hunter is likely to return rather than opting out, while Shaw will be brought back if the Lakers are unable to find a younger version.
Kobe Bryant is on his way to becoming one of the greatest ever to lace up a pair of Adidas. At the age of 23, he has completed his 6th season and acquired his 3rd ring. The sky is truly the limit for Kobe, who has improved each season. For the 6th consecutive year, his assist total has increased, to a team leading 5.5 per game in 2001-02, as he has learned to flourish within the team structure. His defense is among the league's best at his position, and no one is better in clutch situations. Kobe is signed through the 2004-05 season. The Lakers intend to offer Bryant a three-year, $54.8-million contract extension, the maximum allowed under the collective bargaining agreement. Kobe may elect to wait until the next collective bargaining agreement is in place in order to see if he can collect even larger checks if the max increases, but is not likely to leave the Lakers. L.A. brought in
Mitch Richmond on a one-year contract to back up Kobe this season and provide veteran leadership and offense off the bench. Richmond was never able to crack Jackson's rotation, however, and is not likely to be back next season. L.A. will have a roster slot open for a back up 2 guard to fill via the draft or free agency. Kobe plays so many minutes that this is not a critical need.
Rick Fox has done a fine job manning the 3 spot for the Lakers, particularly at the defensive end. He is a consummate role player, doing the little things, without needing the ball, the spotlight, or an enhanced role. Ultimately, however, the Lakers will want to improve the production from the small forward position as Fox ages and his role gradually decreases. During 2002-2003, key minutes at small forward often went to
Devean George, at Fox's expense. George brought greater athleticism, strength and size, better long-range shooting ability and rebounding. His injection of energy from the bench was a welcome addition and balance for Fox's veteran savvy. After two years of toiling on the bench, George finally began to come into his own in 2001-02 Unfortunately, the Lakers opted not to exercise their option to extend George's contract through 2002-03, and are likely to lose him to free agency. George is one of the Lakers' few young athletic reserves and he will be missed should he depart. The Lakers will be in need of a backup small forward.
Samaki Walker was signed to a 2-year deal as a free agent prior to the 2001-02 season, and exercised his option to return for 2002-03. Walker was given the unenviable assignment of defending the monster power forwards of the Western Conference, including Chris Webber, Tim Duncan, Karl Malone, Rasheed Wallace, Elton Brand, Kevin Garnett and Dirk Nowitzki, to name a few. Walker did a respectable job, averaging 6.7 ppg, 7.0 rpg and 1.3 bpg. He started 63 games and was able to slide over to the center position to back up Shaquille on occasion. When clutch time rolled around, however, the Lakers turned to
Robert Horry. Horry seems to take the regular season off, then come out of nowhere to make clutch plays with playoff games on the line, year after year. After winning 2 rings with the Houston Rockets, Horry added his 3rd, 4th and 5th with the Lakers, contributing with his customary strong defense and timely 3-point shooting. Although Horry has never averaged double figures in scoring or rebounding as a Laker, he has been a consistent contributor in the playoffs. Horry is signed through 2004.
Stanislav Medvedenko, a 23 year-old Ukrainian power forward, showed some ability to provide scoring off the bench, but is overmatched athletically against the power forwards in the Western Conference. "Slava" also backed up Shaq on occasion. He is a restricted free agent and the Lakers would like to bring him back in hopes that he may develop into a more regular member of the frontcourt rotation.
Mark Madsen, the Lakers first round pick from the 2000 draft continues to collect checks from his guaranteed rookie contract, which runs through 2003-04. He is a fine 12th man. He would make a lousy 11th man.
Shaquille O'Neal may go down in history as the best big man ever to play the game. Injuries limited him to 67 games during 2001-02, but didn't stop him from winning his 3rd consecutive NBA Finals MVP award, when he increased his season average of 27.2 ppg to 36.2. His combination of size, strength, quickness and athletic ability creates a mismatch from virtually any opponent. The Nets futile efforts to defend O'Neal in the Finals turned the series into a mismatch. He suffered from a variety of injuries during 2002-03, the most debilitating of which was an arthritic big toe. He is likely to have surgery in the off-season, which may cause him to miss the start of the 2002-03 campaign. Shaq is signed through 2004-05. The Lakers tried
Jelani McCoy as a back-up, with little success. The 4th year man from UCLA was unable to produce in his opportunities, and will be gone next season, if the Lakers can find a capable young big man, worthy of a shot. Otherwise, Medvedenko and Walker are likely to get the lion's share of the minutes at the backup center position.
III. Draft History
- 2001: No Pick
- 2000: Mark Madsen (29) - passed on Michael Redd, Marko Jaric, and the opportunity to pass on the pick altogether
- 1999: Devean George (23), John Celestand (30)
- 1998: Sam Jacobson (26), Ruben Patterson
(31) - passed on Rashard Lewis, who was selected #35 and Brad Miller, who went undrafted. Acquired
Tyronn Lue (23) from Denver in a draft day trade which included Nick Van Exel
- 1997: DeJuan Wheat (52), Paul Rogers (54)
- 1996: Derek Fisher (24) - Another great pick for Jerry West at the end of the 1st round. Acquired
Kobe Bryant (13) -in a draft day trade from Charlotte for Vlade Divac
- 1995: Frankie King (37)
- 1994: Eddie Jones (10)
- 1993: George Lynch (12) , Nick Van Exel (37)
- 1992: Anthony Peeler (15), Duane Cooper (36)
- 1991: Anthony Jones (52)
- 1990: Elden Campbell (27), Tony Smith (51)
- 1989: Vlade Divac (26) - An absolute steal
Anyone who considers the Lakers three-peat a great accomplish must appreciate the fact that it was the 3rd such achievement for
Phil Jackson. Phil's detractors consider him the greatest ever at selecting the right team to coach. His supporters correctly point out that although he has coached some of the greatest ever, he has never fallen short of expectations.
Mitch Kupchak has shown himself to be a capable steward of the franchise, following the departure of Jerry West. His offseason acquisitions of Hunter and Walker, contributed pieces, albeit minor ones to the Laker puzzle. As the bench has aged and appears largely devoid of promising young talent, Kupchak's ability to reload will be tested
V. Team Needs
Although it seems that the Lakers could win the NBA Championship with Shaq, Kobe, and 3 of the Lakers girls in their starting five, the competition in the West is going to continue to push the Lakers in 2002-03. They will require an improved bench and an influx of young energy and athleticism to match the youth and depth of Sacramento, Dallas and fend off the contenders to the throne. The Lakers got very little production from their bench, and with the likely departure of Devean George, their reserve core is only going to get weaker. Specifically, the Lakers could use a quick point, capable of defending players like Mike Bibby and Tony Parker. The Lakers were susceptible to dribble penetration and a quicker point could be a key upgrade to complement Derek Fisher. At the power forward slot, the triumvirate of Samaki Walker, Robert Horry and Slava Medvedenko is adequate (particularly while playing next to Shaq), but the power forwards of the west are an extraordinarily tough bunch. The Lakers would welcome an upgrade at the 4 as well as a backup for Shaquille at the center position.
VI. My Selection
Prince, SF, 6'8" Kentucky
It seems that Tayshaun has fallen into the rut of steadily performing for 4 years in college, rather than leaving after 1 year in an era where the promise of upside seems to outweigh the reality on-court performance. On the court, this guy can play ball, with the ability to shoot it from long range, rebound and take the ball to the basket. His primary question mark is his slender frame. His ability to be a force in the SEC leads me to believe that he's no 98 lb. weakling. At worst, Tayshaun is a Morris Petersen type who can contribute off the bench. At best, he could be a Reggie Miller type of perimeter scorer, whose competitiveness and ability enable him to overcome a lanky frame. Although Tayshaun does not fill the Lakers most pressing immediate needs, it is preferable at this point in the draft to attempt to find a player who has the ability to play in the NBA, regardless of position.
VII. Other Players Considered
Mladen Sekularac - A 6'9" player who can really shoot it from outside would be a nice commodity to add to the mix, replacing the likely to depart Devean George. Sekularac lacks George's athleticism, but at age 21, appears to have upside potential. He could spend an additional year in Europe to develop before taking a slot on an NBA roster.
Carlos Boozer - The player left on the board who could help the Lakers fill the power forward slot is Boozer - whose rock solid 265 lbs. would provide a young enforcer type next to Shaquille on the front line. He shot over 60% from the floor in each of his 3 years at Duke, including 66.5% as a junior, and his rebounds increased each year, to 8.7 per game during the 2001-02 campaign. He is not a quick leaper however, as evidenced by his blocked shot totals (less than 1 per game in each of his 3 seasons) and could have trouble keeping up with the super-athletic power forwards he would encounter each night in the Western Conference.
Zaur Pachulia - 6'11" center from Turkey, who has been quite impressive in private workouts. At the age of 18, he shows quite a bit of upside potential, but with quite a bit of risk as well. It has been said that he could pull out of the draft this year, and come back in 2003 as a lottery selection, with an additional year of maturity and strength. The chance to nab him now could tempt the Lakers, who could groom a backup to Shaquille slowly, without putting much demand on the youngster.
John Salmons - A late riser on draft boards, Salmons is a 6'7" player who has the ballhandling ability to be the type of big guard that Phil Jackson loves. His production at Miami, as a four-year player, however, leads one to wonder whether he is more of a workout warrior than a money performer at game time. If he had a better outside shot, he would be more strongly considered.
VIII. Likely Selection
Rumors have the Lakers attempting to trade up in order to draft Qyntel
Woods. It is hard to fathom a scenario, however, in which this could actually take place. While Jerry West had an eye for uncovering diamonds in the rough from unusual sources, i.e. Vlade Divac, Derek Fisher and Devean George, Mitch Kupchak might be more inclined to select a "name brand" type, like
Carlos Boozer of Duke, if he slides to them at the end of the 1st round. It has been rumored that the Lakers have worked out
Jamal Sampson of Cal twice, demonstrating a genuine level of interest. Sampson, who left Cal after his freshman season, is so far from contributing, however, that I would consider this selection unlikely despite his unusual combination of size and athletic ability.
IX. Other Moves
The Lakers possess a $4.5 million exception for use in pursuing free agents. Although the Lakers would love to find a super quick point guard, there appear to be few suitable candidates in the free agent pool. In the ongoing search for improvement at the power forward position, the Lakers are likely to inquire regarding a number of free agents. Malik Rose of the Spurs is among players they will likely consider. Charles Oakley is another, although the 1992 version would be far preferable to the 2002 version. The 2002 free agent crop appears to be a weak one, so there are few answers for the Lakers' depth issues among them. The Lakers do not possess a 2nd round selection. They will invite at least one undrafted rookie point guard to camp, from whomever is available among Smush Parker, Marcus Taylor, Steve Logan, Ronald Murray, and JR Bremer. It's quite possible that one of them could find a roster spot available on opening day.