If all goes according to plan, the Los Angeles Lakers could start next season with Dwight Howard, Brandon Rush, Antawn Jamison and Jermaine O’Neal all on their roster.
Over the past month, there have been varying reports on how enthusiastically the Lakers are pursuing Howard. Some speculated that L.A. wasn’t as into the Orlando Magic’s disgruntled big man as media folk were making them out to be; others suggested that L.A. had realized over the last year that Andrew Bynum wasn’t their center of the future and wanted to make a change.
What’s the truth? Well, the truth is something in the middle.
The Lakers are clearly very interested in replacing Bynum with Howard – that’s just a fact. They would not be having these prolonged discussions with the Magic and an assortment of potential third teams (who would be necessary to make this deal work) if they didn’t want to make a serious push to acquire Howard’s services. At the same time Mitch Kupchak also no doubt realizes that he has a very solid center, maybe even the NBA’s second-best, in Bynum.
If a deal can’t get worked out for Howard, then L.A. will simply switch its focus onto working out a long-term extension with their current big man. Dave McMenamin and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN said this much in a report filed on Wednesday. Per their article:
If a Howard trade isn't feasible, the Lakers would quickly turn their attention to resuming extension talks with Bynum and re-signing forward Jordan Hill. If Bynum agrees to an extension, it would start the clock on a deal for Howard in much the same way Brooklyn's extension with Brook Lopez did.
Bynum and his agent, David Lee, are scheduled to return from an Alaskan fishing vacation Wednesday. Lakers officials are set to meet Wednesday to discuss their negotiating strategy with Bynum before reaching out to his representative but are well aware that there will not be much wiggle room once the negotiations begin; Bynum will expect a max contract extension.
There are currently two big impediments to Howard coming to town: 1.) his adamant resistance when it comes to signing an extension with the Lakers and 2.) the lack of pieces that L.A. has to send back to Orlando.
The first problem can probably be overcome fairly easily. Howard has been in Los Angeles all summer; he clearly loves it here. For him it's more about how he’ll mesh with the Lakers on the court – which is something that would figure itself out in due time. The second problem is a much tougher one to solve. The Lakers basically have to involve a third team in a potential trade to come up with the sort of picks and cap relief that the Magic are looking for, which is a problem because three-team trades are notoriously difficult to work out.
So that’s an update on the Howard front. In non-Howard news, L.A. is busily scouting the NBA world for pieces that can be added (on the cheap) to the league’s worst bench. Here is the latest on that:
Lakers could be landing forward Antawn Jamison & center Jermaine O'Neal to minimum deals, sources tell Y! Jordan Hill interest remains, too.— Marc J. Spears (@SpearsNBAYahoo) July 17, 2012
Brandon Rush is also working out in front of the Los Angeles Lakers today. The Lakers have expressed interest in the restricted free agent.— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) July 17, 2012
With that said, the Golden State Warriors will likely match any reasonable offer that Brandon Rush receives. They want to keep him in GS.— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) July 17, 2012
Jermaine O'Neal looks good during this workout. He can still be a contributor in the NBA. The Lakers can sign him for the veteran's minimum.— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) July 17, 2012
We’ve already analyzed all of these potential signings, so here are just snippets of that for each of the aforementioned players:
Last year, Jamison averaged 17 points and six rebounds in 33 minutes of action per game. He did his scoring damage on admittedly inefficient 40 percent from the field, but his ability to put up buckets off the bench would more than make up for all his bad misses. He’s also something of a liability defensively but, again, he wouldn’t be going up against any ultra-athletic offensive beasts coming off the bench, anyway.
Last year, Rush averaged 10 points on 50 percent shooting in 26 minutes of action per game. He also shot 45 percent from behind the arc – a figure noticeably better than his career 41 percent average. The Lakers were one of the league’s worst three-point shooting teams in 2012, and Rush would change that instantly. He’s not great off-the-dribble, but given the playmakers on L.A.’s roster right now – he doesn’t really have to be.
O’Neal averaged five points and seven rebounds through 25 games with the Boston Celtics last season, but ultimately he got his year cut short by an injury. In theory, he could actually be a solid contributor for L.A. if he weren’t so injury prone; as we’ve said in the past, though, the problem with O'Neal is that he is that injury prone.
Who will the Lakers ultimately have on their roster at the start of next year? In order of likelihood: 1.) Jamison 2.) O’Neal 3.) Howard 4.) Rush.