By Alex Groberman
Generally when analysts recap the winners and losers of a particular offseason, you see two types of winners: The group that went from nothing to something by bringing in one or more high-profile free agents (Read: Miami Heat) or the group that went from an upper-tier power to contender by bringing in an above-average talent to complement an already strong group (Read: The 2009 San Antonio Spurs before reality hit).
This season, however, the Los Angeles Lakers have carved out their own place amongst the league’s offseason winners without falling into either of the aforementioned categories. Rather than spending big bucks on free agents or making risky trades for household names, they merely dropped underperforming players and signed proven veterans to fill specific areas of need.
And they managed to do it with no ESPN specials.
Gone from Lakers are backups DJ Mbenga, Josh Powell and Adam Morrison. All three players received very little playing time en route to the team’s second consecutive championship last season and, as such, all three unrestricted free agents were not extended contracts by the team. Out of the three, Powell is the only one who received any significant playing time at any point within the last two years. However, with the plans that they had for the summer, the Lakers could not afford to re-sign an undersized, under-utilized center/power forward.
The most notable absence from the team in 2010 will be hometown hero Jordan Farmar. The back-up point guard, who many expected would be the ultimate replacement for Derek Fisher at some point in his career, was not offered a tender by the Lakers. He opted to head to the New Jersey Nets for $12 million over 3 years. Farmar’s time in Los Angeles was marred by inconsistency, injury and a general inability to mesh with Phil Jackson’s triangle offense, which generally calls for a larger point guard.
Replacing the old pieces are newcomers: Steve Blake, Matt Barnes and Theo Ratliff.
Point guard Blake had been on the Lakers’ radar since last season after he lit the team up for a triple-double when they played the Los Angeles Clippers. He is a savvy veteran, and will no doubt prove to be a valuable piece to the puzzle as the Lakers make their best effort at a three-peat. Not to mention, he is a dead-eye shooter who will help space the floor for the second unit and allow forward Lamar Odom to get into the seems when the reserves are on the court.
In Barnes, the team essentially gets a player that serves as their Ron Artest off the bench. The best part, however, is that he pretty much fell into their lap by pure luck. Barnes was all packed and ready to go and become a member of the Toronto Raptors, but the deal ultimately broke apart at the last second. The Raptors’ loss proved to be the Lakers’ gain as they were able to sign the athletic wing for a two-year deal valued at less than $2 million per year.
While some were worried that bad blood between him and the team’s leader, Kobe Bryant, would be cause for concern, Barnes and Bryant have both gone on record to state that the two are friends and wanted very much to play with one another. In fact, it was Bryant who ultimately lobbied for Barnes’ signing.
While the Lakers probably aren’t expecting too much from center, Ratliff, in this coming season, he came to the team for the veteran’s minimum and should prove to be a solid fill-in for Mbenga and Powell. Ratliff has proven himself throughout his long NBA career to be a capable shot-blocker and big body, and with as many 7-footers as the Lakers have, they really don’t need much more than the occasional few minutes every few games from him.
During the much-hyped summer of 2010 where superstar free agents were supposed to be falling from the sky and making god-awful franchises contenders again, the Lakers sat back quietly and watched. Then, when the dust settled, they picked up two huge pieces, and one very solid veteran big-man, all the while saving money in the process.
While the rest of the fans, teams and Las Vegas odds makers are off ogling the Heat, the defending NBA champions have quietly put together an offseason worthy of the three-peat that they’re aiming to achieve in 2010-11.