Lakers executive Jim Buss deserves a lot of credit for the team's off-season… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)
The Lakers entered the off-season with plenty of variables suggesting they wouldn't significantly upgrade their roster.
They still remained the highest-spending team. They indicated they hoped to cut spending to prevent increased luxury taxes under the new labor deal. The Lakers had too many long-term contracts. Many teams wouldn't find their bench players find desirable. Even executive Jim Buss told The Times' T.J. Simers not to expect major changes. Though no one with the Lakers felt satisfied with two consecutive playoff exits in the Western Conference semifinals, they still maintained that the current group could still win an NBA title after having a more thorough training camp.
Yet, the Lakers still managed to do what they've historically done. They made big moves. They didn't let finances get in the way of building a championship-caliber roster. The Lakers made everyone else in the league wonder how the they pulled it off. Well, plenty of that credit goes to General Manager Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss, who receive an A+ for their work. Below is a breakdown on what made each signing great and the challenges they faced securing them.
Deal: Acquired in a four-team, 12-player deal that sent Andrew Bynum to the Philadelphia 76ers. The Lakers also sent Josh McRoberts, Christian Eyenga and first- and second-round draft picks for Chris Duhon and Earl Clark
How this move helps: This acquisition automatically makes the Lakers championship favorites. Even with Bynum's growth, Howard has clear separation in pretty much every facet of the game. That includes defending and running the pick-and-roll, navigating double teams, staying healthy, athleticism and providing a full effort. Bynum has an edge over actual post moves, but that's splitting hairs.
Kupchak professed that Bynum's well-documented maturity issues weren't a long-term concern. The Lakers would take Howard for Bynum regardless of such circumstances. Still, the Lakers no longer wonder if their star center will bring the necessary effort every night. Even with Howard's ridiculous flip-flopping and behind-the-scenes maneuvering to leave Orlando, his play never suffered because of it. Granted, there's still uncertainty on how he'll recover from back surgery and if he will even re-sign next season. But the Lakers took the smart gamble in believing the winning atmosphere and Hollywood spotlight will entice Howard to stay.
The challenge in acquiring Howard: This saga didn't last a year by accident. The Magic wanted to milk everything out of the deal, whether it was forcing teams to take unattractive contracts or giving away too many assets. Accounts say the Magic never wanted both Bynum and Pau Gasol, but there could've been a strong possibility that parties in a multi-trade proposal would ask the Lakers to give up both pieces. The Lakers rightfully stayed patient in waiting until they received the right proposal.
Deal: Secured Nash through a sign-and-trade from the Phoenix Suns for four draft picks (two first-round, two second-round) and cash. The Lakers used their $8.9-million trade exception that stemmed from shipping Lamar Odom to Dallas to pay for Nash's first season in his three-year, $27-million deal.
How this move helps: One of the Lakers' biggest weaknesses at point guard became its biggest strength. Even at 38 years old, Nash remains one of the league's top point guards because of his court vision, pick-and-roll schemes and strong outside shooting (a career 42.8% clip from three-point range). All of these variables should free up Kobe Bryant's ball-handling responsibilities and open looks. Pau Gasol will receive more touches through pick-and-roll sequences. And the Lakers' organization on offense should look more fluid.
The challenge in acquiring Nash. How to convince the Suns to trade him to a division rival. But the Lakers managed to do it. Nash signed because of a chance to win an NBA title and live close to his children in Phoenix. The Lakers and Nash convinced Phoenix to relent because they'd receive plenty of help to rebuild its franchise. Still, Kupchak conceded he envisioned this move happening.
Deal: Signed for one-year at the veteran's minimum ($1.4 million)
How this move helps: Jamison brings much-needed scoring punch to a bench that ranked nearly last in the league in points production. He's able to play at both small forward and power forward. His locker room maturity and desire to win a ring should make him eager to do anything to fit in with the team.
The challenge in acquiring Jamison: Kupchak said signing Jamison proved just as surprising as securing Nash. That's because Jamison earned $15.1 million last year with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Kupchak said he hadn't even entertained pursuing Jamison because he considered it disrespectful to ask a player of his caliber to play at the veteran's minimum. But Jamison and his agent, Arn Tellem, reached out to the Lakers, stressing he'd play for such a salary.