Offseason needs: Speed and athleticism

June, 9, 2011
6/09/11
10:28
AM PT
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive
First things first: Age, in and of itself, is not the problem.

The Mavs, older than the Lakers, dominated the Western Conference en route to the Finals, where they continue to acquit themselves nicely. No question L.A.'s core carries real mileage, but upgrading the roster isn't simply a question of cutting open prospective additions and counting their rings. Shannon Brown was the second youngest player in the rotation, and after the first six weeks of the season was almost uniformly unproductive.

He's also the team's best pure athlete, which raises the next point: The Lakers can unquestionably use a few more dudes with more speed and athleticism, but the benefit is mitigated if they don't come with other skills. The hoops landscape is littered with players possessing great quickness who can run and jump out of the gym, except they aren't necessarily good defenders, nor are they automatically great on the break or working off the dribble. The Lakers still have to choose players with the skills best meshing with what they want to do on the floor, hopefully with the speed and athleticism to enhance the overall product. But if my choice is a relatively unskilled uberathlete or a deadeye shooter, give me the shooter.

Finding the right guys won't be easy. Under any CBA, the Lakers will be limited financially in the free agent market, and a tradeable piece like Lamar Odom isn't part of the problem. Moving him to add speed and hop somewhere else plugs one hole while creating another, undercutting the upgrade. Point guard and small forward are the biggest problems areas in this category for the Lakers, but are also filled with their least valuable assets.

But assuming for the sake of argument they can find a player or two with the right profile, the benefits could be substantial. The Lakers couldn't effectively change the pace of games last year. The second unit was charged, at least theoretically, with pushing the ball, but never did with consistency, making the Lakers a very one-note crew. On the other end, at his introductory press conference Mike Brown listed "multiple efforts"-- helping, then helping again-- and consistent, aggressive close outs on shooters as two of defensive tenets. Then, there's the ability not simply to force turnovers, but capitalize on the other end.

Obviously speed and quicks help in all three areas.

Fortunately, it won't take much for the Lakers to again be a consistent defensive force, as opposed to the box-of-chocolates group gracing the floor this season, particularly if they can keep most of their length near the basket. Some of this year's problems are self-correcting. The "low hanging fruit"-- fresh motivation following the loss to Dallas, the perception they can't win without Phil Jackson, that they're too old, etc.-- Kobe Bryant noted at his exit interview will add plenty of new energy and focus. Brown's "defense, defense, defense" mantra hopefully adds more, and a pair or two of spry legs can do the rest, lifting L.A.'s overall team speed.

In those moments the Lakers had all the moving parts working in concert, they didn't look particularly old and slow. Some fresh pop would be welcome, but there's a danger in simply making speed and athleticism the defining characteristics of whatever players they choose in upgrading the roster. The Lakers don't need a bunch of decathletes to win a title.

Scale of Importance (1-10): 7

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Nick Young
PTS AST STL MIN
17.9 1.5 0.7 28.3
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsJ. Hill 7.4
AssistsK. Bryant 6.3
StealsK. Bryant 1.2
BlocksW. Johnson 1.0