Countdown to Christmas: The new blood

December, 17, 2011
12/17/11
7:42
AM PT
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive
A week ago, this post might have looked very different. Now, with Chris Paul a Clipper, Dwight Howard still in Orlando (for the time being) and Lamar Odom in Dallas, for fans particularly the focus is more on who isn't around rather than who is.

That said, the Lakers have some important new blood, on and off the court, and how they perform will play a big role in determining this team's level of success. No surprise, it starts with ...

COACH

Mike Brown

You're replacing the most successful coach in the history of professional basketball, and arguably professional team sports. After having your offseason and any contact with your players obliterated, you'll get about half the preseason practice time and a quarter of the exhibition games to work with, during which your roster will be in serious flux. Your fourth-best player, highly versatile, the emotional core of the locker room, and gold-plated insurance policy for your talented-but-brittle center, will be given away for nothing. The mood locally will be dark, trust of management will be low, concerns your star player might not buy in high, and in some circles at least, belief you were a smart hire wanting. Oh, and if you don't win a title, people will consider the season a failure.

Welcome to your new gig, Mike Brown!

It's hard to construct a more brutal set of circumstances under which to take a head coaching gig in the NBA, but this is basically what Brown is facing. Early returns have been promising. Kobe Bryant has praised Brown's attention to detail, and players appear amenable to Brown's defense, defense, defense mantra. His incredible willingness to prepare makes Brown as likely as anyone to weather this storm.

We'll just have to see how it all translates to wins and losses during the season, and particularly the playoffs.

PLAYERS

In a vacuum, there's no problem with the guys the Lakers have brought in. It's only in combination with the dude's no longer around that folks get nervous.

1. Jason Kapono, SF (FA, 1 yr, $1.2 million)

Often times for a veteran's minimum contract, a team buys one skill. Maybe it's size. A big body to back up the frontcourt. Could be rebounding, could be perimeter defense. In this case, the Lakers spent a million bucks on shooting. It's that simple. Kapono isn't a strong defender, doesn't put the ball on the floor very well and doesn't do much for you on the boards. But, when he's right, there aren't many guys who can plant himself at the arc and drill 3-pointers like Kapono. In theory, at least.

Kapono barely played last season with the Sixers (4.7 mpg) and shot only 12.5 percent. The year before in more substantial burn (17.1 mpg) he was at 36.8 percent, at the time Kapono's lowest mark as a pro. He'll be better than last season, but should Kapono settle into anything in the mid-30's, it becomes harder to play him thanks to deficiencies in other areas. Conversely, should Kapono rise back into the 40's he'll provide Brown with a needed spot-up outlet off the pick and roll, and a counter to opposing defenses trying to pack the lane.

The need is strong. A successful Kapono means the offense will have a weapon lacking last season.

If he's not ... well, at least they didn't pay much to fail.

2. Josh McRoberts, PF (FA, 2 yrs, appx. $6 million)

It's probably not a good time to be L.A.'s new 6-foot-10 left-handed power forward, given the still simmering anger overLamar Odom's departure. No question, McRoberts isn't Odom, but then again we've been listening to opposing coaches telling us for years that nobody is like Odom. It's unfair to expect McRoberts to be the exception.

He has limitations. The offensive repertoire lacks post game, and he's not a great rebounder at his size. Nor has he ever distinguished himself on the defensive end. Still, McRoberts sees the floor well, passes well, is athletic and can get up and down the floor. Only 24, he's improved in each of the last three seasons with increased playing time. He's a hustle guy who will hit the floor, pile up garbage points, and do some good stuff without demanding the ball.

For $6 mil and change, it's a good investment for the Lakers. Just remember, he's here to be a decent rotation guy, providing depth to the frontcourt behind Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol. If the Lakers need to feature him like they did Odom, chances are they're in serious trouble.

3. Darius Morris, PG (2nd round, 41st overall)

There are no sure things in the draft, particularly in the second round. That said, by all rights the Lakers did as well for themselves with this pick as can be hoped. Morris is a legit 6-5, something we clarified with him in a recent podcast, and plays as a genuine ball distributing point guard.

He was among the most improved players in the nation last season as a sophomore at Michigan, and had Morris stayed another year many believe he'd have moved into the first round, perhaps well into it. He's a good kid who works hard. When the facility finally opened following the end of the lockout, Morris was there early. All that said, Morris is a prospect for the future. Expecting contributions now on a team with championship aspirations (you, in the back, stop snickering -- yeah, you) just isn't fair. If Morris does manage to chip in with useful minutes, consider it gravy.

4. Andrew Goudelock, G (2nd round, College of Charleston)

Morris is expected to make the team.

The same can't be said for Goudelock, taken with the 46th pick, who lacks point guard quickness and at 6-3 has less-than-ideal size for an NBA shooting guard. Still, at the college level he was a serious scorer (23.7 ppg as a senior) and more importantly proved himself to be a very good perimeter shooter. By all accounts, Goudelock's jumper will be his NBA meal ticket. If he knocks down enough of them, he could make the team. Unfortunately, he's exactly the type of player who loses out big time because of a shortened preseason schedule, robbing him of the court time normally afforded fellow draftees.

Goudelock did catch a break when the NBA unplugged the Paul deal, though. CP3's arrival would have left the Lakers with five guards and a dire need to fill up on frontcourt players. For the time being, roster math says he at least has a chance.

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Kobe Bryant
PTS AST STL MIN
26.7 4.2 1.3 35.7
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsJ. Hill 10.0
AssistsJ. Lin 4.9
StealsR. Price 1.3
BlocksE. Davis 1.4