As part of our look ahead at the Lakers' projected roster next season, we continue to work our way from the bottom to the top of the rotation. Next up...
$2.2 millionNathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images
Shannon Brown has the dunk thing sussed. This year, the Lakers hope he rounds out the rest of his game.
Role for the Lakers in 2010-11
Brown averaged a career high 20.7 minutes playing in all 82 games, generally in relief of Kobe Bryant at the two, but starting seven times as well. A crowd favorite since arriving in L.A. along with Adam Morrison in the Vlad Radmanovic deal, Brown spent the first half of last year making himself more than just an energy-providing, high-flying dunker. His shot, never exactly a Paxsonesque model of reliability, found the mark more frequently, and more importantly Brown's confidence and comfort in the offense increased.
Then he hurt his thumb against the Pacers at the beginning of March, and much of the good stuff went away. The shot, the confidence, the upward curve in decision making within the offense. To his credit, Brown played though the pain, but the thumb problem sucked a lot of the wind from his sails. He wasn't nearly as reliable over the final weeks of the season and into the playoffs.
The silver lining? Had Brown continued on his upward trajectory, there's a far better chance another team would have made him an offer he couldn't refuse, with which the Lakers couldn't compete. Instead, he returns to L.A. for very reasonable money to serve the same role he played on the team last season. Brown will be the primary backup to Bryant, relied on to add athleticism to the backcourt, bring a different sort of defensive pressure, and generally work hard all the time. He'll be the "change of pace" guard, but as a guy who can finish on the break rather than one who will run it, as Jordan Farmar was last year (to varying degrees of success). The presence of a legitimate backup three in Matt Barnes could cut into Brown's minutes, depending on how much time Kobe spends on the wing. But whether he equals last year's minutes or falls a little short, Brown will play.
The Lakers didn't bring him back to sit on the bench.
Best Case Scenario
Brown builds on his positive first half from last season. Understanding of the offense's finer points, which has come in fits and starts, ramps up as Brown goes through his second training camp with the team. His shot, from mid-range and beyond the arc, becomes a reliable weapon. Brown gains confidence moving the ball on the break, as well, becoming a solid facilitator, not just a finisher, and helping him gain more use as a pure point (at least one pure enough to hit the proper triggers in the offense) and widening the options available to Phil Jackson.
Defensively, Brown develops greater awareness of proper positional defense, helping him be more effective on that side of the floor.
All together, the improvement not only helps solidify the bench, but allows Jackson to give Kobe and Derek Fisher more rest. The Lakers get far more bang than $2.2 million typically delivers on the free agent market.
Worst Case Scenario
It turns out the thumb wasn't the issue with Brown over the season's second half, but rather the improvement and potential of the first half was the mirage. He hits a wall in his development, making Brown tougher to rely on as a backup to Bryant and forcing the Lakers to either play Steve Blake more at the two, thus extending Derek Fisher's minutes, or cross their fingers with Sasha Vujacic. Either scenario knocks a few blocks from the giant Jenga puzzle that is L.A.'s backcourt stability, hurting the foundation. Jackson has fewer opportunities to move Bryant to small forward, limiting the looks other teams see from the Lakers as well as Kobe's effectiveness.
The good news, at least, is Brown's modest contract for this season makes it almost impossible for the Lakers to lose out financially.