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Thursday, January 21, 2010
Devin Harris to the Lakers: Good idea or not?

By Brian Kamenetzky

Nathaniel Butler/NBAE via Getty Images
Devin Harris can get to the basket as well as any player in basketball... but do the Lakers need what he provides?

ESPN's Ric Bucher reports, via the NBA Today Podcast with Ryan Russillo, the Lakers have made inquiries on New Jersey point guard Devin Harris.

The money quote from Bucher (which comes at the 23:30 mark of the show, fyi):  "As good as the Lakers can be, I don’t see them being dominant. I know that they inquired about Devin Harris from the Nets, which to me says they are very worried about their perimeter defense and they got to be looking at that (Ron) Artest for (Trevor) Ariza trade and going, “God, you know what, Derek Fisher is older than we thought, Jordan Farmar is not a defensive presence, Kobe (Bryant) is going to be driving one of these wheelies to get up and down the floor here any second. What are we going to do in a situation where we’re playing against a really quick perimeter (player), maybe more than one? We’re in tough spot."

(Incidentally, Bucher and Russillo also talk about the Andrew Bynum/Chris Bosh rumor, with Bucher saying it's a non-starter- makes sense- then going into a deeper analysis of the Bynum and the Drew/Gasol dynamic. I don't really agree with much/most of what he says, but it's still worth a listen. 32:40)'s Marc Stein reports the Nets aren't necessarily rushing to move Harris, who made an All Star team last season, earns $8.4 million this season and about $27 million more (give or take) through the 2012-13 season.

So, setting aside questions of whether or not the Nets would actually make a deal or unanswered questions about L.A.'s actual level of interest, how does this one set up?

In terms of trade legalities, a Jordan Farmar/Adam Morrison-for-Harris swap would work, and the Lakers have certainly seemed willing to put those two in a package. (Sasha Vujacic would also fit, but if the Nets are going to dump Harris, it'll be for cap space, not a guy they'd have to pay next season. Shannon Brown could also be an option, but might be less appealing unless the Nets knew he'd opt out of his contract's second year.) Given they'd get a guard back in return, essentially a better version of the one out the door, there's no problem created with depth.

On its face, it makes more sense than the Bynum-for-Bosh swap. Whether the Lakers need an alternative to their current center/power forward combination is still a matter of debate. The relative weakness of the team at point guard, however, is as close to an absolute as can be found on the roster. Forum Blue and Gold has a great breakdown of the situation, well worth a read, and the issues can be fairly simply summarized: Derek Fisher's shooting has been a major drag on the offense, and meanwhile his defense, at least in certain situations, is questionable. Farmar is more dynamic offensively, but still makes bad decisions too often and is shooting a lower percentage from three (34.5%) than Fish (35.5%). Shannon Brown, as Phil Jackson noted the other day, is still learning how to organize the offense and has the worst three point percentage of the trio (34.2%).

Defensively, Farmar and Brown both move better than Fisher, but aren't always as cognizant of team defensive dynamics.

Harris is, no question, better than any guard on the Lakers roster, but his primary skill offensively is in getting to the rack and the free throw line with freakish quicks and an ability to blow by just about anyone. What he isn't and has never been is a productive floor spreading shooter. He's currently sitting at 22% from beyond the arc, and his career high is only 35.7%. So while he'd be the most dynamic member of the Lakers' backcourt and would give L.A. a guy not named Kobe Bryant who can create off the dribble- not an unimportant consideration- the acquisition of Harris wouldn't actually address L.A.'s most pressing offensive weakness, namely a lack of consistent shooting capable of opening things up in the paint.

Where he'd likely have the most value would be defensively. When he was with the Mavs, Harris had a rock solid reputation on that end of the floor. (I toss out any work in New Jersey, having long held it's nearly impossible to be a top shelf defender on a bad team, particularly on the point.) He's 6'3", very active in passing lanes, and has the aforementioned speed and agility. Measuring how well a guy might fit in with a five-man unit is always tough, but it's hard to believe he'd hurt.

So in essence, the Lakers would be committing to $27 million down the road for the luxury of an extra penetrating guard and the expectation of a defensive upgrade (on an already good defensive team). That's pricey. And as Andy pointed out when we were talking about this one earlier in the morning, unless Harris is comfortable being a true role player low on the offensive pecking order- Is that what he's looking for in his prime years?- his presence could add an unwelcome dynamic to a locker room with good chemistry.

The Lakers have two specific needs- a shooter, and another solid perimeter defender, the former being far more pressing. Harris clearly doesn't offer any relief there, and his need to penetrate constantly could mess with L.A.'s dominant post game.

To me, it seems like an awful lot of "solution," without fully addressing the team's more pressing problems. He's a high profile name and would make a big splash, but I have serious questions about fit in the offense and the payroll, and if it didn't work the Lakers would have a seriously expensive mistake on their hands.

Building a championship team isn't simply a question of amassing All Stars.