Wednesday, January 18, 2012

State of Laker Nation: We Need Agent Zero

Showtime has turned into Slowtime.

What was once a cute joke after the first few games of the regular season has rapidly turned into a very stark reality for the Lakers. After seeing this team play 15 games, and including a miserable 7 point quarter against the Dallas Mavericks the other night, I realize that the Show has three very glaring flaws:

1. They are one of the slowest teams in the league

It's not just my eyes as an observer that are telling the story; the statistics back it up as well. The Lakers average one of the lowest amounts of possessions per game, even though they are the best rebounding team in the league. What this means is that despite the fact that the Lakers are getting back the ball more than anyone else, the pace that they execute their offense at eats so much clock that no amount of rebounding can increase their possessions. Meanwhile, on the fast break, they're 26th in points scored. This team gets most of its points in a half-court set, with designed plays rather than just making it up after a quick steal or rebound.

The reasoning behind all of this is relatively simple: they are really old and they do not have a traditional point guard running the offense. Without the legs and the personnel to begin breaks and direct traffic, it's difficult for a team to get up and down the floor at the type of fast pace that the Los Angeles crowd is used to seeing.

Luckily for the Lakers, they have one of the top defenses in the league, and that slow, plodding offense I was just talking about is one of the most steady and efficient ones running.

2. Bench Scoring

Steve Blakers, Metta World Peace, Josh McRoberts, Troy Murphy and Devin Ebanks all bring great rebounding, tons of toughness and gritty defense to the floor whenever they're called on, but unfortunately for this motley crew of white Americans, Metta and Devin, they just can't put the ball in the hoop. The Lakers are dead last in bench scoring, with Steve Blakers leading the pack at 7.3 points per game. Unlike previous years when Shannon brown and Lamar Odom could fill it up at a moment's notice, LA consistently has moments where when one or two of the Bryant-Gasol-Bynum trio is off the floor, and the offense just stops. No other guy on this team can get his own shot, and more importantly, there isn't a facilitator good enough to make the other 11 Lakers look competent.

3. 3-Point Shooting

What I see as the most glaring flaw is that the Lakers can't hit a shot from downtown. They are the worst 3-point shooting team in the NBA.

Luckily for the Lakers, there might be a singular fix to their problems that would be relatively easy to pull off.

Agent Zero.

Gilbert Arenas is a free agent, and by all accounts is very ready and willing to go back to work. Though no words has arisen from the Arenas camp since before Christmas, the last unofficial statement read that his hometown Los Angeles Lakers were one of the teams he most desired to play for.

Even with knee injuries that have limited him to 117 games in the last 4 seasons, Arenas showed last year that he still can play at a quick pace, and lead an offense. His shooting percentage was down to 37%, though as a career 42% guy, Gil has never been the type of guy you were looking at to convert high efficiency shots every time. Still, he played over 25 minutes in 70 games, scoring 11 points, dishing 4 assists and though somewhat detached, did not look washed up at age 29.

No matter what his situation, Gilbert Arenas has always been synonymous with the term instant offense. Coming off the bench for the Lakers, Gil would shore up second unit scoring, providing a ton of points, either by pushing the ball on the break or being able to create his own shot. Although not a fantastic three point shooter (35% for his career), he's still better than anyone on the Lakers. Now three years removed from knee surgery and almost 8 months removed from playing in any type of competitive basketball game, Gil's health is not guaranteed, but most likely better than it has been since going blow for blow with LeBron while in Washington.

Of course, when you talk about Gilbert Arenas, you have to mention that he's, well, a psychopath. He cray. Calling him a "problem" in a locker room would be like calling Tienanmen Square a public skirmish. However, he's walking into a Lakers clubhouse with the veteran presence of Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, not a Wiz team with a bunch of young twenty-something boneheads. He'll be on a minimum-salary contract, so if he becomes a disturbance at all, he'll be cut instantly. Gilbert needs this. He needs to have some semblance of a successful season if he ever wants to continue his basketball career where the jersey doesn't read "Besiktas" on the front of it. He'll need to accept whatever role the Lakers (or any other team) gives him, show he still has some game left and can be a good NBA citizen again. If there's one team with a need for Gilbert with a locker room more equipped to deal with his insanity, I'm not sure who it is.

However, I do realize that Gilbert could seek either a bigger payday than a minimum salary (although he's made over $160 million dollars in his career) or a bigger, perhaps starting role with another team. In the case that the Lakers either wouldn't want him, or he would don another team's uniform, I do have some other suggestions to allay some of LA's problems:

(Keep in mind, the Lakers have a $9 million dollar trade exception they acquired in the Lamar Odom trade - meaning, they can trade for any player that makes $9 mil or less without giving up a player of equal salary)

OJ Mayo: Mayo has nearly been dealt twice to Indiana in the past year, both times for players (Brandon Rush, Josh McRoberts) with far less potential than a player of his pedigree - McDonald's All-American, 3rd overall pick in 2009 and one of the nation's most recruited players going into college. Obviously his stock has fallen considerably from his first two years when he averaged 17-18 points a game. However, he can still handle the ball and shoots well from downtown. If he can be had a similar price to Memphis' previous almost-deals with Indiana, would Dallas' first rounder and some cash do?

Daniel Gibson: The Cavs are over the cap and though they might be a fringe playoff team, they certainly don't need to hold onto Boobie with Kyrie Irving, Ramon Sessions and Anthony Parker playing ahead of him. They could use another first round draft pick in their rebuilding, and save some money while they're at it. Gibson is an effective scorer as a stand-still shooter or coming off screens. His main job is to score and shoot from long, both of which he still does very well (8.7 ppg and 40% 3P shooting). His price would be very similar to Mayo's.

Luke Ridnour: Like Gibson, Ridnour is a veteran player on a team that's in a youth movement. He plays alongside Ricky Rubio in the Wolves' starting lineup, but a returning JJ Barea, Wesley Johnson and Martell Webster might soon make his role and remaining salary ($11 mil over 3 years) somewhat useless. Minnesota might be inclined to pick up another draft pick to deal for a more dynamic shooting guard in the future and to drop a little salary to pay for Kevin Love's forthcoming extension.

Aaron Brooks: Aaron Brooks is one of the unlucky NBA players who signed a contract with the Chinese Basketball Association before the season with the agreement that even if the lockout ended, he would have to stay in China and honor his contract. Luckily for Aaron, his tenure in that God-forsaken country ends in March, where he'll be free to sign where he pleases in the US. While I think other teams will be able to offer him more money, Brooks is EXACTLY the type of player the Lakers needs. Unless he desperately wants a ring rather than cash, he'll sign elsewhere.

John Salmons: He's in a very similar situation to Gibson and Ridnour, except at a much heftier price tag ($24 million over this and the next two seasons). He's probably one of the most ideal fits on this list, seeing as he's a combo guard that can handle the rock, but still take a lot of minutes from Kobe. He's an excellent shooter and is primarily known for being able to fill it up whenever called on. Sacto still probably doesn't make this trade because they need his $8.5 million dollar salary this year to hit the minimum team salary this year. Yikes.

Leandro Barbosa: Same as Salmons; great fit, but again a team that needs to hit a minimum team salary. Unless they were to take on a guy like Luke Walton's deal ($5.6 mil this year, $6.1 next year), this deal won't work. And no teams are really clamoring for Luke's services.

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