So we kept our starters and Odom (who is technically a starter 1/3 of Bynum+1/3 of Gasol's time); and we change the whole thing. Kobe lobbyies, Mitch scouts, Buss trusts them, and then bang, the double NBA Champions show up with a whole new bench, just when the bench had looked below par in most of last season (except for Odom & Brown). Without increasing our salaries by too much (courteousy of Adam Morrison's insane contract, and probably also the two excellent draft picks)!
So our starting five will be improved as injuries will be healed and the bench will take over more minutes. Do you guys remember how many times we lost huge leads because of our bench last year? Kobe had to play 40 minutes in games we should have walked over, just because the bench wouldn't score or defend (or either).
So Ratliff will get a few minutes at C, which is an upgrade from Mbenga-Powell, he is more consistent. Only problem we are making the team older, this could affect us in injuries (I don't remember Ratliff ever playing a full season), so perhaps 15 players wouldn't be bad (we may have lost Walton).
At PF we acquired Caracter, who was rated in 3rd in the summer league for his big numbers and presence in the paint. He has a lot to work on, and with the thickness of this bench he won't get too many minutes. But he's an interesting prospect (another ex-character issue). Odom, although he asked for more SF minutes, will probably do more PF tasks as Barnes will get those minutes (last year Walton, Brown, Vujacic and Kobe were taking time at the 3). Odom has anyway been a monster at the boards, and the addition of Ratliff will allow him to play less massive players. Not sure if his wife conviced him to play more at SF, because she wants him as a starter (to show off), but really, he should stick to PF, he's almost 7-feet and he can rebound, we need him there when Gasol or Bynum is out.
So it can be predicted that players will stick to their positions more. Meaning Barnse will get minutes whenever Artest is not performing (more pressure for both). Artest showed why he was recruited in the playoffs, but we need a best-record team for home court advantage so neither him - or Fisher - should feel that the bench won't call if they don't perform (seeing Orlando-Celtics-Heat level). If Walton comes back he's expected to compete with Artest-Barnes and hopefully even Ebanks for minutes... He'll cost 15m in contract and with the luxury tax, twice the amount over the next three years.. He's the only negative on this 'new' bench. I truly hope he recovers to at least make a good 15th man! Luuuuuuke!). So a potential weak SF position seems to have turned into a strength, all credits to Kobe's phone, Mitches astuteness and Buss's signatures... (Jerry is a great boss to have, he's a winner, he's still in the 80's, but he's a winner!)
The last big question is who will be Kobe's backup? Brown should be re-signed but Knicks and Cavs are working on him with interesting proposals for his career. Vujacic and his 5.5m dollar, with the luxury tax around, he needs to be at least someone's backup, an 11th man on the bench only there to provide a few 3pt costing 11m dollars seems like a bad idea. Hughes and McGrady asked to join... Mmm. Unlikely, unless no one signs them - unlikely too. Delonte West (having a 'big argument over him' - I see him more as a PG) is a possibility. Whether he gets waived or traded. As cheap 5th G he could do, but hey how many shrinks are gonna be on the sideline next year? Will Jack Nicholson use his 'anger management' on a few of our players?
And the position which I think is most likely to see a starter change: PG. Blake joined in, he's not amazing, but definetely a great match and if he does a good job, he'll certainly do better than Fisher's last regular season! People were actually calling for Farmar to start (and I was starting to listen...) - that's how bad it got! So when they talk of Delonte West, I say great, this maybe FIsher's team and he can sink in crucial shots, but he doesn't need to be on the court to provide that (we kept people like Turiaf and Shaw in the past for similar reasons...).
Finally we got Phil back. None of the above would have happened without him back. Don't forget Shaw, he should be the guy taking over if MasterZen is not coming back, so this is a huge year of learning for him; he was a G in his days, and he'll rely heavily on Fisher as well as Kobe to provide a smooth transition - if Phil goes (I say he stays for as long as we win and let's Shaw do the away games when rest is required to test him).
So yes, the bench changes have made quite an impact, in the hope of seeing the confirmation of Ebanks and Caracter this is our potential depth chart:
GASOL ODOM CARACTER*
ARTEST BARNES EBANKS* WALTON
BRYANT BROWN* VUJACIC
We have depth, perhaps the biggest question will be to see if Brown and/or Vujacic come back... If Bryant doesn't require rest for his finger, those minutes will be little, we'll need a scorer and a guy who can step up in the playoffs. I think Brown can be that guy (if he isn't used as PG, it confuses him). Delonte would just be another smart cost-cutting measure. An evil one, that would take me a bit of time to get used to, but another smart move for Mitch. If it helps to get to catch the Celtics 17 titles and make Phil the unrivaled greatest coach in NBA history, then be it.
LAKERS OFFSEASON GRADE: A (couldn't do better).