We are currently in the dead zone of the NBA year, seeing as our sole entertainment as Laker fans is prognosticating how good this team can be when firing on all cylinders and enjoying the sight of Jamaal Wilkes entering the Hall of Fame. In comparison to last year's draining lockout, however, being able to even talk about the upcoming season in certain terms is a blessing in and of itself. All this noted, the Lakers saw fit to throw us a bone and announced a few moves that have brought some clarity on the shape of the coaching staff and the training camp roster.
We noted the possible hiring of Eddie Jordan, Bernie Bickerstaff, and Steve Clifford nearly a month ago, and the Lakers have finally made it official, along with a surprising demotion of assistant John Kuester from the bench to the scouting department. The Lakers also inked a contract with Robert Sacre, their last pick of the draft, along with Reeves Nelson and Greg Somogyi, both of whom played on the Lakers' summer league team. All will be fighting for spots on the final roster in training camp. Most of these moves are straightforward ones that have been expected for some time, and none of them really change the team's outlook. Still, we will cover their implications and the training camp battles that may ensue after the jump.
That Jordan was going to come in and implement the Princeton offense has been a certainty for months now, but it did leave open the question of what exactly Kuester, who oversaw the Lakers' attack last season, was going to do on the bench. Now we have our answer from Lakers.com's Mike Trudell:
John Kuester has "been reassigned to the position of Advanced NBA Scout and will be based on the East Coast," per the press release.
Needless to say, going from being an assistant to a scout is quite the drop in status, and you have to wonder why Kuester, who probably could have found another assistant gig elsewhere, would accept it. Whether loyalty to Brown, a desire to stay in LA, or a drop in his stock due to last season impacted his decision is unknown, but it is hard to construe this as anything other than a demotion. If anything, it certainly is a clear indictment of his handling of the offense last year, and a sign that Jordan will have uncontested control of that end of the floor. As we noted when initially commenting on Jordan's hire, Jordan has experience operating as an offensive coordinator under a more defensive-minded coach, as he filled this role for Byron Scott and the New Jersey Nets from '99-'03.
The notion that Jordan will have this freedom was further corroborated by Trudell's report on the new hires, which illustrated the roles they will fill next season. In short, all three are direct replacements for the outgoing coaches: Jordan (Kuester, offense), Bickerstaff (Messina, generalist), and Clifford (Snyder, scouting, generalist). Per the above, Kuester leaving the staff means that Jordan will have full reign with the offense, and neither Bickerstaff's nor Clifford's positions appear to conflict with this notion. The remaining coaches in Darvin Ham (development) and Chuck Person (defense) will retain their roles from last season. As such, beyond Jordan's obvious influence, it is hard to say what changes these moves will entail, but at least from a philosophical standpoint, an overhaul of the offense was the more prevalent need and that was fulfilled. Another aspect of these moves is Clifford's familiarity with Howard, something that was brought up by SI's Sam Amick:
For all the buzz about Jordan bringing the Princeton offense, the addition of Clifford is the most underreported part of this shake-up. He is held in very high regard around the league and has a very good relationship with Dwight Howard from their time together with the Magic. Considering how sour things were at the end between Dwight and the entire Magic organization, it's safe to say Clifford - who was in the running for Portland's head coaching job this summer that went to Terry Stotts - wouldn't be in LA if Dwight hadn't given some sort of thumbs up. Nonetheless, Ham remains as the guy who will work with the big men - a role he played with Andrew Bynum before and will have with Howard now. At least whenever that Kareem guy is too busy to lend a helping hand.
Although the phrase "held in high regard around the league" is thrown about quite a bit nowadays, it would appear to be justifiable for Clifford seeing that he was one of the options considered for Portland's head coaching gig. Anything to increase Dwight's comfort level and speed his transition is a plus, particularly since Clifford appears to be competent by any measure. This looks fairly analogous to college teams hiring the high school coaches of prized recruits to help with their integration into the team and college life, and it only helps that the Lakers have other people that can help Dwight's development in Ham and Kareem, especially given how much they managed to improve Bynum's game.
Now is also the time of the year when the Lakers will bring names familiar and unfamiliar onto the roster to prepare for training camp. In this case, all of them fall in the former category, as Sacre, Nelson, and Somogyi were on the Lakers' summer league team. To illustrate how they fit into the roster, or at the very least, who they need to beat out, let us review the team's updated depth chart:
|Starters||Bench||Third String||Fourth String|
|PG||Steve Nash||Steve Blake||Chris Duhon||Darius Morris|
|SG||Kobe Bryant||Jodie Meeks||Andrew Goudelock||Darius Johnson-Odom|
|SF||Metta World Peace||Devin Ebanks||Earl Clark||Reeves Nelson|
|PF||Pau Gasol||Antawn Jamison|
|C||Dwight Howard||Jordan Hill||Robert Sacre||Greg Somogyi|
With eighteen players, at least three are getting the boot before the regular season begins, and the most likely candidates are those with the unfortunate label of having non-guaranteed deals. Without going through some trade hijinks in finding a team with cap space who is willing to absorb a smaller deal, the Lakers aren't going to eat money unnecessarily. Unless someone with a non-guaranteed deal really impresses the coaching staff and front office to the degree that the team would feel compelled to get rid of a player with guaranteed money in order to keep him, we can safely say that some combination of Andrew Goudelock, Darius Johnson-Odom, Nelson, Sacre, and Somogyi will be cut.
The most obvious choice is Somogyi, as he is almost certainly merely a camp body, someone brought in to provide a new look for the more established players in camp and for the front office to observe in a new setting. While he is 7'3'', his very underwhelming numbers both in college and during summer league only contribute towards the notion that he is more or less a tall stiff. Moreover, he would be competing against Sacre for the spot as the fifth big, and Sacre outplayed him by a significant margin in summer league. As for Sacre, his chances for staying on the team received a boost due to this tweet from ESPNLA's Dave McMenamin:
The Lakers view Earl Clark more of a 4/3 than a 5/4 so with a strong camp, Sacre could make the opening roster as big man insurance
Should Howard miss the opening part of the season, Sacre's chances of staying naturally increase so the team doesn't have to go with only three real bigs on the roster. What the note about Clark indicates, however, is that he will be competing against Nelson, not Sacre, as another player who can swing between both forward spots rather than constituting big man depth. Nelson, who had a respectable summer league when he got playing time, thus has quite the uphill battle since he has two players with guaranteed money in Ebanks and Clark ahead of him on the depth chart. Even considering the struggles Ebanks and Clark have gone through as young players in the league, they are much more established prospects than Nelson, who was more of a marginal NBA player in the Matt Barnes mold even at the height of his stock at UCLA. Barring an epic training camp from him, Nelson's likely fate is finding a spot in the D-League or going back abroad.
This means that the final question will be who emerges as the seventh (!) guard between Goudelock and DJO, but we already commented on the likely result of this battle when reviewing their respective summer league performances. DJO wasn't spectacular or anything, but he at least demonstrated that he can defend multiple positions at the next level, whereas Goudelock's supposed strength in his offensive game failed to manifest itself. There also is the $500,000 the Lakers gave to Dallas to get DJO in the first place, and while we can cry sunk cost fallacy and all that, the fact that the Lakers were willing to burn resources to get DJO in the draft shows that they value his potential. In an ideal world, the team would be able to keep both of them since Goudelock projects as more of a point guard and DJO as a two, but the presence of Blake's and Duhon's large deals make this an impossibility.
As a result, this makes Somogyi, Nelson, and Goudelock the most likely chopping block candidates, although the team certainly could let another player go to maintain more flexibility with a fourteen player roster. We also don't know who else the Lakers could acquire, if anyone, as training camp approaches, but it is much more likely that they are in the vein of Somogyi than someone who is going to seriously compete for a roster spot. When put up against the degree of change that Jordan entails, these peripheral moves are rather underwhelming, but we never know whether the Lakers can find a diamond in the rough with these, and they have a new system and revamped coaching staff to take advantage of them.
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