Less than a week into the official start of the NBA's offseason carnival, the Lakers already have positive outcomes for two top summer priorities: Phil Jackson is coming back, and the Lakers have, short of something totally unexpected, made their big free agent/player acquisition of the summer, agreeing to terms with guard Steve Blake. He'll likely back up Derek Fisher- assuming Fish returns (see below) -- but whether a starter or reserve should play significant minutes, strengthen the backcourt, and provide badly needed outside shooting.
The Lakers have hoped for the past couple seasons to limit Fisher's minutes, particularly during the regular season, but none of their other PG's stepped up to take those minutes. Blake solves that problem.
Two massive items crossed off the offseason to-do list, but the Lakers can't quite ball up the paper and toss it in the trash. (Or, even better, the recycling bin. Every little bit counts ... ) There is still some work to be done.
1. Get Fisher signed.
For all the early hand-wringing, the process of bringing Fisher back has barely started, and there's no reason to believe it will end without a new deal for Fish in L.A. Mitch Kupchak expressed again last week the desire to get a contract done, and an expectation it'll happen reasonably fast. Fisher wants to come back, and while other contending teams would love to have his leadership, no team is going to swoop in with the proverbial -- as opposed to the literal -- offer he can't refuse.
I'd be surprised if this took longer than a week, 10 days tops.
2. Figure out the fifth guard spot.
With Blake in the fold, Fisher expected back, and Kobe Bryant and Sasha Vujacic under contract, the Lakers still have one more slot to fill in the back court. How they do it depends a great deal on what the market bears for Shannon Brown. The Lakers don't have much (appx. $1.5-1.8 million in their mid-level after the Blake deal, depending on final cap numbers) making it tough to replace Brown with a comparable player should he go. So the idea they'd spend a few dollars more to keep him isn't out of the question. It's not hard to picture Brown getting squeezed by the market, nor for a team to look at his highlight reel and age and decide he's worth locking up at bigger years and money.
Chris Duhon reportedly received four years and about $15 million from the Magic. With that in mind, how much is Brown worth? Duhon is more established and polished as a point guard, but has none of Brown's upside or explosiveness.
Either way, my guess is the Lakers will be made made reactive rather than proactive, because it's in Brown's best interest to field every available offer.
The Blake deal does add stability, but with him on board the Lakers could use a guy with a little more speed and quickness than the four (again, I'm counting Fisher) guards on the roster. The notion they'll find someone with the quicks to stifle the league's Aaron Brooks/Chris Paul/Tony Parker types is a little silly, particularly at a discounted price. As I've noted many times, Aaron Brooks told me this season he's not quick enough to guard Aaron Brooks -- but the ability to show a different look at opposing teams is nonetheless very helpful.
I'd be surprised if the Lakers didn't look for a change-of-pace guy for that fifth guard slot.
3. Find a big, then a bigger.
Having met second round pick Derrick Caracter face-to-face last week, I was impressed. He wasn't yoked like Josh Powell, but tips the scales at 270 pounds, this after losing 30 or so he carried around at UTEP. Powell is listed at 240, meaning Caracter is a big dude. I'm not saying he'll make the team, but having spent on Blake, tossed coin at Jackson and so on, the Lakers are likely to try and save their money at the back end of the roster. Caracter (or someone similar) could cost less than half a mil, while Powell probably rounds out around $1.2. When luxury tax penalties are factored in, it's a difference worth well over a million dollars to the Lakers.
Powell is a great presence in the locker room and a luxury at the end of the bench, but played only 40 minutes in the postseason. And big picture, if the Lakers are put in a situation where either Powell or a rookie replacement are forced into big minutes, they're likely in trouble either way because it means someone very important is injured.
So there's your end-of-the-rotation PF, leaving only the third string center role to be filled. Could be a Kurt Thomas type, or again maybe the Lakers look for a lesser -- and possibly cheaper -- name, as it was when D.J. Mbenga was signed a couple years back.
All in all, it's a tidy little list. The Lakers, really, don't have much to do, and what needs to be done will likely take a few weeks to sort out. It's very likely they'll scour through the end-of-FA season bargain bins, pull some rookies from Summer League and beyond, or find those vets either hungry for a title or without a substantively better offer.
Better to have too little to do than too much.