The recent success that had the Lakers trending upwards just snowballed into another avalanche. LA knew that their stable of big men entered the season with nagging injury issues. Dwight hit training camp still healing from his back surgery. Pau was reeling a bit from his Olympian minutes with Spain, battling plantar fasciitis and knee soreness. Jordan Hill struggled with some early hip injuries that ballooned into a season ending injury. Now, with all three unavailable, it begs the question, what exactly has the Lakers’ front office been doing with their time?
How come suitable back ups haven’t been brought in?
Another case of poor management from the top, whether it is the inability to properly court Phil Jackson to supporting MDA just before he rants to media about Pau’s inadequacies for his vision of the season, could cost the Lakers their shot at the playoffs just as they gain momentum. These injuries were not surprises. They were not unknowns, unfortunate aspects of professional sports, or the happenstance of the grind of an eighty-two game season following a shortened one. The organization had complete knowledge of these possible speed bumps along the way and remained pedestrian, standing idly by.
The time to stand pat is long past. Without Pau, the Lakers desperately need to find some height and game in the pivot to replace his 13 points and 8 rebounds. When Jordan went down for the season and Dwight re-injured his shoulder, the Lakers, flush with minimums and exceptions, should have packaged something together or trolled the D-League for a potential replacement. Hill scored 7 points at a 50% clip and grabbed 7 boards a night in 15 minutes. This needed shoring up already, but Pau’s absence makes this lack of effort on the front office’s part catastrophic. Even a 10-day contract to a rebounding and defensive specialist with size and footwork would have sufficed. But who?
Who is available? Who could take their place in the meantime?
Pau’s projected recovery depends on two paths. If he decides to get surgery, then he would be out for 10-12 weeks, which, even though increases the likelihood of a full recovery, means his return would be sometime during the playoffs. If he decides to use physical therapy for his recovery, then he is out for 6-8 weeks, which, if everything goes well, means a late-March return. Darko Milicic, released by the C’s, and Kenyon Martin, rumored to be courted by the Knicks, still linger in free agency, but both might require a bit more than mid-level or injury exception money. Darko is huge and could clog up the paint, and K-Mart brings ample energy. Martin’s rebounding and perimeter shooting could instantly fit into the high post void. The Lakers would seriously benefit from their size and experience. With Steve Blake back in the fold, then the packaging of those financial options with either Duhon or Morris could entice a swap for a body inside, or at least the room to sign one. It seems, however, the aspired direction of the team might not warrant their services. Plus, what team will willingly step up for the Lakers in their time of need?
The easiest option to meet the desire to become younger and faster would be the D-League. 6’8” Jamario Moon and 6’6” Lazar Hayward have NBA experience, and, although they are not paint presences, could easily move into MDA’s small ball dreams for Showtime2. Moon, a former Cavs LeBron mate, plays solid defense, so he could mirror the Marion roll from his Suns days. Whereas Hayward can score, possibly finding the same spots that made the Suns Jared Dudley a solid bench presence. Each LA Defender averages around 7 boards a game and could add some athletic wings for Nash and Kobe to dish to. They would represent a simple call up.
A pedestrian perusal of the D-League’s website also provides some potential pick-ups. Kevin Jones of the Canton Charge stands at 6’9” and scores 23 points and grabs 12 rebounds a night. Miles Plumlee, a 6’10”, athletic forward, helps the Fort Wayne Mad Ants with a nightly double double of 12 and 11. The Erie Bay Hawks Henry Sims, 6’10” from Georgetown, gives them 16 and 9 at 50% from the field and three, as well as 78% FTs. The Brooklyn Nets sent Tornike Shengelia to the Springfield Armor for three games and he still leads the D in scoring at 28 points per game and boards with almost 14 at 6’9”. A three-point threat with solid handles, he only averages 4 minutes with the Nets, but shoots over 70% from the field and free throw line, and 50% from distance. A recent concussion has him out of the lineup. The Georgian rookie has a two-year deal with the Nets. Although this would require trading with the team that might still have some feelings about not getting Dwight, Shengelia could flourish with MDA. Granted, these players will not replicate these numbers at the next level, but they only need to provide the missing totals of Pau and Jordan collectively. If two extra bodies could muster the production necessary to fill the gap until Pau and Dwight are together again, then the Lakers could stay in the playoff hunt.
Teams already bludgeon the Lakers on the boards. Down three big men for the unforeseeable future, they will attack with even more fervor. But, the sacrifice to fun and gun might see this disadvantage as remedied by speed and athleticism, instead of size. The Lakers enjoy a bit of a positive run as of late, and Pau hearing “a pop” in his already roughed up foot presents a serious obstacle. The Lakers must push forward, but they also must enlist some frontcourt assistance. They need help from anywhere and they can’t waste any more time considering their options.