Sizing up how Steve Blake, Matt Barnes and Theo Ratliff will fit in with the Lakers
On paper, it appears the Lakers are even better than last season.
Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak took a bold step in ensuring a well-stocked roster after a second consecutive title and while Miami made big moves in assembling the so-called super team. Aside from retaining Phil Jackson, Derek Fisher and Shannon Brown, the Lakers also picked up Steve Blake, Matt Barnes and Theo Ratliff and drafted essential steals in Devin Ebanks and Derrick Caracter. And the Lakers' losses were minimal, with backup guard Jordan Farmar going to New Jersey, Josh Powell signing with Atlanta and Adam Morrison and D.J. Mbenga still looking for a team.
The Lakers not only have the tools to three-peat, they also have enough experience to stave off any threat coming from Miami, Boston, etc. But one of the fascinating things about sports is that how things look on paper doesn't always translate to what happens in the game. One of the biggest questions entering this season is how quickly Blake, Barnes and Ratliff will fit in. I personally think these three players will ultimately bolster their bench and be partly instrumental toward a third title, but I'm not exactly sure how long the transition period will last.
Below the jump is what needs to happen for the Lakers to fully benefit from each free-agent acquisition.
What Steve Blake needs to do to fit in
Be himself. One of the things that struck me regarding Blake's introductory press conference involved Blake's admission that he thought of himself as a pass-first type of player. There's no better way to make Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum like you right away than to get them the ball.
It's also easier to fit into the triangle that way and somewhat eases the burden since you're not really asked to score. Given Blake's reputation in working with scorers, he should be well suited to the task.
Another element of Blake's press conference that stuck out was his respect for Derek Fisher. He called Fisher a "winner" and mentioned how his clutch shots and leadership qualities had influenced the Lakers' success. That relationship is something that could determine how well he fits in with the team. As professional as Fisher has been over the years, it wouldn't be at all surprising if he felt his toes were being stepped on should Blake wind up commanding more minutes and even a starting role. Yet, Fisher and the team also hope Blake does well so Fish can scale his minutes during the regular season so he's well primed for the playoffs.
It's a somewhat delicate balancing act, with Blake needing to provide depth and energy off the bench without stealing Fisher's thunder. Because of how professional Blake and Fisher seem to be, I think they'll have the proper perspective on this. But to ensure that both Blake and Fisher feel heavily involved, they should mutually defer to each other, with Blake offering the athleticism and play-making abilities and Fisher providing the late-game shots and locker-room presence.
What Matt Barnes needs to do to fit in
Barnes needs to make sure he channels his energy the right way. I said at the time there shouldn't be much to worry about regarding the Barnes incident in which he slapped an assistant coach during a summer league game. But there's no question Barnes channeled his passion and aggression down the wrong path.
The support system is there for Barnes to flourish, with Bryant embracing him and the team hoping he can provide a spark, particularly during the dog days of the NBA regular season. That means hustling on defense and playing physical but making sure that doesn't lead to unnecessary fouls. That means getting in the face of opponents to intimidate them without getting too consumed with an individual matchup. That means embracing being a role player and not being consumed with playing time.
Barnes said the equivalent of all those things during his press conference, but we'll see how it all plays out on the court. It's not a coincidence that Barnes has bounced around to eight different teams, with each stop bringing frustration over the lack of a definitive role beyond being an energy guy. But that's exactly what the Lakers need from him. They already have the talent. They already have players to make key shots They already have enough depth to fill the roster. But with the Lakers sans Bryant possibly feeling ho-hum about playing, Barnes' energy will help infuse excitement and keep the hunger strong.
What Theo Ratliff needs to do to fit in
The Times' Dan Loumena raised an interesting point, asking how much Ratliff had left in his 37-year-old body. Ratliff stressed during his introductory press conference that proper intake of minerals has helped him in his 15-year stint as a defensive stopper in the NBA. But there's no denying that his mileage and the Lakers' loaded front court (Bynum, Gasol and Lamar Odom) mean Ratliff's minutes will be fairly limited.
Laker fans surely don't want this to happen, but it's at least comforting that the Lakers have Ratliff available in case Bynum is limited even after training camp. To say Ratliff could carry Bynum's workload is just plain absurd, but here's where he does come into play. During practice. In the locker room. During film sessions. Though Ratliff may not have the skillset of the rest of the Lakers' frontline, he has at least developed some respect because of his long NBA career and having acquired the wisdom and tricks of the trade that come along with it. With his insights, he could mentor the Lakers' frontline and help add wrinkles to their game. So even if Ratliff isn't exactly significant in the box score, perhaps the rest of the front court will improve thanks to him.
-- Mark Medina
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Photos, from top: 2010 Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak introduces Steve Blake at the team's practice facility. Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times. Steve Blake is familiar with Staples Center, having spent part of last season with the Clippers. Credit: David Zalubowski / Associated Press. Matt Barnes is a former UCLA star. Credit: Nick Ut / Associated Press. Theo Ratliff elevates to swat a shot by Clippers center Chris Kaman in December 2009. Credit: US Presswire